United Church of Christ

An Educational Journey to the Middle East

On September 25, a joint One Great Hour of Sharing and Week of Compassion delegation began a journey to the Middle East to encounter a range of denominational partners and hear first-hand accounts of the issues they face, in the context and culture where these issues occur. Led by Dr. Peter Makari, a total of 14 participants are on this educational journey, and experiencing the beauty of the land, and learning of current and historical circumstances that make the Middle East what it is today.

The purpose of the trip is to allow United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) participants an opportunity to meet refugees, hear their stories, and learn how our churches are making a difference in the lives of people in the midst of the refugee crisis. Using what participants will see and learn, we aim to highlight the importance of the offerings and endowment funds related to both churches.

Through Global Ministries, and other organizations, One Great Hour of Sharing and Week of Compassion are providing: water, sanitation, and hygienic items to individuals, especially children; essential medicines and medical supplies and equipment; psychological, emotional, spiritual, and social support for children and their mothers in refugee camps; clothes, blankets and other non-food items in refugee camps in preparation for the winter cold season, and assistance to emergency shelters.

We invite you to follow our journey and learn along with us!



Day 1: Global Ministries' Week of Compassion and OGHS Trip to the Middle East
Rev. Sharon Stanley-Rea, Director, Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries

As I took in the articulation of "mission"on the screen in our group's pre-departure training presentation by Peter Makari, Executive for the Middle East and Europe, I thought of God's urging through Isaiah to the Israelites exiled in Babylon: "Do not remember the former things,…for behold, I am doing a new thing!" (Is. 43:18-19) Today's new reality is an understanding of "mission" as a process where we receive and share Good News by joining with global and local faith partners to work for justice, reconciliation, and peace. It wasn't a misprint to have "receive" come before "share!" Receiving is a must, it appropriately comes first, and it compels us to build relationships of listening and care with global faith leaders in their contexts, and to be led into action according to their priorities!

For us as 14 trip participants, we started our journey by "gathering knowledge" about our partners whom we will visit on this journey. Among our group, we are mostly lay leaders, though some are pastors. We are 10 travelers from UCC backgrounds, and four from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We are from Ohio, Indiana, Texas, Colorado, New York, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Florida, and Washington, D.C. Some are returning to the Middle East, many are going there for the first time, and one is having an initial trip abroad. We are led both by WOC and by OGHS staff.

Collectively, we are motivated by our previous work in disaster assistance, international aid, and refugee ministries. We value the past heritage of our early mission workers—yet we trust deeply in the "new thing," this next way of mission, where God is impacting us as we are led by our global partners to live out GM’s core values of offering presence, mutuality, community, justice, and peace.

Trainingday.jpgWe have long heard stories told by others who have visited this region of 2,000 years of biblical history, nearly 200 years of UCC history, and almost 170 years of Disciples history. Now we long for such stories to shortly become our own as we prepare to visit some of the dozens of networks with whom OGHS, WOC, and GM have built alliances for decades—in the countries of Jordan, Israel/Palestine, Egypt, and Morocco, which each now has less than 10 percent Christians among their populations.

We are eager to engage ourselves in this region where refugees total in the millions after a century of wars and displacement, and whose suffering we have sought to embrace since the Armenian genocide of 1915, the Palestinian "catastrophe" of 1947-48 and "the setback" of 1967, the Iraq operations in 2003, and the Syrian crisis from 2011 until the present. We invite you also to come along on this journey with us into relationships by following our daily blog. We hope for you to receive from the inspiration we will draw from partners together.

As one who works with Refugee and Immigration Ministries for the Disciples - in this time where there are more refugees in the world than since WWII - I especially look forward to sharing "the new thing" God is doing through the voices of refugees themselves working with our partners to bring new hope into the Middle East. We all are deeply aware that such hope is only possible through the support you continue to offer through your Week of Compassion and One Great Hour of Sharing giving.

And after we return, we will invite you to join in supporting "the new thing" of God's work with refugees and others in the Middle East—and to embrace and welcome refugees from there and elsewhere through our Refugee & Immigration Ministries offices as Disciples and UCC congregations!


Day 2: Refugee Camp
Rev. Kay E. Woike, Church of the Nativity UCC

Kayatrefugeecamp2.jpgAfter a late arrival in Amman, Jordan, and a restful night at the Century Park Hotel, we met Wafa Goussous, Director of the Orthodox Initiative and Jordan Liaison for the Middle East Council of Churches, one of Global Ministries' partners in Jordan. She led us on a trip to experience one of the ways the Orthodox Church supports Syrian refugees.

There are around one and a half million refugees who fled the conflict in Syria residing in Jordan.  Up to 160,000 of them live in the Zatari Refugee Camp in northern Jordan.  This camp has become the fourth largest city in Jordan.  Supported financially by several Middle Eastern countries, many NGOs and the United Nations, it is well serviced with hospitals, schools, a large market and even a beauty salon.  But Wafa did not take us there.

After leaving the hills of Amman, driving through desert terrain and bumping along a dirt- and rock-covered road, we arrived at a small refugee camp that it would be easy to overlook - near the town of Mafraq less than a mile from the border from Syria.  There were a few dozen large tents made of plastic and tarp, housing around 50 extended Syrian Muslim families of 250 people.  These farming families, originally from rural villages, had a hard time adjusting to the larger, more chaotic Zatari camp and relocated to a patch of farmland a hospitable farmer allowed them to use.

When the Orthodox Initiative learned of this camp, overlooked by other helping organizations, Wafa and her staff started with donations of food packets, but soon formed an ongoing relationship. They learned what was needed most beyond food was women's necessities, materials to enclose their tents against the cold winter to come, and something for the children to do.  We met Joahr, formerly a law school student in Syria before she and her family had to flee, and Sultan, another community leader.  With the Orthodox Initiative's help, a school has been established for thirty 8- to 12-year-olds with Joahar as the teacher.  The school tent is furnished with pink stools and the walls are covered with the children's beautiful art work.

A most meaningful part of the trip for some of us was helping to distribute hygiene packs, warm socks for the coming cold weather, and candy to the children.  The money for these gifts was provided by UCC/CC(DC) special offerings: One Great Hour of Sharing and Week of Compassion.  As we offered these gifts we were mindful that we were doing it on behalf of all those who contributed through the offerings. Wafa and her staff, in partnership with the community, are also looking into future possibilities.  Already people are planting gardens. There is a need for another teacher, and there is talk of setting up a space for vocational education: sewing and computer literacy. Together, with the help of global partners like us, this small camp can be a friendly place for kids, and can help make a richer life for this community as they wait in hope to return home.


Day 3: From Jordan to the West Bank
Rev. Dr. Kristina Lizardy-Hajbi - Director, UCC Center for Analytics, Research and Data (CARD)

MtNebo.jpgThe third day on our journey was a day of transition. Leaving our hotel in Amman early in the morning, the group set out to visit a few holy sites before heading to the West Bank. First, we stopped in Madaba, a city southwest of Amman known for centuries of peaceful relations between Christian and Muslims. While there, we visited the Greek Orthodox Church of St. George, which contained in its floor the oldest known map of the Holy Land. This map, created as a stone mosaic during the Byzantine Empire, has been damaged over time; only portions of the map remain. Nonetheless, it has survived and remains a symbol of the enduring legacy of a thriving culture and ethos of tolerance.

The next stop was to Mount Nebo, named in Deuteronomy 34 as the place from which Moses looked out and saw the promised land, though he never reached it. The group read this passage aloud atop the mountain and engaged in prayerful reflection on the scripture that came alive before our eyes. What was once only read as words was now lived experience.

Some transitions are more difficult and pain-filled than others—this was our experience of crossing from Jordan to the West Bank, which is occupied and methodically controlled by Israel. The group was delayed over an hour because two members of the group with Arabic Muslim last names were detained. During this time of crossing, however, many saw and experienced the control and subjugation of a people—Palestinians—by Israeli military and security forces, some of whom were no more than 20 years old.

Wearied by the process of border crossing, we (tardily) made our way to the East Jerusalem YMCA of Beit Sahour where Mona Zaghrout-Hodali, Head of the Counseling and Supervision Department, told us many stories of hope and rehabilitation through the psychosocial support and services they provide to Palestinian children, families, and individuals disabled and traumatized by the ongoing occupation. Finally, we visited a portion of the separation barrier/wall in Bethlehem. Although a painful sight to behold, many took photos of the drawings, messages, and stories of pain, hope, longing, anger, and love found on the wall. Even in the midst of complete control and oppression, the voices of the Palestinian people rose up from the walls—their witness to history and the ongoing violence they suffer has left many traumatized, yet incredibly resilient. Much like the mosaic in Madaba, they have survived/are surviving and remain a symbol of the legacy—and enduring presence—of a thriving culture in the region.


Day 4: East Jerusalem, Ramallah and West Bank
Bill and Ellen Matten - UCC Penn Central Conference Disaster Co-Coordinator

This morning our group walked from St. George's Anglican Guest House in East Jerusalem where we are staying to the YWCA of Palestine.  We were warmly greeted by Mira Rizeq, General Secretary, YWCA of Palestine, and her staff, which includes Rev. Loren McGrail, a missionary from Global Ministries. Dr Rizeq graciously thanked us for coming to visit and see their programs and also for our financial support from OGHS and Week of Compassion.  

She described the reality of life for the Palestinians living under occupation. In light of these concerns, the YWCA has focused its programs on economic justice, leadership development for civic engagement for young people, and just peace.  Dr. Rizeq was particularly excited about the YWCA's work training young women. She described one community where the local school had been surrounded by a settler community and cut off by a major highway so that it was unsafe for the children to go to school.  A group of women in the community were able to organize a campaign to buy a school bus so that the children could go to school safely.

Woman.jpgWe were able to visit that community, meet the women who organized the campaign, and take a tour of the school.  I was pleased by the immediate closeness between the women and our delegation. The women were proud of their accomplishment and wanted to explain why they had taken the action they had. 

After we had returned from Ramallah and the West Bank, we met with a staff member from B'Tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights. He told us about the work of the organization to document the violation of human rights which are taking place in Israel/Palestine.  B'Tselem believes that while occupation of a country might be legal for a short time, the occupation of Palestine is not legal as it has lasted for 50 years.   B'Tselem believes that the policy of fragmenting Gaza and the West Bank is a way to control the land and remove the occupants.  Just as the YWCA is providing leadership skills to Palestinians, B'Tselem is training Palestinians in documenting every violation.

We finished our day by walking through the ancient city gate to the Western, or Wailing, Wall.  For most of us, it was a time of reflection based on what we had seen and heard today. 


Day 5: Sept. 30 - How Far Is It To Bethlehem?
Rev. Kent Gilbert, UCC Pastor of Union Church, Berea, Ky.

Another full and rich day for the delegation began with devotions in the St. George Episcopal Cathedral of Jerusalem and then, like shepherds and wise ones of old, we went to Bethlehem seeking the Christ born in our midst. How far is it to Bethlehem? To that beatific and peaceful rendering of Jesus birth we sing of and paint?  Much further than just the seven miles on the map, and even when they are crossed, we will have to follow God's Bright Star of Hope much, much farther to reach the peaceful scene we see on the Christmas cards. But, truly, today in our hearing the Gospel word was made flesh, and is living among us.

Scripture.jpgHere is the record of our journey today. We've been staying at St. George Cathedral guesthouse, and finding the church empty we filled it with our sung peace prayer for the city as scripture invites us: "Peace-Salaam-Shalom" we sang in canon, led by Week of Compassion Director Caroline Hamilton-Arnold. What joy to hear harmony in a prayer for harmony!

All three of our meetings today underscored the powerful faith and relentless work of our churches' partners to bring about a just peace and relief from suffering in a land occupied and oppressed by towering walls of concrete and barbed wire for those who live here, AND towering walls of ignorance for most of us who come from afar.

As background, the continuous Christian presence here dates back to Jesus himself, and nearly all of the Christians in the "holy land" are now and have always been Palestinian. Yet ask most churchgoers in the United States and they may be under the impression that Israel is who was here first, and that all Palestinians are Muslim and probably terrorists. 

On the contrary, Palestinians have been the keepers of the Christian faith for almost 2,000 years. They are the founders of the oldest Christian communities and have spread the faith through the world.


Since 1948 when the state of Israel was created, Palestinians - Christian and Muslim - have had their land and their rights taken from them, their suffering and basic needs ignored. So now, Bethlehem (and Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip) suffer. How far is it Bethlehem? For Americans with U.S. passports, it's relatively simple: if you don't mind having machine guns pointed at you while your bus is examined or searched.

For Palestinian residents of the West Bank? It's not that simple. Permits, months of applications, full searches, and arbitrary refusal to go even just a few miles are par for the course. In 2002 Israel, in the name of its national security, began construction of a 30' tall concrete security wall, which they built on land not granted to them by international treaty. Without permission from the Oslo treaty and without compensation, they demolished houses in Bethlehem and cut off streets and encircled the city. They then cut off all services, claiming that it was now the recently elected Palestinian Authority's job to take care of healthcare, schools, trash collection, etc. Except that Israel does not allow free transportation of those workers.

So what light is there in this dark situation?

Anglicanpriest.jpgWe met first with the Rev. Canon David Longe, chaplain to the Anglican archbishop at St. George's, who described the powerful work of the diocesan hospitals and health ministries, particularly in Gaza, an area completely blockaded and cut off by Israel where 1.8 million people are crowded together in the densest population area on earth. Our One Great Hour of Sharing and Week of Compassion funding is helping keep one of the few hospitals in Gaza open and able to serve. Though there are now only about 1,000 Christians in Gaza, the Episcopal church provides medical care, hope and compassionate care to thousands of terrorized citizens.

We then made our way out of Jerusalem by bus, crossed the barrier wall, its guard towers and guns, and made our way to Bethlehem to meet with two more important "lights in the night," true stars of the Christian faith: In the morning we met with the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor, and President of Diyar Consortium and Pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church. He founded the Christian Academic Forum for Citizenship in the Arab World (www.CAFCAW.org) to form a "brain trust" for social transformation in the Arab world underpinned by solid Christian, Jewish, and Islamic theological foundations. He has been joined in that work by Rev. Dr. Victor Makari, father of our own Peter Makari, leader of our experience here.

And after lunch we were fortunate to meet with Ambassador Hind Khoury, former Palestinian Authority minister (elected representative), former ambassador to France, and current General Secretary of "Kairos Palestine," a coalition of Christian voices calling to all churches around the world to heed the suffering of Palestinians and to act decisively for justice and peace.

LindaandMitri.jpgSome may remember that Rev. Dr. Raheb addressed the UCC General Synod with powerful words last summer. He is recognized worldwide as a foremost contextual theologian, educator, expert, and advocate on Palestinian Christianity. His work, both academically and pastorally, details the rich culture of the Palestinian people, the contributions of Palestinian Christians, and extraordinary ways their faith blossoms into action for justice.  

The CAFCAW group recently published "From the Nile to the Euphrates: The Call of Faith and Citizenship" is a must read and applies as much to Memphis, Tenn., or Lebanon, Ohio, as it does to Memphis, Egypt, or Lebanon the country. 10 areas are identified where our faith can impact the overlap of religion and politics. "We have too much religion," Dr. Raheb told us, "and not enough faith. A faith that we serve a God of justice, who seeks the good of all creation and we must put our faith into action."

Ambassador Khoury opened our eyes to the systematic and ongoing deliberate repression and violence done to Palestinian communities, including the depletion of native Christian communities who are prevented by Israel from practicing their faith in the land it was born and first became flesh. The Kairos Palestine letter is modeled after a similar document that helped end apartheid in South Africa. It documents the need for all of us to "get wise" to the suffering in our midst, and to follow the star so that Christ's message of hope and peace and justice might be born again in Bethlehem, and all of the occupied territories.

Bethelem.jpgAll of this was followed by our own pilgrimage to the church of the Nativity, the time-honored church built in 326 to honor the place of Jesus' birth. As we jostled through the crowds of pilgrims from many countries, and stood to enter the grotto and kneel at the manger, I was reminded that Jesus' parents were also under the watchful eyes of an occupying army. They, too, had to struggle to survive under political forces greedy for power and heedless of the suffering of the dispossessed.

Perhaps it's no wonder, then, that The Word has always spoken truth to power. Perhaps the story of Christmas isn't the cute lambs and the peaceful mother. Perhaps, the story of Christmas is that even behind wall and after wall of injustice and hate, Christ's light is as inextinguishable as the very stars that proclaimed his birth, and that the faith, hope, and love of those who have followed him here for millennia - even to the cross - has never ceased to speak that living Word to enact Christ's peace with justice.

So now, like the shepherds, we too must return to other fields. But we go telling of the good news we have heard.

How far is it to Bethlehem?

Dull with the world's old sin?

Only as far as one stands apart

To let a star shine in.*


* Paraphrased from the poem "How Far is it to Bethlehem" By Dorothy Stott Shaw


Day 6: West Bank
Rev. Caroline Hamilton-Arnold, Associate Director, Week of Compassion

On one side of a small dirt road, a farm, occupied by an Israeli settler and bound by barbed-wire, flourishes, lush with an abundant crop. Just across the narrow dirt lane, the neighboring farm, tended for three generations, withers. Once-green trees now stand yellow and brown. Shrubberies shrivel and crack in the sun. Land that for years was fertile and productive is turning to a chalky dust. The farmer of the dry land shows us pictures from his childhood, when the water was still flowing. Then, after the 1967 war, things began to change. In 2003, the spring ceased flowing.

SeFarmer.jpgveral factors contributed to the diminishment of water from thousands of cubic meters/hour to a seasonal flow. Access to the Jordan River, just a few miles from the farm, is restricted. Climate change has resulted in lower rainfall totals. Most of all, water has been diverted from its natural flow for use in Israeli settlements. Humanitarian organizations report that Israelis use 80 percent of water from the West Bank - both in settlements and within the internationally recognized boundaries of Israel.

As water drains from the land, possibilities for life also drain. Dozens of citrus trees no longer bear fruit. Cultivation of crops is limited to a single season. A fish and stock pond is drained so low the fish can hardly survive. Water, and its appropriate use and distribution, is essential for life. As the Emerson poem reads: "well used, it decketh joy / adorneth, doubleth joy / ill used, it will destroy."

Yet, life is persistent, and our host was resilient. Since citrus trees are dying, he has nurtured date trees from seeds, which he expects to produce fruit in three to five years. He earns extra money by hiring out his farm truck. By resilience, creativity, patience, and a commitment to maintain the inheritance of his family, this farmer is still drawing life from this near-barren land. 

Today, we are praying for just access to water in the West Bank and for the rights and well-being of farmers who are struggling under occupation. We are praying that the land might again be verdant and bear fruit. We are giving thanks for the gift of welcome and the lesson of steadfastness offered by our host, who declared to us: "all the time remember, we Palestinians are here." May we pray for the strength to be present to them. 

And with hope and conviction, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, we pray that "the wilderness will be glad… and the desert will rejoice and blossom like a rose."


Day 7
James W. Oliver, Cleveland, Ohio
  and Rev. Kay Woike, Church of the Nativity UCC


Egypt. Our first visit of the day was to the Citadel in Cairo, Egypt, which is now a museum. Next we went to see the pyramids, one of the wonders of the world. It was an amazing sight to behold. It was a picture-taking event. Some in the group were daring enough to take camel rides.

Then it was off to a field visit to one of the projects of our partner, the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services (CEOSS), in a Cairo neighborhood called Salam City where we heard testimony of how this organization was changing lives of women and families. The majority of women in the area are heads of households who want to make the lives of their children a little bit better, but need a bit of a boost, because life happens.

CEOSS organizes training workshops for women to learn skills to help them earn a living, such as selling vegetables; knitting; making useful items such as tablecloths, handbags, and accessories, and hair styling. One woman was excited to tell us that she is going to open her own beauty shop, and others proudly displayed some of their handiwork for sale.  Three young women told us about the work of a group formed to assist children at risk and particularly to address the problem of child labor. Because of poverty, many families depend on income their children receive for working. They also cannot afford school fees and uniforms, so many children can’t attend school. CEOSS works with families to find ways to keep children in school and also offers training classes leading to employment.  They advocate for better treatment of youth workers, safe working conditions, and services for families of children with special needs.

CEOSS.jpgNext we went to the headquarters of CEOSS for lunch and met with the General Director, Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki, and some of CEOSS’s senior staff leadership team. They shared with us their new video about their mission and ministry as a Christian organization providing services and advocacy on behalf of the poor and marginalized, regardless of religion.  They aim to develop the capacity of persons to provide for themselves, through education, training, leadership development, the provision of microloans and assisting small farmers to access resources to increase their production and profits.

Then it was off to see Bishop Yolios, head of another of our partners, the Coptic Orthodox Church’s Bishopric of Public, Ecumenical and Social Services (BLESS). The Bishop and Dr. Hani Riad, the executive director, shared with us their vision and accomplishments and what impact they have on the local churches and the community. One of BLESS’s major programs is CID: Coordinated Integrated Development. This program involves adopting 30 poor rural villages at a time for a five-year period. BLESS works with the local diocese, local leaders and volunteers, and provides support that field workers identify as the local needs. Unemployment, issues of family violence, care of disabled family members, and even practical matters such as helping brides with material needs before a marriage, are some identified areas for support. BLESS supplies training, coaching, technical assistance, microloans and prepares the community to continue the work.

It was a full day sightseeing, listening, and watching blessings flow. 


Day 8

On purpose, for purpose
Rev. Rae Karim, Pastor
Northwood Christian Church

church.jpgEach day of visitation with partners indeed opened our eyes

In ways where we had no awareness of being blind

This day would be no different, as it offered greater clarity, in sight

CEI, a Refugee & Migrant Ministry is powered, led and nourished by students...

Learners, trailblazers, leaders in the Realm of God

And they taught us...

How to give

Give through prayer, a reminder that God is I AM, always

Give the presence of belonging through language and understanding

Give of our resources, as there is something of worth in all we have

Give a listening ear, to sincerely hear a matter from it's core

Give truth, satisfying immediate needs in reality and pure hope of what the future may hold

Give a helping hand, especially if it yields rest for a soul who is weary

Give from a heart of worship to God who is continually faithful

...to God who shows up every single time

...to God who never has and never will abandon God's own (children)

Give humility by way of the ability and willingness to be taught

And then learn,

Learn from tear stained eyes, that open daily to pains of uncertainty

Learn from hearts broken by despair, only to be mended enough to get out and try again

Learn from hands worn with the weight of worry and struggle

Learn from one who brings God's cup of compassion beyond the brim to overflowing

Vessels empty, yet waiting to receive

We take in the extra

Allowing it to shift us

Allowing it to shake us

Allowing it to be the example of what it means to love

For God so loved that God gave

And now, now that we have so received,

We have all it takes to do the same


©2016 SunRae Creative


Day 9
Rev. Kay Woike, Church of the Nativity, UCC

Many of us come from churches in which the majority of the membership is over 50 years old. Our next stop was Morocco where we discovered a church in which almost all the leaders are in their 20's and 30's.  We got to know one another, shared meals and worshiped with members of the Evangelical Protestant Church in Morocco (Eglise Evangelique au Maroc.)  We learned that the EEaM has 10 congregations representing more than 50 nationalities, served by 4 pastors and several pastoral interns.  The majority of its members are university and graduate students from Sub-Saharan Africa and migrants.  It sees welcoming the stranger as one of its principal ministries.  Indeed we were warmly welcomed at our first stop - Tangier - by the Rev. Karen Thomas Smith, who is the President of the Evangelical Church in Morocco and University Chaplain at Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, and the leaders of the congregation there, almost of whom are students.

One of the EEaM's most vital programs is its International Committee for Mutual Aid (CEI) developed in response to the migrant crisis in Morocco.  Tens of thousands of migrants from economically depressed countries in Africa, hoping to reach Europe, have become stranded in Morocco.  Unable to get residency and work permits, many of them are without resources to pay their rent, buy needed medicines, or purchase food.  We were able to participate with one of the Tangier CEI team's Open Door sessions.  Held every 2 weeks, migrants and refugees can come to talk to one of the CEI team members about their lives and their needs.  Some asked for food, medicine, or money to pay rent.  Others just needed someone to talk to.  Prayers are offered. CEI does not have the resources to meet every need, but everyone was treated with compassion and went home with a bag of food and clothes, if needed.

The next day we were able to experience the hospitality of the Evangelical Church in Morocco in Casablanca and to learn about their CEI training program.  This is a much larger church which holds 3 services on Sunday - in English, French and Korean. We met Johnny, Indian by heritage, but a lifelong resident of Morocco, who is in charge of the program.  Its aim is to help migrants who are unable to go to Europe or to return home and can't get work permits to find a way to be able to provide for themselves - and retain their dignity - without having to beg.

Painters_CEI_in_Morocco_-_Photo_Credit_Kent_Gilbert_2016.jpgFive students from West Africa, who were learning all aspects of house painting, including plaster repair, proudly showed us the work they had been doing on the pastor's house.  Their teacher, Freddie, is leading them through a 2 month course which emphasizes not only learning new skills, but how to work as a team.  At the end of the course each student will receive a certificate and hopefully find some work.

Johnny along with 2 migrants - Marcel and Emmanuel - led us to a local outdoor cafe for a great lunch, followed by a visit to a project called Service Acceuil Migrant.  SAM provides assistance to pregnant women, sewing classes, loans, and basic business skills to help migrants set up small businesses.

At each site visited today, we learned of people gaining skills they could use wherever they would go. We saw people who once had little opportunities, gain new skills that gave them dignity and hope for a brighter tomorrow.

To be continued…..

Won’t God provide justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will God be slow to help them? …..And when the Human One comes, will he find faith on earth?                                                                                                        Luke 18: 7-8


And so, we are all now home. I write this concluding post on Monday, October 10, my return delayed as the Orlando airport closed Friday as Matthew made it’s way up Florida’s coast. I still find myself a step behind.

As I open my bible to our gospel text for next Sunday, Jesus’ questions push right through the door of my heart and take up residence. I think they plan to stay a while. How can we possibly wrap our minds around questions of divine justice and its timing based on what we’ve experienced?

I know our homecoming will require something of each of us, but I am mindful of an adage Dr. Makari shared as we left Palestine for Egypt. “You come for a week and you think you can write a book; you come for a month, and you think you can write an article; you come for longer and you don't know what you can write."

I believe I can say collectively, like Anthony Michael Hall’s character wrote in the final scene of The Breakfast Club, although we came for two weeks, we are most decidedly in the camp that doesn’t know what to write conclusively—book, article or blog.

If you have been following us, like snapchat of old, we have offered you glimpses, only perhaps to have each dissipate with the next day’s post. As beautifully as my colleagues have written, our words fail to adequately capture what this experience has done to us. Like Jacob, we have wrestled, for most of us, with a stranger—with its complexity of history, place and context. We began with one identity in Newark, but have been transformed day by day, thus departing Morocco named anew, limping as we go. 

As we step back into the day to day that awaits us, we invite you to join with us in living into three of the challenges given to us in our final debrief.

With each partner we met, when asked what they would want us to share upon our return, without exception, each thanked us for choosing to come. Our presence in each country, with each partner, was profoundly meaningful, both for us and for them.  Our partners want each of us to see with our own eyes, learn with our own minds and feel deeply, suffer with, our own hearts what they experience on a daily basis. We didn’t just receive stories, rather we were invited into people’s lives—and they want us, and you, to come and see—a gracious invitation of heart and home.

A second request from our hosts was to share what we have learned and then invite our congregations to pray for the healing and reconciling love of God to move in and through these places that have touched our lives. If every Sunday, our respective churches would create sacred space to lift the communities and people of the Middle East to God, I trust they will feel God’s heart beating with theirs and God’s breath moving in and through their lives and God’s peace taking root in their place and time.

Finally, God asks God’s chosen to participate—not just in word, but in action—to usher in God’s justice on earth as it is in heaven. There are many ways to join hands to do so, the simplest perhaps is to pay—to make a commitment to support our partners in the Middle East, and globally, through Week of Compassion and One Great Hour of Sharing. Our challenge is to do so for more than just an hour or a week, but to commit to a discipline of giving regularly and growing each fund’s endowment, so that The Christian Church, Disciples of Christ and The United Church of Christ can consistently and continually bear witness to God’s hope for God’s holy place.

Our prayer—that through this, God finds faith on earth in us.

Rev. Melinda Keenan Wood
Pershing Avenue Christian Church
Orlando, FL