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Danger for ministry in Lebanon, Israel;
As missiles fly, workers in Middle East look for hope


Mennonite Church Canada Witness/Mennonite Mission Network
by Ryan Miller

SYRACUSE, Ind. - As Mennonite workers in Israel and Lebanon sorrowfully follow reports of the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon and Hezbollah rocket strikes on Israel, they face the possibility that their ministries could be compromised or even ended.

Several workers from the Middle East met as part of a larger gathering in northern Indiana hosted by Mennonite Mission Network and Mennonite Church Canada Witness just days after the Hezbollah kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers set off the latest round of hostilities. The workers asked to remain anonymous due to ongoing security concerns.

“So many innocent people are struggling because of Hezbollah and because of Israel,” a worker in Lebanon said. “They destroy so many people’s lives.”

Workers visiting North America from Israel busily checked cell phones for text messages from friends and family members living in conflict areas. Workers from Lebanon worried for the safety of friends in the southern suburbs of Beirut, which sustained heavy bombing. They also expressed concern for Lebanese co-workers and their colleagues with the Mennonite Central Committee.

A worker from Lebanon recounted looking forward to an unusually smooth North American ministry assignment, but, “In just one week, our lives here have been radically shifted.” Without knowing whether they will be able to return to their friends, their belongings and their ministry, the worker continued, “I feel I’m suddenly stranded in the U.S.”

While the workers in both countries condemned the violence on both sides of the conflict, and expressed visible concern for friends, family members and strangers at risk from the hostilities, workers in Israel said they have seen this before.

One Jerusalem worker said residents in and around the Gaza Strip are separated from the range of the rockets currently being used by Hezbollah. However, tensions between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Hamas group continue to escalate. Fears of resumed suicide bombings were again resurfacing, said the worker.

Despite the danger, the workers in Israel plan to return and those assigned to Lebanon hope they too may be allowed to resume their work, if any of it remains after the bombing stops.

Workers also expressed concern that tourism to Nazareth Village, which witnesses by showing visitors a slice of Jesus’ first-century life, would disappear.

A Lebanon worker said hope had begun to return to the land after the end of a 15-year civil war, which ceased in 1990. Lebanese had begun to be introspective about the war, reflecting on its causes and beginning to heal. There had been hope that adversaries could work together.

That hope, the worker said, has crumbled to rubble.

The voices of Christians in the region, especially pacifist Christians, have not been heard locally or globally since most outsiders see the conflict as simply Muslims versus Jews, a worker from Israel said.

“The Christians are ignored, even by the president of the United States. At the practical level, they also don’t exist,” the worker said. Christians, he continued, must move past supporting Israel or hating Israel.

“If we take Christ as our bottom line ethically, violence is never justified,” said a worker in Lebanon. “It doesn’t lead anywhere. It just spirals downward.”

In Lebanon, Christians constitute a large portion of the population. A worker said that despite the fact that Christianity is often limited to a political and legal identity and pacifism has taken little root, many Lebanese Christians do seek to follow Jesus in their lives and reflect critically on the use of violence. Lebanese Christians, as well as Muslims, have no desire to return to civil war. They have shown remarkable strength over the last several years, said a worker, resisting the temptation to violence. Yet, the Lebanese have been unable to resolve the question of the Hezbollah to the satisfaction of their neighbors. Christianity has been hijacked as a political cultural identity, not a religious one.

Although a civil war ended in 1990, Lebanese society is now again under great stress as masses of people—both Muslims and Christians—flee the south to escape the Israeli bombardment.

In Israel, where only a small percentage of the population is Christian, there is no unified Christian voice for peace due to disagreements over the Zionist movement.

“Why should your Christian voice be a better Christian voice than the other Christian voices that are louder?” an Israeli worker asked. The voices that are heard usually serve U.S. and Israeli national interests – those are the voices with money behind them.”

The workers asked for prayer for the region and for the ministries at risk due to the continuing attacks.

Sidebar: Migrant workers forgotten in Israeli/Hezbollah crisis

by Dan Dyck

It’s been called “The New Slavery.”

Inexpensive to hire, migrant workers from Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe in Lebanon and Israel are often abused or treated as chattel as they work to rebuild infrastructure or are hired as domestic help – a status symbol for many who used to be able to afford cleaners and cooks.

These are the first people to be forgotten when crisis hits, says a Mennonite worker in Lebanon.

Missiles exchanged between Israel and Lebanon as a result of the recent escalated conflict between Hezbollah and Israel raise serious concerns about migrant labourers, said the worker, decrying the higher value placed on western lives.

“I don’t think their [migrant workers’] embassies will get them out. I wonder how they will get out,” said the worker. “There is no voice who speaks for them.”

Sidebar: What you can do

  • Pray:
    • Pray for Mennonite workers in the Middle East, their colleagues, friends, and families affected by the escalation of violence, destruction, and evacuation
    • Pray for the innocent parents, children, and families who have already endured generations of conflict; pray that they might yet know peace.
    • Pray for the aggressors, that they may see the senselessness of their actions, and reconcile their positions.
    • Pray for those without power who feel bound to follow orders; pray for a conscientious objector movement in militaries in the Middle East and around the world.
    • Pray for leaders in the region, that they may act on what they surely already know – that violence only begets violence.
    • Pray for influential leaders around the world, that they may wield their power for good.
    • Finally, pray for hope for all those in despair.
  • Encourage:
    • Encourage one another in your communities; demonstrate the love of God and the peace of Christ in your families, your homes, your congregations, your social circles; Peace begins within oneself, within ones family and home.
    • Encourage Mennonite workers you may know in the Middle East with personal notes of encouragement and hope.
  • Give:
    • Consider a financial gift of hope to a ministry in the Middle East. Mennonite Church Canada supports ministries in Jerusalem and Nazareth. The latest escalation of violence will surely result in a decline in tourism and travel for students and tour participants. These ministries rely in part on visitors from around the world. Your gift at this time will help bridge a gap until the situation once again becomes safer for traveling guests, and local/international employees of these ministries.