Action Plan for Peace

by Jeff Ritchie

“The only hope for peace is the church.” So declared the Rev. Peter Gai, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan, when our team visited him in Addis Ababa. The Rev. Gai had been part of the Ecumenical delegation which we met the day before, but an infected wound in his leg prevented him from meeting us then. He wanted to see us, however, and we were grateful to get his insights on how the churches can be the means of peace in the 3 ½ year conflict.

The Moderator spoke about the “Action Plan for Peace,” or APP. He underscored what we heard the previous day that the church needs to speak with a united voice, “We want peace.” It must share this message with all the churches in South Sudan, with all who have fled South Sudan and are in refugee camps, and with the Sudanese Diaspora. The latter, the Rev. Gai said, can play a pivotal role in bringing peace to South Sudan. Two of our team members are among the dispersed peoples of South Sudan, so this was a comment particularly to Jacob Gatkuoth and David Paduil in light of what he would later say.

Ethiopian Journey, Day 2

By Jeff Ritchie

Our whole team has now arrived. David Paduil, Commissioned Ruling Elder at the Sudanese Presbyterian Church in Gallatin, Tennessee, landed this morning. The others in our group are Elder Jacob Gatkuoth, from the Sudanese American Presbyterian Fellowship in San Diego; the Rev. Allen (Chip) Grammer, pastor of the Sherwood Presbyterian Church in Fayetteville, NC; Frank Dimmock, Africa Mission Specialist for The Outreach Foundation; and the Rev. Jeff Ritchie, Mission Advocate for The Outreach Foundation.

We received some bad news today. A group from the World Council of Churches and the South Sudan Council of Churches had visited a refugee camp the day before to celebrate World Refugee Day and advocate for peace. Some residents of the camps who are upset about the current regime in South Sudan, have come to think that anyone coming to them from Juba, the capital of South Sudan, must be on the side of the Salva Kiir government. They became increasingly hostile toward the church delegation in the first camp that the group visited. As a result, the government organization responsible for administering refugees in Ethiopia, ARRA, kept the delegation from going to other camps for the sake of their own safety.

The result of this experience was that ARRA has decided for the time being not to permit other groups to enter the camps. This refusal of permission, unfortunately, includes our group...

World Refugee Day

More than coincidence that we should be on our way to Ethiopia to visit South Sudanese refugees today, on this World Refugee Day. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported this week that there are more than 65 million refugees and displaced persons globally as of the end of 2015. Nearly one third of them are in the African region we will be visiting. South Sudan, the world’s newest country, ranks third behind Syria and Afghanistan in number of refugees. There are now 6 or more camps in the Gambella region and we hope to visit 4 of them. The U.N. reports that there are around 375,000 South Sudanese registered in the Ethiopian camps. There are many more are awaiting registration. Presbyterian partners in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY), have welcomed their Sudanese neighbors and are doing their best to assist them. Many members of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (PCOSS) have been separated from their families, homes and congregations since the civil conflict restarted in December 2013...

The Last Day

For the team, Jonathan Cornell

Today is our last full day in the Holy Land. Words can't begin to describe what a profound experience this has been...and we're saving the best for last. The Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus pronounced the characteristics of blessedness in the Kingdom of God, Church of the Multiplication where he fed the 5,000 Jews then 4,000 Gentiles, capped off by a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. My deepest thanks to The Outreach Foundation and our wonderful leader Marilyn Borst for the experience of a lifetime.

The stones we've seen are good and worthy of remembering, but they are dead stones. It is the people here, Palestinian and Israeli alike, who witness to the risen Lord that are the living stones. And it is their story of hope and constant faith with which we return, and from which we draw strength for our witness and walk.

Jericho and the Jordan River

For the team, Marilyn Borst

A hot and exhausting but fulfilling day for our Outreach Foundation team! Headed into the desolate Judean desert, followed by a visit to the archaeological site of ancient Jericho. Took a cable car up to the Monastery of the Temptation. Waded into the Jordan River, where one of our team, Tracy Campbell, reaffirmed her baptism vows with Rev. Toby Mueller. Before ending the day with a swim in the Dead Sea, we stopped at Qumran. Here, a first century Jewish sect, the Essenes, withdrew into the desert overlooking the Dead Sea and spent their time copying ancient text.Some of their library, hidden in the nearby mountain caves, was discovered in 1947 – the so called Dead Sea Scrolls. Significantly, copies of the book of Isaiah found were 1,000 years earlier than the earliest manuscript of that book which had been seen to date – but matched up almost exactly, confirming how the Holy Spirit had guided the transmission of our sacred Scripture across the ages!

The Palestinian Bible Society

Doug Hollar, one of our Outreach Foundation team and a member of First Presbyterian Church of Valparaiso, Indiana, wrote this excellent summary of our day:

"In contrast to yesterday's noise and crush of people and cars, today started with a very quiet and somewhat eerie bus ride to the Palestinian Bible Society (PBS). Why so quiet? All the Palestinian shops and businesses were closed and hardly anyone was on the streets as part of a strike to support the more than 30-day hunger strike by more than 1,500 Palestinians being held in Israeli prisons. They are not asking for release but rather for human rights such as improved family visitation and not being arbitrarily detained without any charges. 

At PBS, we met with Nashat Filmon, the general director, and were both disheartened and encouraged by all that he shared with us. He stated that PBS tries to be a continuation of that light born here in Bethlehem centuries ago and to facilitate the birth of Jesus Christ again in each of God's children. They "sow the seeds" and wait for God to reveal Himself. 

Instruments of Christ's Peace

For the team, Marilyn Borst

Highlights of this day for our Outreach Foundation team:

The Church of the Visitation which commemorates Mary's visit to Elizabeth; time spent with Outreach partner Bethlehem Bible College (we met with one of the professors there, Daniel Bannoura); a visit to the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem where Angie Saba shared about the ministries through which the church is seeking to bring hope and a future within its Palestinian context (Diyar Consortium) even while our drive in and out of Bethlehem forced us to confront the specter of an unjust Separation Wall...

At the end of the day, we met, as always, for devotions and prayer. So timely, given what we had seen, that Rev. Deena Candler would choose to have us reflect upon Ephesians 2:

Reconciliation

For the team, Marilyn Borst

We began the day with one of The Outreach Foundation's ministry partners, Musalaha: a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, based on the life and teaching of Jesus. Musalaha, which means "reconciliation," was founded in 1990 by Dr. Salim Munayer. 

Shoeless in Syria

For the Team, Marilyn Borst

We were five pastors and five lay leaders who came from Oregon, Indiana, Nebraska, California, Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. As the team leader, I was the only person who had actually met everyone before we gathered in Lebanon and then headed into Syria for 10 days and 9 nights to meet with congregations and pastors of the National Evangelical (Presbyterian) Church. On either side of our time in Syria, we spent days in Lebanon meeting with Outreach Foundation partners who are doing ministry with Syrian refugees, or, as is the case with Near East School of Theology, training the next generation of leaders to serve the Church in Syria. The ten of us quickly became a family,

Impact: Divine, Human

For the Team, Julie Burgess

 

On our second to last full day on this most amazing of trips with The Outreach Foundation to Syria and Lebanon, we found ourselves in Tyre. You can read about King Hiram of Tyre in 1 Kings 5. Marilyn shared that story with us as we walked the ancient ruins of the place, but that is not the text that came to my mind for that day. What came to my mind was something I had read at the Nicholas Sursock Museum in Beirut at the beginning of our trip.

In a room filled with old photographs of Egyptian archaeological digs I found this explanatory sign on the wall. “The Human Scale: In the second half of the 19th century, photographic expeditions to Egypt multiplied, with a view to making an inventory of the Orient. Photography thus became a precious tool for archaeologists and scientists.