Sunday, May 26, 2013

1001 Nights: The Second Part

So to explain my next length of time living overseas I need to write a bit about my particular denomination, which is Mennonite. (The link goes to the website of the national Canadian office. There is also an American national office.) We are related to the Amish and the Hutterites, but we are a very liberal branch. What makes us most unique is our commitment to community, our belief in believer's (defined as "adult") baptism, and our commitment to Jesus' teaching on peace, nonviolence and attention to social justice issues.

There is an organization, supported by our denomination, called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). It was started when a speaker, at one of our world conferences, challenged us to have as big a commitment to our way of seeking peace as soldiers have to their way of seeking peace. We should also be willing to risk our lives for our belief that peace and nonviolence are viable options. CPT grew out of that call. They train people in nonviolent action and then send them into situations around the world where CPT has received an invitation to work. You can either work as a reservist (serving 2-8 weeks a year for three years) or as a full-time person, serving 8-10 months a year for three years. You work in rotating groups of teams, with 3-5 full-time people which are then supplemented by the reservists. I worked full-time with CPT for about two and a half years.

CPT never goes into a situation where it has not been invited by a local partner. When I served with them overseas I was in Hebron, Israel/Palestine, which is about 30 km (20 miles) south of Jerusalem. At that time, we worked with Palestinian families who were living under home demolition orders, and with making connections between Palestinians and Israeli peace groups. We also participated with the Israelis, as much as possible, in their work which varied from group to group.
This is me with one of the families our team grew very close to. They had their home demolished three times while I knew them. Their extended family ended up "adopting" me and giving me an Arabic name. (Sidenote: Rachel's middle Hebrew name is the Hebrew word for my Arabic name and signifies my and Dave's commitment to working for peace and social justice in our world. These are traits we hope to teach our kids.)
My main work was going to visit the fifty or so families we had connections with, all of whom were living under home demolition orders. Or had already had their homes demolished. (Note: I realize there is a lot of politics and history I am skipping over. If you want to ask questions, please feel free and I can send you an e-mail clarifying the Israel-Palestine situation from 12 years ago as I remember it.) Above is me with one of our translators. Although I learned to speak basic Arabic, I was nowhere good enough to be able to communicate freely with our families so I always worked with a translator.

I was also living in Hebron when The Second Intifada started. In fact, on Thursday, September 28, 2000 when Ariel Sharon visited The Temple Mount (the event many people see as the initial event that started it), I was 2km (1.5 miles) away doing a step class at the YMCA in Jerusalem. I was annoyed afterwards because I could not get into The Old City to practice piano at The Lutheran Church for the following Sunday, as was my habit after Thursday morning step class. I am sharing this example because to me it speaks so profoundly of how people are often obliviously going about their normal everyday life when history changing events are happening just a few steps away from them. Just as I was that Thursday morning. After that day, the remainder of my time in Hebron was spent writing news articles, visiting families in Hebron, and trying to process the events going on around me.
Apart from the work we did, we also spent time doing team building activities and connecting with Christian churches in Jerusalem. Above are pictures of our team during a hike from Jerusalem to Jericho, and also one of me as the assisting minister at The Lutheran Church in Jerusalem. We also took team retreats in the Galilee and gave tours to groups of people who wanted to learn about Hebron.
Since our work was very intense we were also encouraged to take breaks. We never stayed overseas for more than three to four months. The above picture is me in the Gulf of Aqaba while waiting for a trek up Mount Sinai to start. You hang out at Taba, Egypt for the day and then take a three hour taxi ride to Mount Sinai in the middle of the night. You start your hike up at 2 or 3am and then watch the sunrise from the top. Then you hike down before the heat of the day. It was an amazing experience.

I also got to attend a conference in Cyprus while I was overseas and my parents came to visit and we went to Petra in Jordan. I had never been all that excited about "walking where Jesus walked" and would never have done a Holy Land Tour, but I have to admit, it really made the Bible come alive to be in Israel/Palestine and see many of the places where Jesus lived and taught and died. I now read the Bible with new eyes since I have been to a lot of the places it talks about. I got to spend Christmas in Bethlehem and Easter in Jerusalem and neither holiday has been the same for me since.

I also spent some time with CPT working in their main office in Chicago and working with native lobster fishers in New Brunswick, Canada. I realize this post probably raises more questions than gives answers, and a lot of them are really big. If you want to ask them in the comments I will answer them as best I can. I probably should have dedicated about a month of blog posts to my time with CPT but I'd rather continue to blog about what's happening in my life right now :) Thank you for reading and thus ends my very lengthy response to Tracy's questions about living overseas. Part One can be found here. And if any of you have experience living overseas I'd love to hear about it. Blog about it when you can't think of anything else to write about!


  1. Oh wow! What an awesome experience!

  2. Thanks for sharing these stories! Again, they are truly amazing life experiences. I love how you remember the normal daily events you were involved in when a big historical moment was taking place close by. Isn't that so true how we don't forget what we happened to be doing during one of those big moments in life? Like people here remembering where they were when a President was assassinated, Pearl Harbor was attacked, or 9-11 happened. It is just our way of processing and remembering the events. CPT sounds like a really amazing organization. I wonder if one of my attorneys' work is attached to it. He and other attorneys have a peacemaking legal service where they offer special Christian based reconciliation to parties who want to resolve their differences outside of court and in a more Christian way of forgiveness and love. Feel free to share more stories anytime you need something to write about! :-)

  3. That is fascinating! I've gotten more interested in the Mennonite beliefs in recent years, particularly those you've mentioned related to non-violence and social justice, so it's great to read these experiences. Thank you for sharing!


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