Hannah Heinzekehr is the executive director of The Mennonite, Inc.
Photo: Syrian refugee Adra and her children received MCC-supported food vouchers and other humanitarian relief to supplement the occasional work her husband could find in Lebanon. (The family is not named for their protection.) (MCC Photo/Silas Crews)
I was 16 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. I was sitting in my choir classroom at Bethany Christian High School in Goshen, Indiana, when our principal’s voice came over the intercom, announcing in a muffled voice that there had been some kind of attack and that our school would be observing a minute of silence and prayer. The news didn’t really sink in until the next class period, when my social studies teacher turned on CNN, and we sat and watched the horrific news as it unraveled.
Many of you know this story. Less than a month after these attacks, the United States went to war. Again. First in Afghanistan and then in Iraq. We began a “War on Terror,” which continues today. Under this large “umbrella war,” we’ve participated in attacks and maneuvers in Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya and many other countries. Countries that probably don’t even get reported.
Why bring this up now? Because, in a new way over the last few days, I have become aware that perpetual warfare has been my country’s modus operandi for my whole adult life. And if we trace the threads of these conflicts to their beginning, who can say where these conflicts began? If evil actions so often come from places of deep pain and suffering, who can say where the seeds of that hurt took root?
A resolution Mennonite Church USA delegates passed this summer, “The Faithful Witness Amid Endless War resolution”, states: “The United States of America is experiencing an era of boundless and endless war. This era began Sept. 14, 2001, when Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). It is not expected to end within the foreseeable future. This is a different kind of war, without traditional armies operating under rules of war. The entire world is the battlefield. The enemy is shifting and ill-defined; sometimes it is a group with a history of recent collaboration with the U.S. Often the enemy is described vaguely as ‘terror’ or ‘insecurity.’”
In this resolution, which our delegates passed nearly unanimously, there was a call for our congregations to renew our commitment to trusting God with our security and reexamining our complicity in our country’s wars.
If you have been watching the news lately, it would be hard not to feel heartbroken. In the last week alone, we’ve seen news that has included reports of a mass shooting in Kenya (which really occurred in April but began trending again this week on sites like Facebook), attacks across Paris, bombings in Nigeria, attacks in Lebanon, U.S. governors barring Syrian refugees from resettling in their states, and more police shootings of unarmed black civilians.
I find myself feeling overwhelmed, tired, heartbroken, often moving between despair about the human condition and numbness. I want to take advantage of my own privilege and look away. And I’ve found myself praying, sometimes begging, that God will intervene.
In a recent post, my wise friend Margaret Ellsworth, an Episcopal writer and staff person at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., described prayer as “asking God to create new and better possibilities for the world and … offering one’s own gifts in the service of those possibilities.” The Anabaptist in me resonates with Margaret’s words, and they seem a fitting accompaniment to Jesus’ reminder in Matthew that in caring for the “least of these,” or those outside our already existing circles of care, we are caring for him.
I don’t have any clear-cut answers. I still wonder what it will mean for my children to grow up knowing nothing prior to endless “low-grade” wars, always operating beneath the surface but leaving carnage in their wake.
I do know that the heart of God is with those who suffer. And I know that there are people working to help. I hope you’ll join me in praying: for our world, our country and our congregations as we seek ways to be a witness to another way of being Jesus’ followers.
And I hope you’ll consider supporting the work of organizations that are taking concrete steps to support and help. Here are five quick suggestions for ways to be engaged:
- Join Mennonite Central Committee in supporting efforts in Iraq and Syria. Our own Anabaptist relief and development organization is engaged in humanitarian responses to the current crisis, including shipping relief kits to refugees and those still living in the midst of conflict in Syria and Iraq. Father Walid, one of MCC’s partners from St. Peter’s Monastery in Syria, recently emphasized that “even the smallest aid is so appreciated” in this time of great conflict.
- Support Mennonite Mission Network work alongside peace churches in Paris. Mission Network has five workers on the ground in Paris. Three of them, Neil and Janie Blough and Linda Oyer, have decades of experience walking alongside peace churches in France and providing a place of hospitality at the Paris Mennonite Center. Mission workers Brad and Brenna Graber, who work with youth and young adults in Paris, were actually at the soccer stadium when the bombing took place.
- Sign a petition urging the U.S. government to increase resettlement quotas for Syrian refugees. In a time when many governors are seeking ways to keep Syrian refugees out of their states, many are advocating for greater hospitality. In a recent blog post about the Syrian refugee crisis (which also includes some excellent “myth-busting” information about the recent attacks in Paris), Jonathan Merritt writes, “Christians–many who oppose allowing refugees into the United States–do not cite the Bible’s commands to practice hospitality. They do not wrestle with God’s instructions for how the Israelites should treat refugees and immigrants. They do not invoke Jesus’ comments on loving one’s neighbor or Paul’s reminder that God does not give his children ‘a spirit of fear.’”
- Support local refugee resettlement organizations in your community. Perhaps host a conversation in your congregations about ways to be a hospitable and welcoming presence to new refugees. Seek out organizations doing this work in your community. Learn from them what their organization needs in order to do their work well.
- Learn and pray more. If you’re like me, it may be tempting to avoid the news, simply for the sake of not falling into a pit of despair. But for those of us who are U.S. citizens, we have a responsibility to know about the wars being waged in our name and (often) with our money. I’ve begun a morning tradition of praying through the news as I drink my first cup of coffee. What ways might you find to hold these stories and raise your own awareness about global events?
What else would you add to the list? Feel free to list resources or additional ideas in the comments section.