Network seeks to mobilize Israel-Palestine peacemaking

Aug 12, 2014 by and

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Mennonites have been building relationships in Israel-Palestine longer than many other Christian denominations but lack the churchwide efforts to work for peace in the Middle East that some denominations have.

Joy Lapp of Pleasant View Mennonite Church in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, noticed this gap while serving with Friends of Sabeel – North America. The organization works for peace in the Holy Land in solidarity with Pal­estinian Christians in Jerusalem. She leads trips to Israel-Palestine through the group.

“I’m a Mennonite working with Catholics, Episcopalians and Methodists, who have task forces in their denominations trying to work at this, and so I’ve been trying to find out: What are the Mennonites doing in terms of these issues?” she said.

Through Friends of Sabeel she met Tom Harder, co-pastor of Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church in Wichita, Kan., and they started talking.

“It’s shameful in a way that as North Americans and Mennonites we’re far behind in joining the global community in acknowledging what’s happening there,” Harder said. He became active in the cause after a trip to the Holy Land with Bethel College in North Newton, Kan.

So, the two of them — with the help of other supporters — formed Mennonite Palestine Israel Network, or MennoPIN, in 2013. The grassroots network has been gathering steam ever since, intending to build enough critical Mennonite mass to have an impact on working for peace with justice in the Middle East.

Go-to source

The group launched officially as MennoPIN at the 2013 Mennonite Church USA convention.

Now they have a website to serve as a go-to for prayer, education, advocacy and action resources, as well as information about initiatives already happening among Mennonites and other Christians, specifically Mennonite Central Committee, the Peace and Justice Support Network (a collaboration between MC USA and Mennonite Mission Network), and Christian Peacemaker Teams.

A steering committee provides leadership and sets goals. Subcommittees work on education, advocacy and communication.

Another thing they’re working on is material for the Peace and Justice Support Network’s Peace Sunday on Sept. 21. The focus this year is Israel-Palestine.

Steering committee and other network members used Mennonite conference assemblies this summer as access points for raising awareness with displays and presenting workshops.

Timothy Seidel of Community Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., helps with the website, writes articles and works with the email list. Especially with the recent violence in Gaza, the list has been useful for distributing bulletin inserts and worship resources.

“The past month has been terrible, and the level of death and destruction — with thousands of Palestinians dead and wounded, and hundreds of thousands displaced — it is nothing short of ethnic cleansing,” Seidel said.

Emails to the network notified them of places to connect — MCC’s efforts to distribute food, calls to politicians, CPT’s local demonstrations and prayer and information resources, and MC USA’s lament, call to prayer and more.

“At my latest count [on Aug. 4], 1,900 Palestinians had died, most of them civilians, and our country is providing the money for that,” Harder said. “As North American Anabaptists, there’s a strong sense of urgency to be doing something to stop it.”

In its goals and language, MennoPIN affirms the work already being done by Mennonite agencies toward peace in the Middle East. But, Seidel said, there are some gaps.

“MennoPIN is working to identify those gaps and create a space for Mennonites who . . . want to see those gaps filled,” he said.

Harder is encouraged by the eagerness to collaborate MC USA leadership has already offered Menno­PIN. Denominational staff members Andre Gingerich Stoner and Jason Boone have helped guide the formation of and spread the word about MennoPIN. Presently, MC USA is sending Mennonite leaders on “Come and See” learning tours to the Middle East.

“This is how social change happens,” Seidel said. “You need folks working at many different levels with different approaches.”

Empowering local action

Education and advocacy are first steps Menno­PIN is hoping to encourage. Lapp recommends the documentary The Stones Cry Out (thestonescryoutmovie.com).

Then, Lapp said, they want to empower people to be active where they are.

One of Seidel’s goals is to encourage Mennonites to know where their money is going.

“We need to be aware of how our consumer habits and investments are maintaining the violence,” he said. “My motivation for engaging the network is to see MC USA taking a stance in support of boycotts and divestment from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”

The MennoPIN effort is also in response to a document Palestinian Christians leaders released in 2009 called “Kairos Palestine.” In addition to challenging theologies that legitimize violence and dispossession, the leaders point out the mission of the church “to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly,” to “stand alongside the oppressed” and “take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.”

The Kairos Palestine document and MC USA’s letter of response can be found at mennopin.wordpress.com.

Ultimately MennoPIN’s goal is to work for peace with justice.

“Peace with justice means a solution that recognizes the historical injustice that Palestine has faced,” Lapp said. “The injustice that came from the creation of the state of Israel as well as acknowledging the history of injustice that the Jewish community has faced.”


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