Reflections on Burundi

One of the things that I appreciate most about the Christian faith is that it provides a common denominator between people around the world. This common identity can be a catalyst for important relationship building across national boundaries. In early June, I joined the Church of the Brethren young adult work camp trip to Burundi, hoping to both build relationships and see some of the great peacebuilding work being done in the African Great Lakes region. These relationships and my increased understanding of the challenges in Burundi will feed into the work of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy, as we increase our level of engagement with advocacy relating to the region.

The view from the THARS center porch in Gitega. Photo Credit: Tori Bateman

Located south of Rwanda, Burundi is consistently ranked among the poorest countries in the world. In 2017, the GDP per capita was just $818, according to the International Monetary Fund. In addition to poverty and humanitarian concerns, Burundi has a history of genocide and election violence. Conflict between Hutus and Tutsis killed upwards of 300,000 people in several outbreaks of violence between the 1970s and the early 1990s. More recently, political conflict has led to instability. Just a week before our work camp traveled to the region, 15 people were killed in election violence related to a referendum vote.

Banana trees planted using the agriculture methods taught by a educational program funded by the Church of the Brethren. Photo Credit: Tori Bateman

Our group was hosted by Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services (THARS), a partner of the Church of the Brethren’s Global Mission and Service office. THARS provides mental health services to Burundians still impacted by the history of violence. This includes operating listening centers, facilitating support groups, and conducting training workshops. In addition to mental health work, THARS runs two programs that are funded by the Church of the Brethren, including training for farmers and a feeding program for Batwa schoolchildren.

Pouring concrete in the new kitchen building at THARS. Photo Credit: Grey Robinson

While at THARS, our group worked on two construction projects. At one location, the team knocked down walls in a building that was to be re-purposed as a library. Just down the hill, another group was pouring the concrete floor in a new kitchen facility. Our team worked alongside a Burundian construction crew and the national staff of THARS, who had traveled to Gitega to participate in the work camp.  These projects included a lot of shoveling, carrying bags of sand and rock, and transporting concrete via bucket brigade.

A banner for a USAID-funded peace conference that was held at THARS in 2011. Photo Credit: Tori Bateman

The impact of United States policy on Burundi could be seen everywhere we traveled. The USAID logo denoted vehicles, events and programs that have been funded with U.S. foreign aid money. Because of the reality of this impact, it is important that offices like ours maintain awareness of the situation in the country, and amplify the voices of Burundian peacebuilders in U.S. policy discussions.

 

My trip provided many useful insights into potential advocacy avenues for our office. During a meeting with one of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy’s partners in Bujumbura, for example, I heard about one of the biggest challenges facing peacebuilding work in Burundi- a lack of long-term funding for projects. Many peacebuilding projects are only funded for one year, meaning that the work lacks consistency, there is not time to learn from mistakes and adjust programming, and programs have a limited impact. It is important that we share this funding concern with relevant government staff in Washington, D.C, as we seek to make peacebuilding programs as effective as possible.

 

David Niyonzima, founder of THARS, and Tori in Gitega. Photo Credit: Donna Parcell

I am grateful to THARS and the people of Burundi for their hospitality. Going forward, I am excited to engage with the Burundi Working Group in DC on behalf of the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. Made up of NGOs and government agencies that work in Burundi, the group plans to engage with legislative staff, the administration, the interfaith community, and broader civil society. The group will work to increase awareness of the political and humanitarian situation in the country, and advocate for policy and funding that will support the important peacebuilding work done by partners like THARS.

Welcoming the Stranger: A Call for Just Immigration Reform

Update: As more reporting has been done on this issue, more accurate numbers have become available on the number of children separated from their parents. From April 19th-May 31st, 1995 children were separated according to Department of Homeland Security data. 
The Church of the Brethren has long acknowledged the Bible’s call for justice in immigration policy. Matthew 25:35 says, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me,” reminding us that our response to “the least of these” is just as important as the manner in which we would choose to treat Christ. As people of faith, it is essential that we respond to God’s call to welcome strangers, extend hospitality and recognize the inherent dignity of each human being. 
Yesterday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited the Bible in an attempt to justify the separation of children from their parents at the border as they flee violence, poverty and oppression in their home countries. Once separated from their parents, these children are held in detention centers. Over 500 children have been detained under this policy, putting them at risk for emotional trauma and abuse. 
This past spring, the world watched as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was rescinded, leaving hundreds of thousands of students and community members not knowing the future of their immigration status- despite having grown up in the United States. Erick, a Church of the Brethren member, shared his own story with us here. 
Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs, which gave legal residence to people from nations facing violence or natural disaster, have also been cut. Some TPS holders have been in the country for decades, starting families and businesses, and will be forced to return to their original country if a pathway to citizenship is not created. The Haitian Church of the Brethren in Miami, Florida has been impacted by these policies, and you can read about the March for TPS they held here. 
The uncertainty, fear, and danger faced by immigrants impacted by these broken U.S. immigration policies is not acceptable. Our 1982 Annual Conference Statement on Undocumented Persons and Refugees in the United States calls for the United States government to adopt legislation and policies “which welcome and promote the welfare of immigrants and refugees,” and “to bring about a general amnesty for those people who once entered the United States as ‘undocumented aliens’ but have settled peacefully among their neighbors.” 
As people of faith, we urge the United States government to fix its broken immigration system. U.S. policies must be compassionate and just, and recognize the importance of strong families and communities. The Bible condemns those who exploit immigrants (Ezekiel 22:7), and instead calls for us to love those who are foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19). Immigrants continue to make valuable contributions to the country, and each human being who enters the United States deserves to be treated with compassion. 

Reflections on the March for TPS

On Friday, May 18th, the Haitian Church of the Brethren in Miami, Florida marched down the streets of Miami to call for justice in U.S. immigration policy. I had the opportunity to represent the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy at the march, standing in solidarity with the Haitian Brethren who organized the march.

Marchers gathering in front of the Haitian Church of the Brethren Photo: Tori Bateman

A crowd of about 50 people started from the Eglise Des Freres Haitiens in North Miami, marching down a busy street with a police escort. Out of the five days I was in the city, this was the only morning without intense rain- an anomaly we appreciated while marching! The songs of the marchers were punctuated by honks from supportive passerby, and marchers waved both Haitian and American flags. The march ended in front of the Miami U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services building, where the marchers gathered on the sidewalk to sing and call for just immigration policies.

The march ended in front of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services building Photo: Tori Bateman

The march’s goal was to support those impacted by Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). TPS is a status given to those from countries experiencing violent conflict, natural disaster, or other extreme situation. Some TPS recipients have been in the country for decades, and have built families, homes and businesses here. Because of the administration’s decision to terminate TPS designations for many countries, community members who had previously been given TPS are now at risk of losing their residency. They have no legal pathway to citizenship because of the nature of the TPS policy. Current bills that would rectify this include the American Promise Act (in the House) and the SECURE Act (in the Senate).

To share these legislative solutions with the marchers, our office led an advocacy training on the evening of the march. During the training, I heard from each of the attendees why they care about immigration issues, and shared our office’s work and resources with them. At the end of the session, participants signed petitions that I will drop off at their Senators’ and Representative’s offices in Washington, DC.

Participants in the advocacy training (photo: Tori Bateman)

I am grateful for the leadership of the Eglise Des Freres Haitiens church on this important justice issue. The church’s willingness to publicly witness for peace and justice in U.S immigration policy is inspiring, and I can’t wait to see where their advocacy efforts take them in the future. Whether they write letters-to-the-editor, visit a local congressional office, or even meet with their representative in Washington, DC, it is important that Brethren voices like theirs are heard in the context of U.S. policy making.

Congressional Briefing on Nigeria

On March 22nd, the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy and the Nigeria Working Group hosted a congressional briefing on the topic of returns to the Lake Chad Basin.  With the Church of the Brethren’s connections to northeast Nigeria, this topic of returning Nigerians to their home regions is very relevant to our work. Accurate and timely information about the situation in Nigeria is essential for quality relevant U.S. policy in the region.

Panelists presented on the topic of returnees and garrison towns in the Lake Chad Basin. Photo by Nathan Hosler.

The briefing was based in part on a report by Refugees International, one of our partners in Washington, DC that does extensive work on Nigeria. Other speakers included staff from Mennonite Central Committee and Search for Common Ground. The report addressed the issue of returnees and garrison towns, and gives recommendations for the various actors in Nigeria to mitigate some of the risks that come with the pressure to return IDP communities to their original homes.

You can find the full Refugees International report here.

One reoccurring theme in the report was the importance of the truth to the success of return policy. First of all, the Nigerian government must provide accurate and timely information on the conditions of regions to which they they plan to return IDPs, and allow the returnees to make the voluntary decision on whether to return to the region or not based on that information. There is fear within the humanitarian community that, because they want to claim successful returns during the upcoming elections, Nigerian officials will force IDPs to return to unsafe areas with inadequate resources and limited accessibility.

The importance of truthful analysis of conditions in IDP camps is also essential to a quality humanitarian response. The report highlights the issue of IDP camp management denying psychosocial support and other support services, because those in charge of the camps want to paint a more positive picture of the crisis situation than is accurate.

Refugees International makes several recommendations to the Nigerian government, including the adoption of an official policy towards IDPs and the creation of a well-planned return strategy that avoids involuntary returns of IDPs. The report also recommends that donor governments continue funding programs in Nigeria.

The Office of Peacebuilding and Policy will continue to coordinate efforts with other Nigeria-focused organizations in Washington, DC to bring these important policy concerns to U.S. lawmakers. The better our policymakers understand the humanitarian and security concerns in Nigeria, the better they will be able to target assistance and peacebuilding efforts in the country. It is important that the United States strive to be a helpful partner to the Nigerian people as they strive towards peace and justice within their communities.

Sowing for Glory

by Nathan Hosler. This post is a sermon from the day after the Going to the Garden Summit. 

John 12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

This is basic gardening.

Sowing assumes loss but anticipates great gain. In sowing the sower turns over the precious seed to the dark earth. The seed is hidden from light in secret places where worms roam and the mystery of life takes root. This insight, is, however, general. Anyone with experience or basic understanding of plant stuff will get this. Jesus is going beyond.

Imagery and analogy of plant life abound in scripture. In 1 Cor. 15:36-37 we read:
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” 36 Fool! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. 37 And as for what you sow, you do not sow the body that is to be, but a bare seed, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. 39 Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish. 40 There are both heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is one thing, and that of the earthly is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; indeed, star differs from star in glory. 

Sowing assumes loss but anticipates a harvest. Sowing is the intentional burying of an object that appears dead and then awaiting the pushing forth of new life. The multiplication of the small to the many. Last year, a sunflower seed that sprouted on its own grew to 8 feet tall with well over 100 hundred blossoms from a single stalk. This growth is mysterious, unexpected, almost uncontrollable—yet also fragile, at times easily destroyed, and precarious. However, the seed must be sown, buried, abandoned, set free.

Sowing the seed of life is the same.

 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

 The cost is great but the result surpasses even this. Verse 26 continues, Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Jesus sows with the anticipation of glory and invites us to the same. This is not suffering for suffering’s sake. And it is not personal suffering for personal gain, it is for others. An oft repeated and type of unofficial mission statement of the Church of the Brethren is: “For the Glory of God and for our neighbor’s good.” In James 3:18 also uses the imagery of sowing. The New Revised Standard Version reads. “And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” The New International Version reads “Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

If one loses their life (either literally or figuratively) as part of a gamble to save one’s life, then it would seem like the point has been missed. “Gambling”, however, even if one’s motive is clear, does not convey quite the right sense. For, to gamble is to bank on chance, which is rigged so that losing is neigh inevitable. Sowing—sowing is much different. Though it is still not guaranteed success, sowing is done out of trust, resolve, skill, perseverance. The sowing is risky, it is an embrace of the unknown.

This weekend we held a Going to the Garden initiative gathering in New Orleans. This brought Brethren community-based gardeners from around the country to share of their efforts in dynamic (some might say radical) community gardening. Gardening that confronts the displacement of Indigenous peoples, that builds community, that reveals racism and challenges mass incarceration, that, as one gardener describes it “is growing more than veggies.” For some, the congregation eventually told the pastor that they supported him spending as much time as he felt called in the community gardening. One took a Fed-ex night shift so that the daylight hours would be free to garden. Another stayed in the Lower 9th ward after working in disaster response to the hurricane Katrina. People left home to follow the call of God on their lives. Some envision how it may help to reintegrated formerly incarcerated individuals. (In my description you may hear the strains of the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 11).

A classic text of this giving up of one’s life is Luke 9:23.

“Then he [Jesus] said to them all, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Sowing assumes loss but anticipates a harvest. Sowing is the intentional burying of an object that appears dead and then awaiting the pushing forth of new life. The multiplication of the small to the many.
5 minutes of silence—Congregational Response—on sowing

 

Jeremiah 31:31-34
31:31 The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

31:32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD.

31:33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

31:34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.

A defining characteristic of the new covenant inaugurated by Christ is the breaking beyond ethnic and geographic boundaries. In Ephesians 2 we read.
12 remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15 He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16 and might reconcile both groups to God in one body[c] through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.[d]17 So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 

This “new covenant” is announced already in the prophet Jeremiah. The vision of this passage concludes with:

31:34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

These prophecies have a predictive quality but also a visioning function. They shape the imaginations of the people who seek God. In Baltimore there is the American Visionary Art museum. In DC at the Smithsonian American Art Museum at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in NOLA there are sections dedicated to “visionary art,” These typical include art works—almost always bright, rather wild, often apocalyptic—which are often based on “visions” and biblical texts. Often these “folk” artists labor for years in insolation, creating. Prophecies such as Jeremiah participate in shaping the imaginations of the people who seek God. They shape the imaginations of the people who seek God. This shaping, however, does not mean that the task, the goal, the bringing of the Peace of Christ is simply up to the will of the church nor the will of humanity but is carried forward by the action of God. It is not simply something that we work juuust a little harder to achieve. The Spirit of God carries it forward.

Of our Gospel passage in John commentators write, “Thus, ‘lifting up Jesus’ is not something contemporary preachers and Christians are charged to do, but something that has been done by God’s act at the cross and resurrection.” (Craddock and Boring, 330).

Our work as a community remains clear: gather to worship God, proclaiming the peace of Christ through word and deed. This ministry of reconciliation seen in 2 Corinthians 5 brings us to reconciling people to God and people to people (as well as all of creation).

These prophecies have a visioning function. They participate in shaping the imaginations of the people who seek God.

Introduction to Human Trafficking

by Doris Abdullah, Church of the Brethren United Nations Representative

The nurse looked at the face of the young girl wrapped from head to toe in white gauze and tape. The chart listed her name as Jane Doe and her age of 12 /15 had a question mark beside it. The policewoman spoke up to say: “Lucky she is alive. We found her in a dumpster beside the highway.”

The above composite of a girl child found beaten and near death occurs all to frequently in rural areas, near small towns and cities around the world. Jane Doe is a victim of human trafficking and she can just as easily be found hospitalized in Cincinnati, Ohio, Lima, Peru, Tokyo, Japan, Melbourne, Australia, Jos, Nigeria, Bangkok, Thailand, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, Ghouta, Syria or Moscow, Russia. Human Trafficking, also known as Modern Day Slavery, is a worldwide phenomenon. Slavery and slavers taskmasters are as old as human civilization. Modern day Human Trafficking is driven by high demand, high profits and low risk. The high demand comes from manufacturers making shoes and clothes, agriculture producers, corporations in mining, small fisheries, and the demand for body parts and sex. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and other reporting agencies estimate the worldwide profit for Human Trafficking to be as high as $150 billion annually. (1)

It is not possible to consent to slavery. A trafficked person is devoured of personal freedom. The trafficked person is bought and sold against their will. Violence and the constant usage of violence is the weapon of trafficking. Trafficked persons are held in forced bondage for exploitation. When violence does not restrain, slaves are held by ropes, handcuffs, in cages and chained under locks and keys. The trafficked person’s loss of freedom comes by means of forced abduction, fraud, deception and/or coercion. Trafficking is the complete control over another person for the sole ill purpose of exploitation. The traffickers uses their human bondage until they are used up thereby condemning the trafficked person to death. The only way out of bondage is to escape or be rescued.

Slave auctions are mostly held in secret, but law enforcement have carried out trafficking raids in exclusive hotels and even in the VIP lounges of major airlines in cities around the globe. In addition auctions over media are used for clandestine advertising and specification on types of slaves’ available. The media is also used to lure children, girls and women into slavery. Girls and women are often lured by the false promise of a job and a better lifestyle. Girls and women represent 79% of the trafficked victims world wide. The high demand for a large supply of slaves has resulted in more than 30 million persons being held in human bondage across our world. Some United States reporting from 2012 to 2016 estimated 600,000 to 800,000 persons being trafficked within the country. (2) The overwhelming amount of those trafficked in the US are females and half of the females are estimated to be children. If we use the high of 800,000 and 80% of them females, we are speaking of 320,000 slave children in the United States. (3)

Trafficked children and women for sexual exploitation are not sex workers. They are sex slaves and they are victims of exploitation. Abducted and seduced children are robbed of an education, stunted in their physical growth and robbed of their childhood innocence. They are used for child prostitution and in child pornography and child labor. Children born of rape, poverty, disabled children and runaway children are most vulnerable to be trafficked. Children are also easy to discipline and are usually to afraid to complain or escape from slavery. Abducted and coerced females are forced into prostitution. Slave women are often tattooed which further diminishes them as a human being and serves as a reminder that they are the property of others. The Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others UN General Assembly resolution Preamble states: “Whereas prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.”(4) Sex trafficking in children and women has been estimated to be a $100 billion dollar a year industry.(5)

Girls and women are also abducted, trafficked and forced into early marriage and domestic servitude. Undocumented and even documented females are vulnerable to exploitation as domestic slaves, because of deportation fears, language barriers among migrants and immigrants in addition to being debt bondage victims. The demand for labor in the agriculture sector drives males and females trafficking in the United States. Domestic or labor, the slave is paid for only one time, and the cost of a slave is cheaper than paying wages. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for the period 2013-14, show an increase in trafficking for labor, just slightly behind sex trafficking.(6) 63% of the data show that the slaves were men. Violence, playing on the immigration status as well as perpetual debt when wages were paid. The producers and miners impose fees for mandatory transportation, food, communication and housing cost which prevents indebtedness and freedom from ever being realized for those entrapped in bondage.

Men makes up 82% of those trafficked for organ removal. Organ trafficking has been reported to be greatly under reported and remain hidden underground. The skill set involved to remove organs involved the criminal help of professionals from the medical sector. The demand for organs far out pace the supply. The US Department of Health and Human Service from January, 2014 reported: 120,999 persons were waiting for organs, but only 10,587 donors were registered. (7)

The face of Human Trafficking display gender-based violence and cultural norms in addition to pay gap, gender poverty, lower employment opportunities, and women employment in unregulated and informal sectors as domestic helpers and agricultural which increase their vulnerability to trafficking and exploitation in our industrialized country. A citizen that was made aware of human trafficking made these remarks. “I never thought there was human trafficking (in Ohio). The problem was in front of my eyes. I just did not pay attention.” (8) We all must open our eyes and become aware of Human Trafficking. Stop Human Trafficking

References

1. UNODC United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Trafficking Report

2. Human Rights Trafficking Fact Sheet NO 36

3. The Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons

4. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish trafficking in Persons, especially women and children, Supplementing the UN Convention against Trans National Organized Crime, 2000 (Trafficking Protocol)

5. UNODC United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Global Trafficking Report

6. Country Profile North America Trafficking GLOTIP 16

7. HHS The US Department of Health and Human Services

8. HTS-2016-Annual Report-Ohio Trafficking

Other References

1. Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Sales of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography in the United States Najat Maalla M’Jid

2. Terminology Guidelines for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse Adopted by the Inter-agency Working Group in Luxembourg 28 January 2016

3. US State Department Document Report 2016

4. ILO International Labor Organization

5. Human Trafficking Trends (Polaris Project)

Guantanamo Bay

Two days ago, the President signed an Executive Order confirming that he will keep Guantanamo, the U.S. military prison in Cuba, open. In Guantanamo, prisoners are detained without trial and often mistreated psychologically and physically.
The Church of the Brethren is committed to speaking out against torture, which has consistently been a concern with this facility. Detainees are confined indefinitely without a trial, and denied basic legal human rights that should be afforded to all persons. A lack of transparency in the facility compounds the ethical problems, as the public is often not aware of the interrogation techniques and torture performed on their behalf.
The 2010 Church of the Brethren Resolution on Torture says that “torture is a blatant violation of the tenets of our faith. It injects into our character the sense that we are better than others and dehumanizes people. It seeks to break the human spirit. In reality it devastates both the one who is tortured and the one who tortures.”
Jesus makes it clear that the way we interact with others is of utmost importance. In Matthew 25:40, he says that “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” The “least of these” certainly applies to those imprisoned without trial in our military prisons, and our treatment of these prisoners is a far cry from how we would treat Jesus.
The indefinite detention of prisoners by our government in Guantanamo is inconsistent with an ethic of peace and justice. As we seek to live in right relationship with others, we must hold the U.S. government accountable for it’s treatment of detainees. We condemn the decision to keep the Guantanamo Bay facility open, and urge the U.S. government to commit itself to the transparent, ethical treatment of all prisoners.
For more information about how you can get involved in seeking justice, visit the website of our partner, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. 

Response to the National Security Strategy

 
As a church committed to peace, we should find the National Security Strategy (NSS) released by the Trump Administration today deeply concerning. This strategy, typically released every four years, addresses the priorities of the president as they relate to security issues- including the military, humanitarian aid, and any other facet of public policy that is deemed to have an impact on the security of the nation. 
 
The concerning elements of the NSS are not unique to the current presidential administration. With each new President and each new security strategy, we see values and worldviews that are inconsistent with an ethic of peacebuilding. While this blog post is in reference to the most recent iteration of our nation’s strategy, we remain opposed to all of the military-focused strategies that have made up our national security policies in the past.
 
One of the concerning elements of this National Security Strategy is that it positions other nations as competitors. While unveiling the plan, President Trump noted that “America is in the game, and America is going to win.” The text of the NSS itself suggested that the United States must start viewing conflict as “an arena of continuous competition.” Viewing national security as a zero-sum game and pitting the U.S. against other countries is not conducive to the peaceful existence we desire for all of humanity.  Adversarial relationships with China, Russia and other increasingly powerful nations will only fuel unnecessary economic and military conflict that will impact both Americans and communities around the world.
 
The strategy also focuses heavily on increasing military might and coercive strength, rather than relying on the preventative and peacebuilding measures long espoused by the Church of the Brethren. On this point, President Trump claimed that “unrivaled power is the most certain path to success.” In the text of the strategy itself, the administration calls for the modernization of the United States’ nuclear arsenal and the growth of our military’s size and funding. The 1996 Church of the Brethren Statement on Nonviolence and Humanitarian Intervention affirms the church’s commitment to a peace-oriented approach to national security, saying:
 
“Out of love toward victims of poverty, oppression, and violence, we are called to earlier, more profound, and more lasting efforts to address the conditions that gives rise to violence. Our church should press for more effective preventive diplomacy to defuse rising tensions before they erupt into war, more serious economic development to avert desperate conditions, and more concerted peacebuilding to weave new strong social fabrics that cross boundaries of race, class, religion, ethnicity, and nationality. We have abundant though underused evidence that where socio-economic cooperation occurs, former adversaries study war no more. We believe our church, nation, and the UN, should focus on such measures to achieve equity and justice. As equity and justice increase, new social stability and deepening commitment to community can reduce the occasions for military interventions.”
 
We appreciate the NSS’s inclusion of language surrounding the importance of empowering women and youth, but are disappointed that they have emphasized military might and defense spending over the programs and policies that can address root causes of violence.
 
The National Security Strategy views the success and influence of the United States as more desirable than peace and stability facilitated through cooperation with the rest of the world. In his speech, President Trump articulated his belief that the United States has “surrendered sovereignty” to international organizations and foreign diplomats.  The 1996 Church of the Brethren statement also addresses the concerns churches should have with this paradigm, saying:
 
The Church of the Brethren believes that, although national sovereignty may serve good purposes, it may also tempt us to idolatry, in which we serve the gods of national power and wealth rather than the God of love calling us to care for “the least of these” throughout the world. Nationalism wedded to militarism is a particularly harmful idol because it obstructs genuine respect for others and the growth of world community among all of God’s creation. If we do not bow down to today’s idols, we can through the grace of God be loving without killing.
 
As Christians, and especially as members of a historic Peace Church that has consistently opposed violence, it is essential that we hold our government to high standards as it sets out the national security agenda. National security should not be our highest priority- instead, our highest priority should be following the call of Jesus. The tone of this National Security Strategy contrasts starkly with the principles laid out in the Sermon on the Mount.
 
Matthew 5:1-12
He said:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 
  As an alternative to the priorities set out in the National Security Strategy, we suggest increased attention to diplomacy, civilian protection, conflict mitigation, and development assistance instead of increased militarization of our approach to national security threats. We urge the United States government to adopt a peace-focused worldview, and to consider the important role of the United States in modeling such a worldview as it carries out its national security duties.

Insights from Peacebuilders Around the World

The following blog post is based on the report “Peacebuilding and Violent Extremism: Key insights and lessons from a global consultation convened by Peace Direct.”  You can find the report here.
 
As the convener of a working group on Nigeria, the Office of Public Witness works with a number of peace-focused organizations. One of these organizations is PeaceDirect, an “international charity that works with local people to stop violence and build sustainable peace.” In 2017, PeaceDirect convened experts from 36 different countries in a series of peacebuilding discussions focused on violent extremism. The result was a report entitled “Peacebuilding and Violent Extremism.” The collection of insights and expertise from local peacebuilders around the world is incredibly helpful as we develop a peace-focused worldview.
 
One insight from the discussion is the necessity of local engagement in peacebuilding processes. Too often, the international community is quick to step into violent conflict situations with ready-made solutions and top-down approaches to resolving problems. To build a lasting, sustainable peace, however, requires a much deeper engagement from the local communities.
 
One practical way to engage local communities, especially youth and women’s organizations, is to allow them to design their own peacebuilding programs rather than funding them to carry out programs that have been already designed. Rather than serving as contracting organizations, then, these international organizations would be directly empowering local communities to find and sustain their own long-term peacebuilding initiatives.
 
Another key takeaway from the report was the importance of working towards an ideal version of the world, rather than a pragmatic one. As peacebuilders- and especially as people of faith- it is our job to guide the world closer to the best that it can be, rather than making the kinds of compromises common in the policy world.
 
An overarching theme to the discussion was the importance of language, and how the ways that we frame conflict with our words has real-world implications for the way conflict situations are perceived globally. Nora Lester Murad articulated this most clearly when she said, “Those who control the discourse are able to frame certain questions in or out, to make certain ideas normal or extreme, and can use the legitimacy they gain from controlling discourse to marginalize certain voices.” One example of the power of language can be seen even in the term “Countering Violent Extremism,” which has been used primarily for actions against Islamic actors and not in reference to other extremist groups- for example, right wing hate groups.
 
Peacebuilding is important to the Church of the Brethren. We are called to be a living Peace Church, and to “facilitate dialogue among those committed to Biblical non-resistance, those committed to conscientious objection to armed conflict, and those committed to military action, to give expression to the Brethren Witness to Jesus’ way of making peace.” (2003 Call for a Living Peace Church:http://www.brethren.org/ac/statements/2003livingpeace.html)
 
The Office of Public Witness is grateful to wonderful peacebuilding partners like PeaceDirect for their work around the world. Insight from local, grassroots peacebuilders is essential to forming a peace-based worldview that takes into consideration multiple perspectives. As we seek to “live the peace of Jesus publicly,” we will continue to collaborate with and listen to the grassroots peacebuilders actively working to make the world a better place.

Justice is coming! It is Jesus.

by Nathan Hosler, director of the Office of Public Witness

Christian and Muslim Peace Initiative (CAMPI) inauguration in Maiduguri. Photo credit: Silas Ishaya

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Isaiah 40:1-11

Anticipation. Waiting. Agonizing? Uncertain. Advent—waiting for the promised One. On Thursday, while I was in northeast Nigeria, we rose early for our 3-4 hour drive and hit the road. Rutted. Through dry, mostly flat land with low trees except for the palms. Security checkpoints with men with big guns and barricades. Road blocks of barrels or tires or logs at checkpoints which jut, maybe half way, into the road. These alternate—one from the left, right, left, right—which slows traffic. This traffic slowing strategy is also used through villages which are lined with market stands. This works-sort of- but at times it generates a certain careening as cars coming opposing directions navigate as quickly as possible. While we barreled through one such obstacle course a gas tanker kept pace with us leading our way, weaving wildly, looking a little like the Joker in Batman driving the tractor trailer. Then, passing Gombi, we tighten a bad sounding wheel before engaging the long smoother straightaways (regularly hanging at 85 miles an hour) to Yola and the airport. As a mere passenger rather than driver, I wait. Bracing myself, observing, talking—but waiting.

My last 5 in-country flights have been delayed but just in case this one isn’t we get there early enough. They aren’t boarding yet and aren’t even checking us in. So, I wait. It’d be nice to be productive, but the uncertain waiting is distracting. Once the check-in begins, it will be a scramble. Anticipation. Sort of poised, ready. No word on the delay, but that the harmattan dust in the air from the Sahara is too thick. Another flight arrives…hope is sparked. The airport assistant guy, Abdul, suggests I might want to get a seat on this flight. Wasn’t sure, but they were filled anyway when he checks. Maybe an hour or so later it is starting to get uncertain if we will get out before they shut down flights. I text him and ask for my paper ticket print-out so that I have it if he leaves. Not minutes later, they begin checking in. He makes a mad dash towards me across the empty room to retrieve the paper and dives into line. Our hope is restored. Anticipation. Checked in. Through security. Waiting. One hour. Maybe another. Text the Ambassador to say I’ll probably miss our meeting.

Then high above, through a strangely garbled PA system, something is announced. Through deciphering or sleuthing we learn that the flight will arrive from Abuja by 5:50 pm (flight was to depart by 12:15). Relief. Hope at the first bit of information passed on to us in 6 hours—the masses who wait. 5:45. 5:50. This is the story of Advent. Of the waiting and expectation of the coming Messiah who will free the captive, heal the blind, cast off the oppressor, and proclaim reconciliation with God.

Another slightly less garbled but still incomprehensible announcement. A young messenger of doom walks around and confirms. The flight has been canceled. Which means I also miss my flight home.

At the time of writing parts of this I remain in the anticipation of both Advent and getting a flight home. Though we are still weeks from the coming of Jesus, we may remember from last year that we will not be disappointed. The messengers will not be my young airport messenger of doom but the angels to the shepherds. But that is getting ahead of where we are today. Today we wait.

Our passage is 2 Peter 3:8-15a.

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 

The passage begins by challenging our notions of God’s time and patience. If 1000 years = a day for God, then what does that break down to per minute? Per second? However, if a day is like a thousand years then what does that mean as the reverse? This sounds less like a common math problem (unless of course this is what one learns if one majors in math) and more like the Matrix or Inception, movies in which time and space bend in unusual ways. This is not simply asserting that God experiences time in a very accelerated or very slow manner.

Photo Credit: Nathan Hosler

This number 1000 came back to me this week while I was at the daily—that is every day at 5:00 at the Unity Fountain next to the Transcorp Hotel in Abuja—vigil marking the abduction of the school girls from Chibok. This past Monday was 1330th day. Today, Sunday December 10th, is 1336 days. How has God experienced these days? There is some old-timey philosophy that Christians have occasionally been influenced by that states that the divine must be above change and above being influenced by the merely human. Our God, however, (which is most scandalous), becomes incarnate and joins us in our existence and joy and pain.

That Jesus is coming (since we are in advent we refer to it in the future) and will show up in this world as God incarnate—God having taken on flesh and blood and pain and joy—that this is our God then means that God has not been distant from us nor the school girls of Chibok these 1336 days. Jesus came healing and serving and feeling and calls us to the same—or should I say, will call us to do the same once he is born.

Jesus, and thus God, is not above pain and the agony of the kidnapped and their families but with them. God is with us. God is with you. This is a type of hope. The passage continues on, expounding on the timeliness of God.

The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you,[a] not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. 

The Lord is not patient out of lack of concern but as an act of mercy. The act of mercy which allows for repentance. This call to repentance is both urgent and marked by delay. Delay for repentance and turning. There are many horrible things in this world. I noted the Chibok Girls. There have been many others. Dr. Rebecca Dali has, during her work of humanitarian relief, collected some 4,000 names, dates, and locations of people abducted.

On my flight back from Maiduguri I was wearing my Office of Public Witness t-shirt. On the back is our tag line—“Seeking to live the peace of Jesus publicly.” The man sitting beside me said he liked it…it turned out that he was EYN. We talked for the whole flight to Abuja about his research in public health and how people cannot access it. Towards the end I learned he has 4 children. The youngest is a boy and named after his father. Even later in the flight he revealed that his father had been kidnapped and killed. Not by Boko Haram but by the Nigerian military.

So, when the Office of Public Witness works with the Nigerian Working Group which we convene on military accountability and human rights, raising concerns about the sale of weapons by the US, it is not an abstract thought. It is not a sterile appeal to theoretical legal frameworks, which are useful and regularly used, but it is because we follow a God who feels the pain of people and calls us to a ministry feeling this pain—and then acting in response. God’s patience is for repentance. God’s patience is for repentance. Jesus, the one whose birth we anticipate in advent, is the embodiment of this justice.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be disclosed.

Note that this dissolving is not simply destruction but a process of revealing. It is a disclosing of acts done. Because of this we should live accordingly. Because of this we can also trust that acts of injustice will be brought to light.

11 Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, 12 waiting for and hastening[c] the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set ablaze and dissolved, and the elements will melt with fire? 13 But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.

Where righteousness is at home. Righteousness can also be translated justice. “We wait for a new heavens and a new earth, where justice dwells”

14 Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; 15 and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.

Because of this being made known—this revealing work—we recognize that that this is good news for those on the side of justice. However, it is concerning for those who are not. Advent is the marking of the coming of Jesus—the justice of God. This is the good news that the angels will proclaim. While this is concerning for some—which may be us—we should consider the patience of the Lord as our salvation. So, this coming and revealing is good news for both the just and unjust for both the righteous and unrighteous.

The patience of God leaves room for repentance. This is not the same as those clergy whom Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rebukes. It is not patience in the face of wrong. There is both a patience leading towards repentance and an impatience with abuse. “everything with be disclosed” in the last day–God reveals what is hidden and brings to justice.

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God….

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed..