Graduating Licensing Ministering and Receiving – Bob Milne

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


 

What were you doing on the evening of Wednesday 24th June 1998? I can tell you what I was doing, I was in Marnoch New Church, Aberchirder, together with family and friends, which included a lot of the membership, for this was my home kirk at the time. The Presbytery of Buchan was there; Rev Rosemary Legge Parish Minister, conducted worship; Rev Fred Coutts who had supervised my placement with Aberdeen Royal Infirmary Chaplaincy preached an inspiring sermon; and last but not least the Moderator of Buchan Presbytery Rev Dr Ian Thom ‘by the power vested in him’ licensed me to preach the Gospel. I entered the church that night a Mr but emerged allowed to add Reverend.

A week, possibly two, later I went to Marischal College to graduate from Aberdeen University with my Bachelor of Theology degree. It was hot and took a long time, other than that I can’t tell you much about it. Why not? You may ask. To me the whole point of going to university was as a means to an end, to meet the academic requirements the Church set before I could become a minister. My licensing service was the culmination of that process, the graduation was to all intents and purposes a side show. The only way it was important was for my family, to acknowledge the love and support they had given me to enable the fulfilling of my call to the Ministry.

Last week saw the culmination of the academic year at Zomba Theological College celebrated by a joint graduation and licentiate service in Zomba Central Church. What a wonderful idea to have both at once and get around the problem of my anticlimactic graduation ceremony. Firstly, the graduation service was held with choirs, prayers and a superb sermon from a very distinguished churchman from Livingstonia Synod in the North of Malawi, Rev Dr Howard Matiya Nkhoma. Speeches from the College Principal and the Chair of Board of Trustees led up to the presentation of degree and diplomas to those who had worked so hard to earn them. When the students came forward so too did their wives or husbands, to also receive a congratulatory handshake. A nice gesture and recognition of the support given by them. It was a very dignified and solemn ceremony.

Immediately it was over, the congregation was dissolved (and you think the Church of Scotland has strange procedural terms) and Blantyre Synod took over to award Certificates of Licentiate to those who would be ministers under their auspices. This too was serious and solemn until the actual presentations. When each licentiate received their certificate and blessing friends and family ran forward to embrace and kiss the new Ordinand photos taken by the dozen. I couldn’t help thinking the old Head Porter at Marischal College would have had kittens were such scenes to take place there! Here though it was accepted, this was a joyous occasion to be celebrated and if Malawians know anything, they know how to celebrate. When all the ceremonials were over, the Synod processed out of the Church in due form. They were followed by the new ministerial licentiates who once out of the door, as the Synod posed for a formal photo, began their very noisy post service celebrations.

So, where next for the new Ordinands? The eight men and two women Licentiated (if such word exists!) by the Synod of Blantyre now move on to a period of supervised ministry. Not dissimilar to the Scottish Probation system except an Ordinand may well find themselves in an actual Parish flying, to all intents and purposes, solo with supervision being provided by a nearby minister. When their probation period is ended there are huge differences between Scottish and Malawian procedures. In Scotland of course new ministers apply for a Charge they feel called to and, if that call is confirmed by congregations and Presbytery, then off they go to a long happy and successful tenure (we pray) until they feel called elsewhere or retire! (1)

In Malawi, the power of placement rests not with individual parishes, or even Presbytery, it is entirely in the gift of the Synod of which in Malawi under the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) there are three; Blantyre in the South, Nkhoma in the centre and Livingstonia in the North (there are another two synods one in Zambia and one in Zimbabwe). Ministers under each Synod can be placed anywhere within any of the Presbyteries that make up that Synod. Typically a minister will serve in a Parish for three to five years before being moved to pastures new, usually, but not always, with plenty of notice.

In conversation with ministers here many envy the Scottish system. I could see some benefits in the Malawian method although, on balance, I prefer the Scottish. One of the plusses of the Malawian system is it ensures rural parishes get a minister. Here rural can mean remote, with limited access to urban areas often hours away meaning the Manse may well not have running water and mains electricity (although more and more are installing solar panels) whereas, many of the ones in the town are of a very high standard.

As a former minister in rural parishes I was used to the gift of a brace of pheasant now and again, sometimes ducks and on one occasion a goose was found hanging from the door handle on my return late at night (I hasten to add it had been shot prior to being suspended on my door!). Last weekend though, I was the very grateful recipient of a Manse Visitation. A Malawian tradition where a delegation from the congregation call to meet the Manse family and pray for the minister and their ministry. As well as prayer they also bring gifts of groceries and household items, to me they were a very welcome gift but to the resident ministers here they are a life line and make a huge difference to their lives. Perhaps in Scotland now there is not the pressing need for the gifts but all ministers, wherever they are, always need support in prayer.

Grad blog


Rev R B Milne

Zomba Theological College

  1. I know many Charges in Scotland are Reviewable Tenure but it would have spoiled the flow to explain that there!
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Behind the Wall Study Tour – Food for Thought

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


During the recent WM Study tour we had two memorable meals. The first was at the Noor Centre in Aida refugee camp, the second in Ramallah at the Episcopal Technological and Vocational Training Centre (ETVTC).

Our visit to the Noor Centre was to take part in a traditional Palestinian cookery class. These cookery classes grew out of a project providing support for mothers with disabled children or mothers who had to support their family alone. The classes, which are available twice a month to visiting groups, bring in the financial support to help families in need and fund leisure activities for the children.

Islam (the project coordinator) and Rania were our hosts and teachers for our visit.  We were taught how to make maqluba, mujaddara and harissa.

Maqluba is a rice and vegetable dish. To serve, the pot is flipped upside down. The delicious colourful vegetables were then on top.  Maqluba in Arabic translates literally as “upside down”.  Chicken or meat is often served alongside.

Mujaddara is a rice and green lentil pilaf garnished with sautéed onions.

Harissa is a coconut cake made with semolina, ground almonds, yoghurt and coconut. It is very moist.

There was a lot of laughter and fun as we shared the preparation of food and listened to Islam and Rania, learning about life in the refugee camp and that continued when we sat down together to eat our lunch.

Food for thought

In Ramallah we spent time at the ETVTC.  On this occasion our hosts were the hospitality students.  The college provides vocational training to enable young folk to enter the employment market.  95% of the hospitality students find employment at the end of their course.  The training reputation is so high that hotels, restaurants and eating places contact the college when they are looking for staff.

We learned from the students about different aspects of the training, designed to equip them for different jobs within the hospitality industry.

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Our lunch was prepared, the dining room tables set up with precision and the tables served by different groups of students.   We had the traditional lunch of maqluba with chicken, majaddara and harissa.  Before we were served the trainee chefs came to the dining room. There was a celebration of the turning upside down of the huge pot of maqluba. All of the youngsters were a credit to themselves and their college, whatever their task during our visit

On both visits food played an important part in us learning about the lives of the people we met.  At Aida refugee camp, visitors, by taking part in cookery classes, can learn about life in a refugee camp as well as bring in much needed financial support for the work with mothers and their disabled children.  At ETVTC it was good to hear how the young people learn a variety of skills which almost guarantee their entry into the world of work in a country of high unemployment.


By Irene Mclellan

Elections – Bob Milne

Rev Bob Milne is a volunteer with the World Mission Council in Zomba Presbytery of the Church of Central Africa, Blantyre Synod, Malawi. Bob was commissioned on 24th February in Comrie Parish Church and will be writing a series of blogs during his time in Malawi.


May 21st was Election Day in Malawi. An event that has thankfully happened every five years since 1994 when Multi-Party Democracy was introduced following a Referendum after nearly thirty years of an independent state dominated by the (then) single political party the Malawian Congress Party (MCP). This in turn was dominated by the architect of Malawian Independence, graduate of Edinburgh University and one time Elder of The Church of Scotland, President for Life, Hastings Kamuzu Banda. He is a man who ruled Malawi for thirty years and who, despite having died twenty years ago, still casts a long shadow over society.

Driving through Blantyre a small compound of buildings was pointed out to me. “That’s the former HQ of MCP”, I was told, “If you had been put in a car that turned in there you could be fairly sure you would not be coming out alive”. Yet many people will tell you, including the man who told me that chilling bit of history, that Banda was not in fact a ‘bad man’ the blame for the corruption and violence is laid fairly, squarely and justifiably at the feet of those who allied themselves to him. Many years ago a Church delegation which at the proposal stage was several strong but wound up as one man went to speak to Banda and tell him of the need for Multi-Party Democracy. As he left for the visit all warned the envoy not to go as his chances of survival were, at best, negligible but he was certain Banda would listen. And he did!

The 1994 Presidential Election saw Banda voted out of office as he was defeated by Bakili Muluzi of the United Democratic Front by just over 400 000 votes (47% to 33%). The handover of power was peaceful, conducted quickly and in accordance with the legal protocols laid down. Thankfully each election since, whilst not in total peace and with occasional riots, has resulted in a continuance of the democratic process.

I was assured that there was very little chance of serious rioting on 21st or as the results were announced, but I was also advised to make sure I had enough food in the house to last five days, and the flight agent’s number, just in case!

Elections

Rally in Zomba

Polling day itself was a pleasant sunny day which allowed the polling stations to set up in the open air and they did a very brisk business all day. Queues formed early in the day and lasted through to closing time and in some cases the stations remained open to allow all who wanted to vote to do so.

The day itself was very peaceful, Zomba was quiet and it was nice to walk around the shops and market not being jostled continually. The college was closed to allow staff and students to go to their home districts to vote In Malawi there are no postal or proxy votes each must go their own place to vote (heard of something similar somewhere for a census or some such!). I was glad I ignored the advice to stay in and experienced the feeling of the town. It was very much a holiday atmosphere. As an added bonus I was delighted in the Airtel shop to be asked if I had voted, nice to think people accept me as being here long enough to be entitled to a vote!

The results were expected the next day or Thursday at the latest but no news came. Dark allegations were made of illicit acts being done to influence or rig the result. Eventually, it was announced that 11am Friday would see the results declared in full. I had to be in Blantyre that day and found a lot of businesses and offices closed for the day in anticipation of possible trouble. They need not have worried for no results were forthcoming as the opposition party, Hasting Banda’s MCP, had gone to the High Court and obtained an Injunction preventing any announcement until certain irregularities had been investigated. These included return sheets having original numbers typexed out and new ones written in and documents supposedly completed at either end of the country having the same handwriting!

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The arrival of the candidate in the colours of the President’s ruling party the Democratic Progressive Party or DPP

Monday saw the injunction lifted and the Electoral Commission responsible for conducting the elections lost no time in declaring the incumbent President Peter Mutharika the winner by a very slender 159 00 vote majority or 3.16%. He, in turn, lost no time in getting himself and his Vice President sworn in. If he thought that was the end of it, he was sadly mistaken as now four weeks later court cases still rumble on. The Opposition put forward a case which the President then opposes on procedural grounds, but so far he has lost every legal maneuver. It is hoped that the actual cases can now be heard very soon so the country can move on.

The great thing about all of this, and a very large demonstration which took place in the capital Lilongwe at the weekend, is that it is all being conducted without violence and done legally, even legalistically. Many would not have thought that possible in early May. Democracy was hard won in Malawi; at times it may have been under great threat but it has survived and is now not only surviving but thriving through the acceptance of legal constraints rather than the law of might is right.

On a lighter note a few impressions of the electoral campaign.

Malawi elections are loud! And then some! One of the principal campaigning methods is for vans, pickups, lorries or anything with wheels and a motor to be loaded up with large, the larger the better, loudspeakers which are then turned up and driven around town from 5:30am till after dark broadcasting music, and occasionally speech, promoting whichever party. The campaign officially began at the end of March, 8 weeks before the election, but as everyone knew it was coming the circus was in full swing a month before.

Election rallies are colourful (and loud of course) with singing chanting and dancing. Very occasionally the candidate might say something too. Crowds of people are trucked (not bussed) to these events which go on for hours at a time.

I was surprised, but possibly shouldn’t have been, to find that candidates come along to Sunday Worship to introduce themselves. All the ministers were at pains to point out that while they were very welcome, the Church took no position on which way people should vote. There were days set-aside during the campaign for prayer meetings at which the candidates were expected to participate. The President came in for severe criticism when he missed one such meeting to attend a campaign rally in the North of the country. His claim that he could pray wherever he was cut no ice with the opposition or voters!

TV debates with the candidates were as dull as ditchwater. They were so tightly structured and moderated very little other than the usual political platitudes were possible.

It was a very different experience to Elections back in Britain in some ways better, in others not so, but very interesting to observe. Now the only question to be resolved is will all the legal cases be settled and everyone know who the President will be for the next five years before it’s time for me to leave at the end of August?


Rev Bob Milne – Zomba Theological College

Behind the Wall Study Tour – Driftwood Spirituality (Part 3 of 3)

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


Dawn breaks over the barbed wire of Bethlehem: the seeds are buried in the EAPPI in Hebron, children revisit their history in Litka, the cooking of Maqluba, in Aida refugee camp, keeping hold of house keys in the hope of returning home, building a chapel underground at the Tent of Nations, and Banksy’s love shattering the wall.

And why is a driftwood spirituality necessary, to give the children of the land a future hope.

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b

c


by Ian Stirling.

Welcome to Italy – Fiona Kendall

In a city of many significant staircases, the Spanish Steps represent one of the best known.  Sweeping grandly down from the church of Santissima Trinità dei Monti to Bernini’s Barcaccia fountain, this has been a place of transit and meeting since the eighteenth century.  Churchgoers, tourists and those hoping to be noticed and used as artists’ models have all frequented the staircase.  At this time of year, the staircase is daily packed with people, often chasing the perfect photograph.

Last Thursday, tourists and journalists alike were treated to something rather unexpected.[1]  At 11.00am a flashmob, discreetly interspersed with tourists on the Steps, silently stood up and waved gold thermal covers at those in the square.  Others at the fountain floated tiny gold boats made from the covers in the Barcaccia.

Welcome to Italy

The banner unfurled midway up the steps read “#ioaccolgo” (“I welcome”).  Anyone checking the hashtag trending on Twitter would learn that this was not simply an isolated affirmation but the launch of a campaign involving over forty Italian and international organisations[2], amongst which the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy, to which the Mediterranean Hope project belongs.  The campaign seeks to highlight “that part of the country which does not want to surrender to the barbarism of a world built on hatred and fear, which believes in the principles of the Constitution and in equal rights for all”.

The gold thermal covers waved by those on the Spanish Steps and turned into boats provided visual links with the search and rescue (SAR) operations which have been all but halted in the Mediterranean Sea.  As I write, 43 souls rescued by Sea-Watch on 12th June remain stuck aboard a rescue vessel alongside the coast of Lampedusa, ten of their number, being pregnant or seriously ill, having been permitted to disembark.  The entry into force last week of the second so-called “Security Law” now exposes those engaged in SAR work to immediate fines of EUR 50,000 should passengers be transported to Italy for disembarkation.  Sea-Watch, a charity, is having to re-think its strategy in the light of this development.  Meantime, those aboard remain in limbo.

Two days after the launch of #ioaccolgo, another group gathered in Via della Conciliazione, the long avenue which leads up to St Peter’s Square and the Basilica.  The “Table Without Walls” event brought together around eight hundred ordinary folk from diverse backgrounds, different faiths and none to eat at tables set up the length of the street.  As the hot summer sun blazed above, those present celebrated diversity and inclusion.

These are challenging times.  However, challenging times call for solidarity, often most effective when expressed in the simplest fashion.

Welcome to Italy.jpg2Welcome to Italy.jpg3

 


[1] https://ilmanifesto.it/ioaccolgo-il-rifiuto-delle-politiche-razziste-e-liberticide-cresce-di-scala/

[2] A Buon Diritto, ACLI, ActionAid, AOI, ARCI, ASGI, Casa della Carità, CEFA, Centro Astalli, CGIL, CIAC, CIAI, CIR, CNCA, Comunità di S.Egidio, CONGGI,  Ero Straniero, EuropAsilo, Federazione Chiese Evangeliche in Italia – FCEI, FOCSIV,  Fondazione Finanza Etica, Fondazione Migrantes, Gruppo Abele, ICS Trieste, INTERSOS,  Legambiente, LINK-coordinamento universitario, Lunaria, Medici Senza Frontiere, NAIM (National Association Intercultural Mediators), Oxfam, Rainbow4Africa, ReCoSol, Refugees Welcome Italia, Rete della Conoscenza, Rete Studenti Medi, SaltaMuri, Save the Children Italia, UIL, Unione degli studenti, Unione degli universitari, UNIRE

 

Behind the Wall Study Tour – Driftwood Spirituality (Part 2 of 3)

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


During our tour we met many people who witnessed trauma and responded to it in a non-violent way. But the key moment. The epiphany, for me in was meeting two fathers who had both lost their daughters in the conflict, Rami Elhanan and Bassam Aramin. Their words still haunt me to this day. Their shared trauma has allowed them to let go of their past hatred and fears, and taken them to a new place of hope.

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Bassam Aramin         Abir Bassam and Smadar Elhanan         Rami Elhanan

 

“My name is Rami Elhanan. Thirteen years ago, on the afternoon of Thursday the fourth of September 1997, I lost my daughter, my Smadar, in a suicide attack on Ben-Yehuda street in Jerusalem. A beautiful sweet joyous 14 year old girl. My Smadar was the granddaughter of the militant for peace, General (Ret.) Matti Peled, one of those who made the breakthrough to Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. And she was murdered because we were not wise enough to preserve her safety in Matti’s way, the only correct and possible way – the way of peace and reconciliation.

I do not need a Remembrance Day in order to remember Smadari. I remember her all the time, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, 60 seconds a minute. Without a pause, without a rest, for 13 long and accursed years now, and time does not heal the wound, and the unbearable lightness of continuing to exist remains a strange and unsolved riddle …”

“My name is Bassam Aramin. In prison, we were treated like heroes by other prisoners, but our jailers taught us how to continue hating and resisting. On 1st October 1987, all 120 of us – all teenage boys – were waiting to go into the dining room when the alarms suddenly went off. Over a hundred armed soldiers appeared and ordered us to strip naked. They beat us until we could hardly stand. I was held the longest and beaten the hardest. What struck me was that all the soldiers wore smiles on their face. They were beating us without hatred, because for them this was just a training exercise and they saw us as objects. As I was being beaten, I remembered a movie I’d seen the year before about the Holocaust. At the time I’d been happy that Hitler had killed six million Jews. I remember wishing that he’d killed them all, because then I would never have been sent to prison. But some minutes into the movie, I found myself crying, and feeling angry that the Jews were being herded into gas chambers without fighting back. If they knew they were going to die, why didn’t they scream out? I tried to hide my tears from the other prisoners: they wouldn’t have understood why I was crying about the pain of my oppressors. It was the first time I felt empathy. So now, walking between the soldiers who were beating me, I remembered the movie and I started screaming at them: ‘Murderers! Nazis! Oppressors!’ And as a consequence, I felt no pain. The incident with the soldiers made me realise that we had to preserve our humanity – our right to laugh and our right to cry – in order to save ourselves. I also slowly realised that the Israeli oppression was because of the Holocaust, and I decided to try and understand who the Jews were. This led to a conversation with a prison guard. The guards all thought of us as terrorists and we hated them, but this guard asked me, ‘how can someone quiet like you become a terrorist?’ I replied, ‘no, you’re the terrorist. I’m a freedom fighter’. He really believed that we, the Palestinians, were the settlers, not the Israelis. I said, ‘if you can convince me that we are the settlers, then I’ll declare this in front of all the prisoners.’”

While the British Consul has a strategic aim to work for a just peace in Palestine … what I found in the lives of Rami and Bassam was the singular universal. The one story that can change the world. To save a life is to save the universe. Two hands holding onto a piece of driftwood floating on an ocean. Two hands holding each other’s hands to survive.

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When you enter certain worlds, they take hold of you. And some experiences exceed categories of comprehension. They exceed the human capacity to make sense of them. Words fall short. And this is my lasting impression of Israel and Palestine. I was in real danger of being overwhelmed by the flood of suffering I saw and being submerged by tears.

Drowning. I reached out for driftwood to save me. I am very aware that I have only kissed the sorrows of Israel and Palestine. And I wonder whether I can plant any seeds of hope. However, the metaphor of driftwood and the shared humanity of two grieving fathers resonates with me at a deep level.

Is this a spirituality, a theology that all can embrace?

At first, as I travelled behind the wall, I was looking for a key to unlock and break the cycle of violence which many people spoke of. I was also looking for a clever theological stance, but none was forthcoming. What I have discovered is a metaphor of hope, driftwood. What I discovered are the resonances I have with Rami and Bassar, two fathers connected by shared grief. Here is the drop in the ocean. Here is the driftwood that I am reaching out for.

No more was I trying to do the impossible of breaking the cycle of violence. Because, I know the memories linger too strong. But what I was discovering was embracing the cycle of suffering, silence and seeds of hope.

So on returning to Israel and Palestine I have discovered a driftwood secular spirituality that is not dependent on old stories, worn and dried out by deserts and decades of conflict … a new imaginary, a spirituality which everyone can hold onto, like holding onto a piece of driftwood on an ocean.

A spirituality of gifts and griefs, which embraces the full cycle of grief, silences and joys. The seeds of hope are where the traces of the sacred emerge amongst the sorrows, the tragedies and the traumas.


by Ian Stirling.

Behind the Wall Study Tour – Driftwood Spirituality (Part 1 of 3)

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


 Amos Oz, the Israeli novelist has a gift to express complex ideas using compelling metaphors. Oz argues that after the Holocaust the Jews were a drowning man; they therefore had the right to grab hold of a piece of driftwood, even if it meant forcing another man, the Palestinians to share it. What they did not have was the right to grab the entire piece of wood and force the other man into the sea.

Setting out on the Behind the Wall World Mission Council study tour of Israel and Palestine, my mind was laden with distant memories of a previous visit in 2002 to a Sabeel Liberation Theology conference. At that time, the Palestinian Christians I met left me with a simple saying, tell your friends to ‘come and see’. They were looking for witnesses. So now, twenty years on, I was coming back to see, to wonder, and to try to understand.

A visit to Tabeetha School, in Jaffa, earlier in the year whetted my longing to find a framework to speak for peaceful co-existence. One emerging vision is for the church to create safe spaces where people can meet, and just listen to one another.

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‘Out beyond ideas of wrong doing and right doing

there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.’

Jellaludin Rumi.

I arrived in the land a few days early so took advantage of a visit to the north. A time to relax and to search for traces of God, like dandelion seed scattered to the wind. I moved among the sacred sites, gazed down on the calm of the sea of Galilee from the Golan Heights, and enjoyed a warm welcome in a café in Haifa.

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It was only on noticing an occasional road sign, ‘caution passageway for tanks’ or a historical marker ‘prison break, 1947’ in Acre and having a shared meal with a Druze family up on the Golan Heights, who while sharing their lamb, flatbread and labneh, lamented the loss of their land, that I began to see the tensions beneath the surface. One thing that keeps emerging as I try to make sense of the complexity and conflict is a vision of common humanity: there is no I, without you.

My first impressions of the study tour itself was primarily of increasing complexity, chaos and a conflict of ideas, philosophies and stances. And some of the images below capture this. Geopolitical tensions in the heart of Jerusalem. The United Nations at its limit in trying to prevent military incursions into Shu’fat refugee camp, where too often the school windows are shattered by bullets. The evidence there to see all around. And the irony of making works of art in Aida refugee camp, Bethlehem, out of the remnants of tear gas canisters and bullets.

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As I reflected more and more on the way the people we met told their stories a pattern emerged of living with trauma. The combined traumas of the holocaust and the nakba, and the struggle to know where the story starts, means that people fail to see their shared humanity and shared sorrows. And I wondered how to break the cycle and embrace the belief that ‘there is no I without you. And I began to wonder whether living with trauma forces people to build walls rather than build bridges. Having just completed a professional doctorate at the University of Glasgow ‘Deep Silences’, I am only too aware of how trauma impacts on people and can close down trust and communication.

One evening with our study group I read a poem and initial sketch of my emerging driftwood theology. By which I mean that our task is to witness two suffering peoples clinging to driftwood for safety.

When you meet someone in deep grief

‘Slip off your needs

And set them by the door.

Enter barefoot this darkened chapel.

Hollowed by loss

Hallowed by sorrow

Its gray stone walls

And floor

You the congregation

Of one

Are here to listen

Not to sing

Kneel in the back pew

Make no sound

Let the candles speak’

Patricia McKernon-Runkle


by Ian Stirling.

Behind the Wall Study Tour – Military Court Watch

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


An Israeli settler we met, who recognised the need for a viable Palestinian state, still couldn’t imagine either most settlers being relocated (for economic reasons), nor that the settlements could be in that Palestinian state. The reason for the latter? In his opinion, there’d be a bloodbath. The basis of that? We were told of a young settler murdered in her bed – a tragic story passed on fearfully.

Just the day before we had heard the consequences of such fears. We had been taken through just what it takes to ensure settlers sleep easy in their bed. We had met with Military Court Watch, who are a small group of lawyers who focus on the experience of Palestinian children in Israeli courts. We heard that in order for settlers to sleep at night, their Palestinian neighbours do not get to.

Following the Six Day War of 1967, military law was imposed by the Israeli authorities in the occupied territory of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. International law permits such establishment of military courts to prosecute civilians in limited and temporary circumstances of military occupation. Over 50 years later, any definition of “temporary” is stretched beyond breaking point.

A further breach of international law comes with the settlement of Israeli citizens within that occupied territory, with 640,000 Israelis now settled in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Those settlements combine with the military court system to devastating effect for Palestinian civilians living close to any settlements – including children.

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While an occupying military force should have a duty of care to the occupied people, the presence of settlers means that, instead, the Israeli military have been given the task of keeping small numbers of settlers safe from large numbers of people whose land they are occupying. Gerard Horton of Military Court Watch outlined what the Israeli military must do to achieve that:

No act of resistance can be ignored. The most common act is stone throwing, the most common perpetrators are children. So if stones are thrown, it will be assumed that young males from the nearest Palestinian village are responsible.

There may be intelligence suggesting who to arrest – but there is also an element of collective punishment in any response, which keeps Palestinian communities destabilised.

Arrests are nearly always carried out at night – this will find people at home and avoids riots, and is hugely intimidating. Soldiers will enter bedrooms either very loudly, or disconcertingly quietly. Everyone will be gathered in the living room, a noisy and scary combination for all parties. A detainee will be zip-tied – and blindfolded with no security justification. Minimal, if any, information will be provided about where they’re being taken.

Then a detainee – remember, this is often a child aged 12-17 – will be taken somewhere, perhaps with a few hours left waiting and wondering. Eventually they will be interrogated, with rights to silence and legal representation ignored.

The first time a detainee will meet a lawyer will be in a military court. The advice is nearly always to plead guilty, rather than spend 6 months on bail then be found guilty anyway. For stone-throwing, they will be sentenced to 4-6 months in jail, their parents fined, and a suspended sentence will hang over them for another 5 years.

And when a child comes home from detention, they are angry, isolated, rebellious, distrustful. You have a child whose sleep is disturbed and who has missed so much school they may well drop out.

Even if a family is not directly affected by a detention out of a night raid, a whole community’s sleep is disrupted, whole villages live with the uncertainty. One village experienced 16 night raids in the month of May, when their young people were sitting exams.

So the sleep of settlers comes at a very high price. It comes at a very high price for the Palestinian children who grow up with disrupted sleep, and experience arrest and detention. It comes at a very high price for Palestinian communities who live life on the edge, traumatised generation after generation. It comes at a very high price for the young Israelis serving in the military, who are brutalised by their role in these scenarios (see https://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/ for some of their testimonies.)

And I think it comes at a high price for the international community, including all of us, when international law is ignored and set aside in this context.

All this, to allow a few to get a good night’s sleep, at the expense of the many whose land they have occupied.

See http://www.militarycourtwatch.org for more information

 

Rev Jenny Adams

Minister of Duffus, Spynie & Hopeman Church

Sweeping Up – Fiona Kendall

Rome, 30 May 2019

This time last year I blogged about Baobab Experience[1], a not-for-profit organisation attempting to provide services to migrants in Rome.   Operating at that time from an abandoned car park next to a field near Tiburtina station, despite its rudimentary facilities, around two hundred migrants would nightly occupy tents donated by local churches, charities and individuals.  The ad hoc camp offered shelter, food, medical, legal and practical support and, above all, a welcome to those who would otherwise be homeless.

Earlier this month a delegation from the Church of Scotland visited Rome with a view to learning more about the situation of migrants in Italy and the political situation at both a national and European level.  Mediterranean Hope co-ordinated the visit, with a brief to enable the delegation to see at first hand what is happening on the ground.  One of the meetings we set up was with Andrea Costa, Baobab’s founder.

Sweeping Up.jpg

 

As the camp at Piazza Maslax had been, like its many previous incarnations, evicted by the Roman authorities last autumn, we were asked to meet Andrea at the new site, Piazzale Spadolini, on the eastern side of Tiburtina station.  It was shocking to see that Baobab is now effectively operating from a pavement.  When we arrived at 8.00am, volunteers were providing hot coffee to a small number of migrants (the remainder observing Ramadan and therefore fasting during daylight hours).  The empty pavement before us was spotless, one man working hard with a dustpan and brush to ensure that there was no trace of those who had spent the night there.  Andrea explained that this “camp” is tolerated only on the basis that it disappears every morning.  And so, each day, a volunteer arrives in a donated white van to collect a black plastic bag from each migrant containing whatever bedclothes they have.  The van returns at night so that the “camp” can be set up again in a seemingly pointless cycle which serves to highlight the impossibility for many migrants of establishing any kind of permanent residence.  It was very humbling to hear from Andrea about the determination of the volunteers to continue to offer services from the pavement in these circumstances.

Since then, volunteers have reported that they appeared to have become targets of station staff, who who routinely call the police in an attempt to stifle any support activities being carried out at Piazzale Spadolini during the day.  Yesterday, matters reached a head.  According to a report published by Baobab[2], volunteers and migrants there found themselves surrounded by police, army and station staff and were threatened with fines, charges and arrest.  Their identity documents were retained for over two hours, they were photographed, and officers, believing that one migrant seeking to defend the volunteers had videoed what was going on, sought to haul him to the police station in order to confiscate his phone.

Ultimately, the officers dispersed, no charges were made, no fines were levied and no one was arrested.  One officer, however, is reported to have used a pejorative term, put his hand threateningly on his pistol and made obscene gestures at one of the volunteers as they left.  So far, there has been little outcry about such casual intimidation but it seems clear that the creeping criminalisation of humanitarian aid is not confined to those working to rescue those seeking to cross the Mediterranean Sea.  Astonishingly, despite the obvious challenges, Baobab, and other organisations like it, remain determined to persist in offering help to those they perceive to be most in need.  I wonder how long it would take each of us to give in.

Sweeping Up2

[1] https://baobabexperience.org/

[2] https://raiawadunia.com/vietato-essere-umani/

Behind the Wall Study Tour – The Embodiment of Forgiveness

In March, the World Mission Council coordinated a ‘Behind the Wall Study Tour to Israel and Palestine’. Led by the Very Rev Andrew McLellan with Maureen Jack, the tour offered opportunities for participants to meet Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians, groups and individuals. The tour did not include visits to the holy sites but was designed to engage with grassroots projects and people, listening to their stories and seeking to understand the conflict. As part of their reflections on returning home some members of the group have written blog pieces that we will be sharing over the next few weeks.


 

We met many remarkable people on the Behind the Wall tour, but none were more inspiring than Israeli Rami Elhanan and Palestinian Bassam Aramin.  They are both members of Parents Circle – Families Forum, an organisation of Palestinians and Israelis who have lost a family member to the conflict.

 

Bassam and Rami are both fathers who have had a daughter killed by someone from the ‘other side’.  In 1997 Rami’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Smadar, was in a Jerusalem street with her friends when Palestinian suicide bombers killed her, two of her friends, and two other people.  In 2007 Bassam’s ten-year-old daughter, Abir, died after being shot by an Israeli soldier as she left school.

Forgiveness - Maureen Jack

As a teenager, Bassam fought in the Palestinian resistance movement, for which he spent seven years in an Israeli prison.  While there, he saw a film about the Holocaust, which was a defining moment for him, the start of moving him from hatred of Israelis to seeing them as human beings: he wept for the Jewish suffering depicted in the film.  This led him subsequently to co-found the joint Palestinian/Israeli organisation, Combatants for Peace and then to undertake an MA in Peace Studies at Bradford University.

 

Rami too had been a fighter, serving in the Israeli military during the Yom Kippur war of 1973.  He lost some of his very best friends and came out of the war ‘a beaten and battered young man’, so angry and embittered that he decided to cut himself off from any kind of political involvement.  He studied to be an architect, married, and had a family.  Rami spoke of him and his family as having lived complacently ‘in a bubble.’

 

It was through Combatants for Peace that the two men first met.  But the death of Abir brought them together in a different, deeper way.  Now they form one of the pairs of speakers for Parents Circle – Families Forum, a Church of Scotland partner.  Initially formed to bring bereaved parents and other relatives together, the organisation now works to draw attention to its belief that ‘the process of reconciliation between nations is a prerequisite to achieving a sustainable peace’ through education, the media, and public meetings.  Rami and Bassam spoke of giving talks together in Israeli and Palestinian schools,   Their message is that if those who, like them, have had someone so desperately precious taken from them can reconcile and become friends, then anyone can.

Forgiveness 2 - Maureen Jack

Bassam and Rami spoke openly about their pain and their anger and how overcoming that anger is a continuing struggle. But that it is a struggle that has to be fought.  The camaraderie, friendship and love between them was apparent to us all.  So too was their pride in the fact that their two sons are friends and have spoken together on occasions such as a recent Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony.

 

After our meeting, I asked Rami how he could bear to relive his dreadful loss over and over with groups of strangers.  His reply was, ‘Because of what I see in your eyes.’  We were all tremendously moved by what they said; I’m glad that it showed.

 

Christians talk a lot about forgiveness.  What we all saw that evening was forgiveness embodied in a Muslim and a non-believing Jew.

 

For information about Parents’ Circle – Families Forum, please see theparentscircle.org.

  • Written by Maureen Jack