Who is going to be next?

By Samia Khoury

“Yesterday evening Sabeel organised a special Ecumenical memorial service at St. Stephen’s Dominican church in Jerusalem for the victims of the Coptic Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Alexandria, Egypt.  It was a very meaningful service with the readings carefully chosen and the intercessions especially written for the occasion. The young woman who led us in the singing had a beautiful voice which added a special aura to the solemn event that we were gathered for.  And as we lit the candles, I could not help but wonder who is going to be next.  It was only last November  that we also  had another service organised by Sabeel  in memory of the victims of the Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq.

Samia Khoury

The Christians of the Middle East are in fact the first Christians.  They are the followers of Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem.  That is why we are often surprised when people inquire about when and how we were converted to Christianity.  I remember writing a reflection in February 2006 on behalf of Sabeel for the Presbyterian Church in the USA Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study.  I started it with the following paragraph:  “The message of Jesus was launched from this Holy Land, to spread east and west, and has come back to us dressed in various new garbs.  It has taken root in foreign soil, and has sprouted in different shapes, colours, and flavours.  Sometimes, its original garment is hardly recognizable to us indigenous Christians of the land who are rapidly decreasing in number due to Israeli restrictions and political instability.”

Not only did this message come back in a different garment, but it came back to us with the wave of colonialism and split the indigenous Christian Church. Even new born babies started to carry foreign names, making it easy to identify the faith of a person from his or her name.  Despite that, we continued to remain Arabs, whether Palestinians, Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, Egyptians, etc.  And we remain Christians, faithful to both our country and our faith. In fact some of the outstanding leaders of Arab Nationalism were Christians. I am not writing a historical document to list all those who were involved, but I am trying to reflect on who benefits from this kind of extremism that is tearing the region apart by driving a wedge between the indigenous Christians of the Middle East region and their Muslim compatriots?

I remember after 1967 when the Palestinian Territories fell under the Israeli occupation, how easily the doors of the USA were opened for Palestinian emigration – mostly  Christians – from the Palestinian Territories.  Now all efforts with a variety of tools and strange hands are playing to split the people in each of the Middle East countries under the guise of political freedom and democracy.  The basic policy of the colonial powers has always been “divide and rule”.  So it is not strange that the powers that have succeeded in tearing up the whole Middle East into small states, and their allies or collaborators, are still at work fragmenting each state into political, ethnic and religious conflicts.  When the masses lose hope in the absence of freedom, independence and stability, the ground becomes very fertile for extremism that could be used in different ways.

Hopefully both Christians and Muslims of the region are aware of who is at the root of all this, and that all learned people, lay, clergy along with Muslim clerics, will engage in a campaign of building awareness to quench the fire that has been ignited as a result of those bloody massacres, so that we do not need to worry who will be next.  It only takes a spark and then, God help us, if it turns into a conflagration.”

Samia Khoury is an outstanding woman leader within the Palestinian community. Her voluntary work in community organisations is marked by genuine effort and huge commitment. Samia Nasir Khoury retired in 2003 after serving for 17 years as president of Rawdat El-Zuhur, a coeducational elementary school for the lower income community in East Jerusalem. She continues to serve as treasurer of the board of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem and on the board of trustees of Birzeit University in  Palestine.

Samia was deeply involved with the YWCA, including serving as the national president of the YWCA of Jordan for two terms (as the Palestinian West Bank had been annexed to Jordan in 1950). When Jordan severed its ties with the West Bank in 1988, the YWCA of Palestine was reestablished, and she was its first president from 1991-96. Her breadth of international experience has also included addressing two UN NGO Forums: in New York in 1996, and in Athens in 2000.

Samia writes about justice, truth, and peace for the Palestinian people, the relationships between people and the land, the context of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relationships in the Holy Land, concerns for children in conflict, and gender issues.

Celebrating Hanne Braun: A YWCA leader with amazing Commitment, Humour and Vision

By: Nyaradzayi Gumbonzvanda and Ana Villanueva

It has been almost a month since we have come back from Stuttgart, Germany. We were there to visit with the YWCA Germany, one of the oldest associations in the region. We were also there to attend the 11th Assembly of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), whose theme was “Give us this day, our daily bread”.  Hanne Braun is just one person who has indelibly remained etched in our experience of this visit. She is the President of the YWCA of Germany, and a former World YWCA Executive Committee member from 1979 to 1987.

Almost two months ago, Hanne Braun visited the World YWCA Office in Geneva, together with 10 other YWCA women members, volunteers and friends. They took a 5-hour train ride, and spent a week orienting, sharing and experiencing together the fellowship with the ecumenical family. In addition to sharing the programmes of the YWCA of Germany, she brought some gifts for all of us in the World Office. We received an umbrella with the Map of Stuttgart, clearly showing the key features of the city, the venue of the LWF Assembly as well as the YWCA Building. This was meant to prepare for the journey we were to take the following month! Just in case we did not have someone to assist, all we had to do was to open the umbrella! It was a practical, humorous and inviting gesture, given with love and in the spirit of sisterhood.

Hanne Braun is a long-standing leader within her church and her community. With her background in social work, and her personality and passion, it was just a joy to spend time with her in Stuttgart. She mobilised the YWCA women to contribute as volunteers and resource persons of various kinds in the LWF Assembly. She assisted with worship, Ursula Lüders met guests at the train station and was in the Women’s Networking Zone, her husband volunteered with the village groups and took photos of the events where YWCA women were involved; Bea was at the registration desk and several other YWCA women assisted as volunteers. The two of us were official guests of the LWF Assembly. It was with confidence that we delivered the World YWCA message to the Assembly, calling the LWF communion to continue working for gender justice and echoing that we share traditions and neighbourhoods. It was true, as we felt the presence of the YWCA in this event. We just needed to turn around, and Hanne Braun was a whisper away among the local communities, or a step away with the pool of YWCA volunteers.

Amidst the thousand of things to do, in addition to caring for her mother, Hanne Braun found time to give us a tour of the YWCA history in Germany, the connection with the church and its mission with? Diakonia. It was a powerful experience for us to spend time with Ursula Lüders in the Women’s Networking Space, together with other women leaders from the church in Germany. Equally enriching was sharing breakfast with Rev. Esther Peylo, a theologian and journalist, working with the local parliament and General Manager of the Association for International Work with Youth (Verein für Internationale Jugendarbeit –VIJ – e.V.), part of Diakonia work of the Association of Evangelical Churches in WürtembergHanne also introduced us to Ruth Lauterstein who received us with warm hospitality at her home. Ruth arrived in Stuttgart from Uruguay many years ago, and from being a beneficiary, she became a staff member of the centre for information for women (Fraueninformationszentrum – FIZ), a division of VIJ e.V.

On Sunday afternoon, after the beautiful and moving service at the Stiftkirche in Stuttgart, Hanne offered us lunch and took us together with Annette and Arja, two friends from the YWCA of Germany, to visit the Rosenstrasse 76 exhibition in Bad Mergentheim. This is an amazing and very touching exhibition which aims at sensitising people about the ever present issue of domestic violence. After this, Hanne took us on a tour of the neighbouring areas of Stuttgart, which fascinated us with its beauty, culture and long history.

The tour of Stuttgart, in Hanne Braun’s car took us to the top of the hill. As we stood therewe marvelled at the ingenuity of human kind and the inner strength to reach new heights in science and technology. We equally nestled in the spirit of the knowledge that with us is a woman leader, who has spent her life reaching to the spirit within. Touching the lives of sad, lonely migrant women in Europe, arranging for language classes, providing child care, and a roof for those coming from afar. She remained in the trenches, understanding the dark and invisible world of commercial sex workers. Some of them exploited and abused because they are foreigners. As we walked  down the hill, Hanne Braun took us through the red-light district of Stuttgart, so we could have a feel of what her commitment to women’s rights mean. We saw, we shared, we reflected. As we nestled into our beds for that evening, we recommitted to our service for women and girls. Hanne Braun had just re-kindled the spirit. Just the knowledge that together it is possible to reach new heights in our nourishment of the human spirit, especially for women and girls, survivors of violence, abuse and exclusion.

The five-hour train journey to Geneva was a possibility of reflection on the time spent with Hanne Braun. Her presence filled the room as she assisted in the communion service at the installation of the new LWF Leadership; her laughter had warmed our hearts as we found our ways in the streets of Stuttgart; her humour livened our souls as she recounted her days as a World YWCA Executive Committee member in the era of apartheid. She inspired us for  the future with her elaborate plans of bringing the Rosenstrasse 76 exhibition on domestic violence to the 2011 World YWCA World Council to be held in Switzerland. If anything, join us in Zurich next year and enjoy a moment with Hanne Braun, one of the amazing, committed, humorous and visionary women leaders of this movement.

Women of faith gather at CSW 2010

By World YWCA CSW Intern and Superstar: Chelsey Butchereit

The World YWCA delegates that attended the Ecumenical Women Orientation Day on February 27, 2010 at the United Nations Church Center were part of a group of a couple hundred women (and men) that received training about combining their faith and advocacy efforts during CSW 2010.

A review of the establishment of CSW, a short history of the BPFA, and an introduction to Ecumenical Women’s organisation was presented first.

Following that, there were speakers that discussed how faith communities could engage the UN specifically on issues where Ecumenical Women believes the BPFA remains unfulfilled. These include

·      Ending the culture and practice of impunity: violence against women

·      Transforming leadership: Gender, Power, and Decision-Making

·      Establishing Economic Justice: Women and the Economic and Financial Crisis

Keynote speakers addressed these issues and gave examples of innovative ways faith groups are tackling challenges related to women’s rights in their communities. As a group we were also encouraged to not only work during the days of CSW but throughout the entire year on building relationships with UN members and holding the body accountable for what they say they will do.

To finish the orientation a couple of hours were dedicated to advocacy training and practice. During this time the World YWCA participants Arda Aghazaria, Sheila Matindike, and Chelsey Butchereit re-energised the entire group when they role played how they could use the Ecumenical Women’s talking points in a short encounter with UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon (role played by our very own World YWCA staff Juli Dugdale!).

It was another nice day of preparation as we all gear up for the start of CSW on Monday.

World YWCA CSW Chelsey Butchereit

Visit http://www.worldywca.org  for more information