News Archives

Middle East Christians need contact with other Christians, Day says

 


Middle East Christians need contact with other Christians, Day says

Nov. 9, 2004

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS) – Christians in the Middle East need to connect with their Western counterparts, according to a United Methodist official who recently traveled to the region.

In countries like Lebanon and Syria, the population of Christians – although still significant – has declined, the Rev. R. Randy Day, chief executive, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries pointed out. The big concern, he added, is "how to continue to witness and function as minorities."

Day was part of a five-person delegation, sponsored by Church World Service, that traveled Oct. 23-Nov. 1 in the Middle East. The trip took the group to Cairo, Egypt; Beirut, Lebanon; Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The delegation met with representatives of the Middle East Council of Churches, Christian and Muslim religious leaders,and a few government officials.

"They were extremely open to this delegation coming," Day said. "I thought it was very important for them to be connecting to Christians from the United States."

Church World Service and its partners are troubled "by the political, economic and social factors that are provoking Christian migration from the region and severely challenging the churches and stable Christian communities there," said the Rev. John McCullough, Church World Service executive director, a United Methodist pastor and the delegation’s leader.

U.S. churches and other agencies have been longstanding partners with Middle Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant church communities, as well as the Middle East Council of Churches.

Besides dealing with their minority status, Middle East Christians have been worn down by the longtime Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iraq War. "All of these factors weigh heavily on the communities," Day explained.

Christians in Syria, for example, were anxious about the effects of the Iraq War spilling over into their country and about the fact that they felt the West misunderstood their country. Although there have been human rights abuses in Syria’s recent past, Day said he found its new president, Bashar El Assad – who met with the delegation – to be "well-informed and extremely open in his dialogue with us."

"I think we need the strong voices of moderation in the Arab world," he added. "I’m hoping he might be one of those."

McCullough pointed out that Christians and Muslims peacefully co-exist in much of the region. "Many Muslim leaders are moderate and cooperate with Christians in building good, civil relationships," he said. "Some are aware of the greater sense of vulnerability that the minority Christian community feels, and we heard specific examples of government responsiveness to that community."

When the delegation visited Israel and the Palestinian territories, Day said he was "shocked" to see the size of the wall that Israel is constructing around Palestinian areas. It brought back memories of South Africa, he explained, and the way that apartheid isolated and controlled people in that country.

He had praise, however, for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, launched by the World Council of Churches in August 2002. Ecumenical accompaniers – including many young adults – serve a minimum of three months, working with local churches, Israeli and Palestinian nongovernmental organizations, and Palestinian communities to monitor human rights violations and improve the daily lives of Palestinians and Israelis.

The accompaniers come from a variety of religions and nations, and Day said he hopes to bring the program to the attention of more United Methodists who might like to participate.

Day believes that a "just peace" is possible for Israelis and Palestinians and that a two-state solution, brokered through the international community, is workable. He hopes the Bush administration will make peace for Israel and the Palestinian territories a foreign policy priority during its second term.

Other members of the delegation included the Rev. Marian McClure, director of the Worldwide Ministries Division for the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly Council; the Rev. William Sibert, executive director, Board of World Mission, Moravian Church; and David Weaver, director of Mission Relationships and Witness for Church World Service.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

First Name:*
Last Name:*
Email:*
ZIP/Postal Code:*
Question:*

*InfoServ ( about ) is a service of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW


Contact Us

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

Phone
(optional)

*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add InfoServ@umcom.org to your list of approved senders.