by Marianne Ejdersten, director of communication for the World Council of Churches
I have visited the Holy Land six times during the past year. Probably 20 times the last 20 years. I came back from my latest visit last week. I wonder; how could we bring just peace to the Holy Land? Is it possible? They are losing hope. You could really see and feel the hopelessness the last year. Even young people are losing their hope.
For decades the Holy Land has been a land of war, oppression, injustice and death. All the world’s Christians trace their faith’s roots to the Holy Land: it is the spiritual homeland for all Christians in the world. Therefore, Christians everywhere are called to prayer and action for healing in the Holy Land. They are called to act for justice and peace in the Holy Land. Peace with justice requires ending the long conflict, occupation, injustice and all acts of violence and terrorism and bringing back the land we call Holy to wholeness, peace, redemption and reconciliation for all of its inhabitants.
Look back on the last 10-15 years with ever-increasing settlements and a growing separation barrier. The deadlocked peace. I could both see and feel the hopelessness.
But there is hope – of course, we have to keep the hope – who else would do that?!
I met with the first Palestinian Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah in October. He is 84 years old and living in the monastery in Jerusalem. He told me, “We have to try harder. We have to do the unexpected. We have to build bridges of love, respect and understanding.”
I asked Patriarch Sabbah; what could we do as the WCC? He looked at me and smiled: You have already started in 1948, you are listening to others, you are praying, you are visiting, you are sharing stories of hope – please, do the unexpected from your side. Don’t give up. Please, continue. Please, invite the unexpected to your table, build unexpected bridges.
He said: A separation barrier is done by stones. Human beings are living stones. Focus on the living stones – beyond the barriers, beyond the fear, beyond the words.
My feeling is that we need to do more work to develop this spirituality of peace, love and respect in the way we work and live. In the small settings, in our daily life, in our families and in the wider fellowship.
One big hope is the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), created in 2002 by the World Council of Churches (WCC) based on a letter and an appeal from local church leaders to create an international presence in the country. At the WCC Executive Committee meeting in China in November, results were presented for a wide-ranging evaluation of EAPPI. Now, 15 years later, more than 1,800 accompaniers have taken part in the project. The evaluation indicates that 98% take the view that the programme is still relevant and delivers results, that manifestations of violence decrease when EAs are clearly visible; parents feel that there is security for their children on their way to school, etc. As a result, the programme is one of the biggest initiatives in Palestine and Israel in the humanitarian sector.
WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit commented: “We learned a great deal from this report about what is needed to redefine the original purpose and profile of this very significant programme for the WCC, as an ecumenical initiative under the WCC, called for by local churches and pursued in close cooperation with member churches and other ecumenical partners. I believe this report and the follow-up will strengthen the programme.”
The communication strategies should be revised, that’s very clear in the evaluation report. We will start now, the week before Christmas! We will explore the communication work together the next six months. We will focus on storytelling, share glimpses of local life, the reality in for example Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Hebron. We will focus on social media and the web.
I believe communication belongs at the heart of the work and being on a pilgrimage of justice and peace together. We cannot give account of the reality around us, or articulate our hope if we are not communicating this to one another and to the world. To share is to inform, but also to bring a challenge and a motivation into different contexts and reflect on the role of communication in building just and peaceful communities. Communication for peace creates chances for people to consider and value nonviolent responses to potential and actual conflict.
Communication for justice and peace reveals backgrounds and contexts, listens to all sides, exposes hidden agendas and highlights peace initiatives, regardless of religion, sex and gender – no matter their origin.
For me the prophetic communication opens alternative horizons not limited to the perspectives imposed by the dominant culture, and empowers individuals and communities to tell their own stories and to craft their images and gestures. Communication is also a peace-building tool.
Communication is also vital in confronting threats to life. It affirms life by promoting truth-telling, fairness, participation, security issues, dialogue, openness and inclusion. Communication that threatens life is characterized by censorship, misinformation, hate-speech, lies and exclusion.
Communications from the World Council of Churches must have participation and hope at their core. Specifically, our task is to provide hope for a different world in which human dignity is strengthened. The equal value of all people is at the heart of its culture.
As a closing, I’ll use the words by Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, “We must build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear… That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind… The time is always right to do the right thing… Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”
The World Council of Churches is to inspire and invite its member churches and ecumenical partners to work together, actively lending weight to the churches’ common voice – for a world with peace and justice at its heart. Its communication should reflect this. I try to summarize my experience in three words – peace, love and respect – three small words or 16 letters – but they are able to change the world! Sometimes, could words become the real barriers in the world?
God of life, lead us to justice and peace in the Holy Land.
WCC Christmas Message 2016
WCC Christmas Video 2016
WCC statement on Israel and Palestine 28 June, 2016