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[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”Among the blessings of this year of Commemoration is the fact that for the first time Lutherans and Catholics have seen the Reformation from an ecumenical perspective.” and ” link=”” color=”#a30110″ class=”” size=”32″][Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity]
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Amman, Jordan – Together with one voice delivering the Words of Institution, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land prepared the Eucharist table in concelebration with other Evangelical churches for the worship service during “The Evangelical Reformation and the Middle East: A Way Forward” conference, Tuesday 26 September in Amman, Jordan.
“The Evangelical Reformation and the Middle East” conference evaluated how the 1517 reformation event is amplified in all aspects of social, political and religious life in the Middle East today.
Gathered under the roof of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Amman, church leaders from the Evangelical denominations around the Middle East shared in the preparation to administer Christ’s blood and body to the congregation attending the conference and local members in a concelebration.
In 2006, the ELCJHL and six Reformed churches in the Middle East signed a mutual recognition agreement called the Amman Declaration. Through this declaration, the churches recognize each other as apostolic churches in preaching the Gospel and administering the sacraments. The churches mutually accept the validity of each church’s ministry and asked the Holy Spirit to bless the declaration so that it will lead to unity. (See first concelebration article, here)
In accordance with the Amman Declaration, ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan, The Rev. Najla Kassab of The National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon, The Rev. Dr. Paul Haidosian of the Union of the Armenian Evangelical Churches in the Near East, The Rev. Dr. Habib Badr, the Evangelical Church of Beirut, and The Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki of the Evangelical Church in Egypt co-officiated communion.
BISHOP MUNIB YOUNAN’S SERMON
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Amman, Jordan – “When the West looks at Christianity of the East, they don’t look at the mosaic, they look at the Orthodox, not the Evangelicals,” said, The Rev. Dr. Habib Badr of Lebanon. This describes the environment which Middle Eastern Evangelicals are living, in the shadows of and looking toward the future of the Reformation.
As Lutheran and Reformed traditions around the world commemorate the 500th Year of Reformation, remembering the theology developed by the German reformer Martin Luther, Evangelical Christians in the Middle East assembled September 26-28 to do the same. The conference, “Evangelical Reformation and the Middle East: The Way Forward,” evaluated how the 1517 reformation event is amplified in all aspects of social, political and religious life in the Middle East today.
Invited by The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), Evangelical pastors, Heads of churches, elders, deacons, church council, principals, university faculty, and laity from Palestine, Jordan, Iraq, Armenia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Kuwait met in Jordan to evaluate the impact of the Reformation on the East and the future of continuity in reformation for mainline Evangelical Christians.
A concelebration worship service at The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Amman opened the conference. (See story)
Along with the ELCJHL, 20 seminarians, leaders from the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches (FMECC), seminaries and universities from around the Middle East contributed lectures and papers commemorating the spread of the Reformation from the 16th century into the Middle East and its developments in the 21st century.
Meeting in the region where the three major monotheistic faiths – Christianity, Islam, and Judaism – were founded, the group expressed what the Reformation adds to this rich identity.
In the Middle East, Evangelicals comprise the church family of mainline Evangelical Protestant denominations alongside the Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christian families. The group stressed that the first preference in identity for Middle East Christians is to be called Evangelicals rather than Protestants, indicating that Protestants connotates – protests – a word that is understood as division and strife in a region that is all too familiar with divisions. They prefer the description Evangelicals because it represents the Gospel teachings of unity and love.
The Evangelical Reformation and the Middle East Conference stimulated discussions about the introduction of Reformation principles into Arab culture through missionaries, the fruits, and challenges from the European exposure, how the Middle Eastern churches retain their distinct identity today, and how the group expects to see reform continue in the future.
Plenary sessions offered panel presentations with questions and answers about the Evangelical’s role among fellow indigenous forms of Eastern Christianity, political engagement, gender justice, contextual theology and the ecumenical movement in sight of the Reformation.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” quotation=” cite=”The contribution that is expected in every aspect of life is to work toward unity of hearts equally with the unity of doctrine. – Bishop Munib Younan” link=”” color=”#ff0000″ font-style=”italic” font-family=”georgia” class=”” size=”21″][/perfectpullquote]
A few reformed principles stood out as key doctrines to the religious life of the Evangelical in the Middle East: Sola scriptura, justification by faith and the priesthood of all believers.
It was explained that the Reformation’s principle of priesthood for all believers transformed the spiritual life of women in the 16th century. “The Reformation spread new principles of grace, the centrality of the Bible, the priesthood of all believers and new roles for women,” said Dr. Mary Mikhael, President Emeritus of the Near East School of Theology, Lebanon. However, there were no improvements for the woman of the 16th century within her society, therefore, “the maturity of principles of the Reformation has opened the door for women’s rights today.”
The ecumenical movement in the Middle East was also strongly connected to the priesthood of all believers.
“Reformation led to reformed churches, and the main pillars of the Reformation in the world are a natural progression of Evangelism. The more we study the priesthood of all believers, the more we understand it is a position of service, not of control,” The Rev. Najla Kassab, Head of the World Communion of Reformed Churches of Lebanon, said.
“The pains are the same. The closer the Evangelical and Catholic churches become, whether in Jerusalem, Palestine or the Gailiee, the more credibility we have in living with other religions,” said Bishop Emeritus Maroun Lahham, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
Credibility among other Christians in the Middle East is also a concern for Evangelical Christians in the Middle East.
“[Orthodox Christians] say, ‘They have thrown out icons, or they don’t admit personal confessions to a Priest.’ We are only seen by what we reject not by what we believe together… We are not a cult, we are one united Church,” said Dr. Wageeh Michael of the Evangelical Theology Seminary in Cairo.
LIST OF PANELISTS AND PRESENTERS
Rep. from Prince Ghazi’s administration, Dr. Minwer Hmeid
His Grace Bishop Munib Younan – ELCJHL
Mrs. Rosangela Jarjour – General Secretary of the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches
The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb – ELCJHL
Bishop Farouq Hammo -The Arab Presbyterian Church in Baghdad
The Rev. Dr. Andrea Zaki – The Evangelical Church in Egypt
Bishop-elect Ibrahim Sani Azar – ELCJHL
The Rev. Dr. Habib Badr -The Evangelical Church of Beirut
Dr. George Sabra – The Near East School of Theology, Lebanon
Dr. Wageeh Michael – The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo
Dr. Ikram Lami – The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo
Dr. Mary Mikhael, President Emeritus of the Near East School of Theology, Lebanon
The Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, ELCJHL
Dr. Hani Hanna, The Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo
Catholic Bishop William Shomali, Amman
Bishop Emeritus Maroun Lahham, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
BISHOP YOUNAN’S ADDRESS TO THE CONFERENCE
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Ramallah – On Sunday, September 3, 2017, a delegation of members and clergy from the Byåsen Church of Trondheim Norway entered a partnership with The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah, agreeing to acknowledge each other, pray for one another and visit each other in a spirit of friendship and fellowship.
The Rev. Camilla Winsnes and The Rev. Steinar Leirvik participated in the Sunday morning worship that was concluded with the signing of the new partnership.
“It is an initiative we began two years ago, and now it has finally happened,” said, Mr. Winsnes a member of Byåsen Church and husband of Rev. Winsnes.
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The smiley teen dressed in a stark white, collared shirt embossed with the Lutheran School Talitha Kumi’s emblem, corrects me when I ask him and the director of Lutheran Model United Nations (LuthMUN) why the West Bank school participates in a program designed after the United Nations, an organization that does not fully recognize Palestine.
“Actually, Palestine is a UN member, it is what is called an observer. At this time, Palestine is not a voting member,” he says. (See definitions in box)
The twelfth grader, Said, diplomatically continues his point,
“Everything has a good and a bad side, that’s just a thing in life, but when we talk about the UN, we try to go to the positive side and try to solve things, and to look at what has happened by looking at the mistakes.” “We try to solve the mistakes using the positive part of the UN [referring to the organization’s model for peaceful solutions.]”
“The UN was made for maintaining peace and security.”
Said is sharp and confident, yet respectful of the adults in the room. He is also honest and makes no apologizes for what he carefully, and articulately says in fluent English.
“I had nothing to do afterschool, that’s the truth, and I saw that this (MUN) is a really good project which brings you many skills… but more over, it was basically a lot of fun,” he said.
The skills that Said gained from participating in the Model UN program are evident.
The MUN program simulates the real United Nations, by gathering youth in high schools of different conferences (or nations) to debate topics as delegates of an assigned country.
The MUN website says that the program is an “experiential learning process that provides students with better understanding of the inner workings of the UN and helps students gain skills such as diplomacy, negotiation, critical thinking, compromise, public speaking, writing and research.”
Aside from simply having something to do afterschool, these are the tools that students like Said and others from the LuthMUN conference will carry with them and use in communities divided by conflict.
Sana Abu-Amsha, Director of the 2016 LuthMUN conference chimes in, “The students learn not to accept the same resolutions [former UN decisions], but to create better solutions.”
The Model UN program makes finding those better solutions possible for highschools under The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land’s education umbrella.
The national MUN Palestine (PalMUN) was established in 2010; three years ago the LuthMUN was created by the ELCJHL Director of Education’s Office with only Lutheran schools participating in the first two. This year the ELCJHL Director of Education Office team arranged hosting a national LuthMUN on 8-10 August at Talitha Kumi School with four non-Lutheran schools attending. The Friends Boys School, the Rosary Sisters School, St. George School and the Friar School joined the LuthMun’s first hosted conference.
This year’s LuthMUN had 210 delegates from the participating schools representing six committees. The topics:
- Preventing the proliferation of arms in non-state actors
- Fostering peaceful resolution regarding North Korea’s nuclear program
- Economic Sociology:
- Ensuring universal access to water
- The empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication
- Human Rights:
- The death penalty
- Protection of forced displaced children
- The legality of the deforestation of the Amazon’s Rainforests
- Protection of endangered species
- Security Council:
- The invasion of Crime
- Suppression of terrorist groups in Sub-Sahara
- Special Event:
- World leaders debating disarmament
Students from Gaza were invited to participate but were denied travel permits by Israel. Students from Nazareth cancelled due to other issues and could not attend, either.
Eventually, every year, students from the 8-10 grade of the ELCJHL Schools attend the International MUN. In the past 3 years, students participated in the International MUN conferences in Holland, India, Slovenia, Cyprus, Germany, Turkey, and the Czech Republic.
Former LuthMUN facilitator and ELCJHL Resource and Curriculum Development Officer, Salameh Bishara says, “In April five Lutheran schools students went to Slovenia.”
“We send our students to these conferences all over the world to gain the experience of debate and to see the world.”
Bishara proudly adds, “Some of our students have participated in five or six national and international MUN conferences.”
In September, eight students and two teachers from the Evangelical Lutheran School (ELS) of Hope in Ramallah, the Lutheran School of Beit Sahour, and Dar al-Kalima attended Pilsner, Czech Republic, the PDSMUN.
School conferences from Belarus, Kenya, Egypt, and Germany also attended PDSMUN.
The theme of that conference was terrorism and nuclear disarmament.
Talitha Kumi has its hope on three students attending a conference in Cambridge, England this November.
To prepare for these conferences students must commit to at least 30 hours of training. Each student is assigned a country that is not her own and she will have to study the foreign policy of that country regarding the issue given within the theme.
They have to study 30 days before the conference to prepare arguments.
“They will learn everything about a country,” Bishara said.
Rani, another senior at Talitha Kumi, has served as chairman of committees and most recently, as the delegate for the United States.
His classmate, Said says of Rani, “The delegate of the U.S. is always expected to be good,” “All eyes are on the U.S. delegate. The conference always gives the U.S and Russia to good delegates!”
Rani grins with great dignity. Earlier he added that he joined the program because he wants to share his opinion on politics.
“Becoming a part of LuthMUN changed my character,” he said.
One character changing aspect of the program is that it empowers students to organize, lead, and make decisions.
After five years of involvement, the students have become veterans and conduct student training for new participants.
“Graduates of the school return to help with the training and as advisors,” Bishara touts, “The entire LuthMUN Conference was organized by students.”
Reem, a twelfth-grade student at ELS School of Hope in Ramallah, says that she is thankful for the training because it has given her a chance to discover what she wants to do after high school.
“I would like to practice international law,” she said. “It (LuthMUN) has taught me about solving issues that must be defended.”
The entire experience from start to finish grooms leaders, but it is not free.
The national LuthMUN costs each student 250-350 shekels ($62- $87) and that can be a hardship for some families. Travel costs for international MUN conferences rises significantly.
The trip to Czech Republic was $8,000 for the students and teachers.
ELCJHL Director of Education Office fundraises for up to 85 percent of the expense for ELS in Ramallah, ELS in Beit Sahour, and Dar al-Kalima school students, but even the remaining 15 percent can be a challenge for some parents.
Presently, German government and the Berliner Missionwerks (BMW) typically helps aid students of Talitha Kumi School and other ELCJHL schools.
Other donors are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Northern Germany (Centre for Global Ministries and Ecumenical Relations) and the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Mission among others. ELCJHL Director of Education, Dr. Charlie Haddad has made proposals for funding throughout the years as well.
For many of the students, Bishara says, “It is their only chance of traveling abroad and having contact with western democratic countries.”
Bishara emphasizes the unique importance of this program for Palestinian schools.
“Palestine needs diplomatic ways in resolving conflict.”
“We tell our youth, ‘Peace education doesn’t not mean peace with your enemy but peace with your neighbor, peace with your brother, peace with yourself, peace with your peer.’”
The LuthMUN program is in harmony with ELCJHL schools’ educational philosophy of Peace Building, Constructive Dialogue, Accepting Differences, Mediation and Conflict Resolution, Non-Violence, Coexistence and Tolerance.
RAMALLAH – On February 24th, 2015, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced the adoption of a new national day on March 5th to commemorate and remember the importance of environment and to raise awareness about the Palestinian environmental situation.
Palestinian Environment Day began as an initiative launched by His Grace Bishop Munib Younan and created in collaboration between the Environmental Education Center and the Palestinian Environmental Quality Authority. This day comes out of the longing of the people of Palestinian for freedom, the restoration of their land, and sharing of natural resources. Activities will be held yearly at the Environmental Education Center in collaboration with other environmentally active organization to celebrate the day.
As well as dedicating March 5th as Palestinian Environment Day, Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah named the Palestine Sunbird as the national bird, a move applauded by as well as initiated by Bishop Munib Younan and the Environmental Education Center.
Bishop Munib Younan stated that, “we hope that the 5th can be remembered in churches around the world, that this country may remain a green and beautiful place despite all the political conflicts in this land.”
1. We, the leaders of Evangelical and Protestant churches and organizations affiliated to the Supreme Council of the Evangelical Community in Syria and Lebanon, have met together at this critical juncture of our history in order to
reflect on the current situation, and on the tragic events that our people in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are passing through. We are most concerned over the great human suffering and political difficulties that our people in these countries are facing. We have deeply reflected upon this deteriorating state of affairs, and have been greatly disturbed and shocked by the ugly incidents of violence that innocent civilians and entire communities, especially Christian, have been subjected to.
2. We also write to you in solidarity with the various appeals and statements that have been issued by the leaders of our sister Eastern Churches, as well as by some Islamic groups, concerning the recent development of events in Iraq; and especially the forced displacement and murderous killings of individuals and groups by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), killings that verge on being a bona fide genocide.
CHICAGO (ELCA) – As the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip further escalates, the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), expressed her profound concern for members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land in a July 17, 2014, letter to that denomination’s bishop, the Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan.
“Our hearts are heavy as we read about and see images of the violence being inflicted on both Israelis and Palestinians. This suffering and loss of life are inexcusable before God. As followers with you of the Prince of Peace, and as children of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all life, we long for peace and a just resolution to the escalating conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people,” Eaton wrote, adding that she is responding directly to Younan’s call to participate in interventions and actions “to create hope in a hopeless situation.”
In a July 16 public statement, Younan asked that Christians and “all people of good will intervene in the present situation of unacceptable violence and bloodshed.” He said, “If we cannot take steps towards peace, we will continue to be held hostage by extremism. Please do not leave us alone in this moment of struggle. The whole Middle East is boiling. We need your prophetic voice and support so that peace built on justice and reconciliation built on forgiveness will prevail.”
In her letter to Younan, Eaton shared that “we join you in your call for a cessation of all hostilities between Israel and Hamas and a return to direct peace talks to achieve a comprehensive and sustainable peace based upon a two-state solution and adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law.”
The ELCA presiding bishop wrote that she will encourage all ELCA congregations to continue their prayers for peace in the Holy Land, including participation in “a minute of silence” during Sunday worship.
Although her intended visit to Jordan and the Holy Land scheduled for later this month has been postponed, Eaton told Younan that she looks “forward to our time together.” In her letter, she noted the “steadfastness” of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land: “The church’s strong witness for coexistence grounded in peace with justice permeates every level of congregational, educational and diaconal service. Our faith is strengthened by knowing how, even in the midst of great difficulties, the Body of Christ is working in Palestine and Jordan for the good of all communities.
“Along with the witness of your pastors and lay leaders, your witness, Bishop Younan, has strengthened our confidence that peace can indeed be achieved among the two peoples and three religions that share the Holy Land. Your statements, speeches and sermons have been a model for promoting both political and interreligious coexistence, along with your strong support of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, which you helped found,” Eaton wrote.
The ELCA presiding bishop also expressed her gratitude for Younan’s capacity to uplift “the voices of moderation and against extremism.” She expressed her appreciation in particular for the long-standing work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land’s schools in demonstrating “the importance of education through a curriculum based on peace, nonviolence, peaceful co-existence and the strengthening of civil society for the benefit of all communities.”
Through an ELCA “Peace Not Walls” action alert issued July 17, ELCA members are being encouraged to contact members of U.S. Congress to ask for an end “to the latest round of violence.” The alert offers a sample letter which ELCA members can use to contact U.S. Senators and Representatives, featuring elements of Younan’s July 16 statement that calls for the “immediate cessation of hostilities in Gaza.”
Younan also calls for the resumption of direct peace talks to achieve a comprehensive and sustainable peace; critical support for healthcare infrastructure; material support for interreligious cooperation and peacebuilding through the educational and diaconal ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land; and that the global Christian community, including member churches of The Lutheran World Federation, provide necessary assistance to those who have been internally displaced or affected by the current wave of violence and to help the economic and development of the growth of the Palestinian people.
The ELCA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land are member churches of The Lutheran World Federation – a global communion of 144 churches representing more than 70 million Christians in 79 countries. The ELCA is the communion’s only member church from the United States.
To read the full text of Bishop Eaton’s letter, practice advocacy with the ELCA’s Peace Not Walls Ministry, or read the ELCA’s “Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine,” visit the ELCA’s press release regarding Bishop Eaton’s letter.