Jerusalem, 8 November 2006
Dear friends in my supporting congregations:
One critical issue lacking from much of the recent U.S. electoral debate
is our government's massive and unquestioning support for Israel's brutal
occupation of the Palestinian territories. I've been reminded of that
constantly during the last two weeks as I've traveled throughout the West
Bank and Gaza. Within a minute or two of meeting someone, whether it's
a taxi driver or a priest or an ordinary Palestinian harvesting their
olives, I'm asked where I'm from. So I tell them. If the person doesn't
speak any English they often respond with something like, "America good,
Bush bad"–a sort of shorthand for how they feel about U.S. policy. If
they're more accomplished in English, they explain to me how they love
the United States but can't understand why the U.S. uncritically supports
Israel. And oftentimes they know what they speak of when they say they
love the U.S.; many Palestinians have been there to visit, most have relatives
living in California or Michigan or elsewhere. U.S. culture has many fans
here. In the war-torn Gaza Strip, where Israeli troops yesterday killed
19 civilians when it fired artillery shells into several houses where
people were sleeping, people told me how they love to watch Oprah and
Dr. Phil on television.
They're watching more television these days because they're afraid to
go outside. And many have lost their jobs since the victory of Hamas in
elections earlier this year, a development that provoked a cutoff in international
assistance to the Palestinian Authority (oh, how we love democracy as
long as the people we agree with win the elections). Coupled with Israel's
retention of all customs receipts, it has left the Palestinian "government"
bankrupt and unable to pay the salaries of teachers and other civil servants.
As a result, these days are even more difficult in the Palestinian territories.
I'm here for 18 days to prepare material for an issue of Response magazine
next spring that will focus on this part of the world. It's a fascinating
place to be. I'm writing this on a cool evening, sitting outside at a
Lutheran guesthouse on the Mt. of Olives. The Biblical narrative is never
very far away here, and walking where Jesus walked and worshiping in Bethlehem
and Jerusalem is a special treat for me. Yet Christianity here is not
about just the old stones that the flocks of tourists swarm over every
day. It's about the vital faith of the "living stones," the Christian
community that suffers everyday from the wall, the checkpoints, the systematic
humiliation of Palestinians–both Christian and Muslim–by the occupying
military. I am filled with great respect for how they steadfastly resist
in so many nonviolent ways, refusing to be victims, and warmly welcoming
strangers like me who come from the country that bankrolls their oppression.
It is a gift for which I'm thankful to the God who is worshiped in so
many ways in this tiny land. And thankful to you who make possible my
Since my last letter from Pakistan in July, I've traveled to Bosnia to
photograph landmine survivors, and to Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan
to document the work of UMCOR in the Caucuses. I wrote and photographed
stories for Response on themes ranging from homeless women in Seattle
to a feisty United Methodist congregation in Chicago that has declared
itself a sanctuary for a Mexican-American woman member who faces deportation.
I spoke in several fora ranging from the conference school of mission
in Oregon to the California-Nevada United Methodist Women's annual gathering,
and I escaped with Lyda for a quick 30th anniversary trip to the Amazon
region of Bolivia, where we swam with pink river dolphins and fished for
piranhas. I also spent some time in my back yard in Eugene, turning what
used to be a large lawn into what will soon become a jungle of native
plants and trees.
Next week I return home from this trip for just four days, then I'm off
to Guatemala to lead a workshop on communication in emergencies for church
agencies and their partners from throughout Central America. I'll then
be back home for a couple of weeks before heading to Indonesia to report
on how church-sponsored reconstruction is faring two years after the tsunami.
While in Indonesia I'll also photograph and interview families involved
in rice production as part of an educational campaign about food and global
trade to be conducted next year by the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, a
group related to the World Council of Churches.
I'll be done with all that travel by mid December, when I have to have
some minor surgery that will keep me from traveling for several weeks.
I'll enjoy some quiet time at home with my family while writing the articles
and editing the photos generated from this trip.
Next year brings more adventures, including a time set aside for itineration
in September and October. That's when I'll come visit you, share some
images and stories, and we'll talk about how we're involved in mission
together. As always, thanks for your generous support for my mission,
and for the many ways you are involved in mission in your local community.
This weekend I'll be staying in the small West Bank village of Aboud.
Many of you have heard me speak about Aboud before, and the ways in which
Muslims and Christians there have gotten along fine for centuries. That
community spirit is under threat in these troubled days, however. The
Israeli "wall" runs right through the village, stealing thousands of olive
trees from village families, making life harder and encouraging people
to emigrate. Fundamentalism–a direct product of the occupation and the
confusion of Christianity with western political policy–is tugging at
ancient friendships. So I'm going back to Aboud to photograph and interview
people, but also to pray with folks who've been suffering for far too
long. I will pray with them for justice, which the scriptures tell us
is the precursor to peace. Pray with us this weekend for peace in this