From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Two United Methodists join delegation to Afghanistan

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Wed, 12 Jun 2002 14:27:59 -0500

June 12, 2002       News media contact: Linda Bloom7(212) 870-38037New York

NOTE: A head-and-shoulders photograph of Bishop C. Joseph Sprague is
available at online.

By United Methodist News Service

A United Methodist bishop and a New Jersey pastor whose brother died in the
World Trade Center tragedy will be part of a U.S. interfaith delegation to
Afghanistan in June.

Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of Chicago, an outspoken advocate for a peaceful
alternative to the war on terrorism, and the Rev. Myrna Bethke, pastor of
First United Methodist Church in Freehold, N.J., will be among those meeting
with the Afghan people June 16-29 in Kabul.

Sponsored by Global Exchange, an international human rights organization,
the delegation aims to promote understanding and tolerance between Afghans
and Americans. One goal is to identify ways that faith communities can
support humanitarian projects in Kabul, including the rebuilding of schools,
clinics or mosques destroyed during the U.S.-led military campaign in

Bethke is one of the delegation's two representatives from Peaceful
Tomorrows, an advocacy organization founded by family members of victims of
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The organization promotes the search for
effective nonviolent responses to terrorism and is dedicated to finding
common ground with all people affected by violence throughout the world.

The oldest of five children, Bethke suffered the loss of her youngest
brother, Bill, on Sept. 11. The 37-year-old was one of the more than 300
employees of Marsh & McLennan who perished in Tower One at the World Trade
Center. Although her family posted fliers with Bill's picture and searched
local hospitals after the attack, they did not expect to find much because
of where his company was located in the tower. "The only confirmation of
their deaths is their silence," she said.

Despite her grief, the pastor immediately was opposed to a military
response. "From the beginning, my hope and prayers were that we did not
respond with violence," she explained. "I just had such a profound sense of
sadness that that was the route we (the United States) took."
Bethke believes the church can help give voice to fear and anger "in ways
that are productive." The Freehold congregation, where she has served for
five years, is paying her expenses for the Afghanistan trip.

Joining other family members of Sept. 11 victims in Peaceful Tomorrows
seemed like the right thing to do, she said. "I feel a lot of responsibility
for speaking out against violence and to know I'll be heard differently and
maybe be heard more clearly."

Bethke will meet the group's other representative, Kristina Olsen, for the
first time on this trip. Olsen is a singer-songwriter and nurse from
Newburyport, Mass., who lost her older sister, Laurie Ann Olsen Neira, on
American Airlines Flight 11.

Sprague's involvement in the Afghanistan delegation came by invitation from
Global Exchange, based on his public participation in several interfaith
discussions on peaceful alternatives to terrorism.

One of his goals, the bishop said, is "to demonstrate to at least some of
the people in Afghanistan, particularly in and around Kabul, that there are
those in the interfaith community in this nation who are committed to
peaceful resolutions to these difficulties." He also is interested in trying
to establish long-standing relationships between Islamic groups and
congregations in Afghanistan and Christian and Islamic groups in the United

On a personal level, Sprague said he hopes to learn more about Afghanistan
"rationally, emotionally and spiritually" to continue his work as a "more
authentic and empowered interpreter of an alternative to violence."

Other participants in the delegation include Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of the
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit and Dave Robinson, national
coordinator of Pax Christi USA.

# # #

United Methodist News Service
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