From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
UMNS# 04527-Middle East Christians need contact with other
Tue, 9 Nov 2004 16:31:33 -0600
Middle East Christians need contact with other Christians, Day says
Nov. 9, 2004 News media contact: Linda Bloom * (646) 3693759* New
NOTE: A photograph is available at http://umns.umc.org.
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
"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
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
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
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
United Methodist News Service
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