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Join Us in Louisville for our 2017 Annual Conference

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Join Us in Louisville for our 2017 Annual Conference

We are gathering at Lawes Logde at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS) April 18th-20th. Our theme is “Bursting Wineskins, Creative Responses to Christ’s Changing Church.” WHAT! Presbyterians Change? Caring for Pastors and Christian Educators is our primary purpose. We network throughout our denominations sharing creative ways of nurturing Church leaders when faced with adaptive change. How do we care for one another as we learn new skills or styles of ministry to speak God’s Word amidst changing cultures? Our conference will discuss these issues. We will do this face to face around the table, through keynote addresses and workshops, in worship and enjoying one another as we build or deepen relationships within PPCN. Rev. Grayde Parsons is going to stimulate our conversations and help us address important ways of reflecting upon the energy of our Call to serve Christ. Check out the complete brochure for a detailed listing of this event and register today. SEE YOU IN LOUISVILLE. Pastor Jim Splitt, President PPCN

The Kingdom of God Among You

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The Kingdom of God Among You

The Kingdom of God Among You
Sermon Preached at the November 12, 2016 Meeting
of The Presbytery of the Miami Valley
Rev. Diane Ziegler


Isaiah 12:2 – Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.  (NRSV)

Luke 17:20-21; 33-35 – Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’  For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” . . . . Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.  I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.  There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.   (NRSV)


Startle us, O God, with your truth and open our hearts and our minds to your wondrous love. Speak your word to us; silence in us any voice but your own and be with us now as we turn our attention, our minds and our hearts, to you, in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.  (Rev. John Buchanan)

My husband is a car enthusiast.  He would love to drive a Bugatti, or a Koenigsegg, or a Pagani.   But instead he drives a grey Honda Accord that he treats like a Bugatti – – washed and shined regularly and meticulously cleaned.  This morning I drove here with an open cup of coffee – –  SSSHHH – – Don’t tell him!

Two grey Honda Accords ago he bumped someone in a parking lot and the “H” on the front of his Honda broke off.  It was weeks before he found a replacement “H” that met his price point, but he was so glad when he did.  The car was back in pristine order.  For a bit anyway.  At least a week.  For not too long after he had that “H” back in place on his pristinely maintained Accord, he found himself headed up I-75 on a routine ride that would change him forever.

He was driving north, our younger son – – then about 5 – – with him, on the way to pick up our older son.  The highway was packed.  He was in the third lane from the right, vehicles all around him.  Directly in front of him was a pick-up truck loaded with a household of furniture, topped with a metal bed frame, and tied up with string.  As he drove in the traffic, at the speed that 75 demands, he watched, with distress, the bed frame begin to bounce and loosen and he knew  it was coming off.

He could not brake.  Or go right.  Or left.  Or catty-cornered either way.  Even if they survived the frame’s impact on the car, he thought a huge accident would follow.  He thought they were going to die.  He said he watched his whole life run before his eyes, just like “they say”.  He looked at the kid in the car for what he thought was a last time.  Wondered how long the other child would be left waiting, and how I would find out what had happened to them.  He thought about who he loved.  What he valued.  What he had done and what he had not done that he wished to do.  And he wondered what life for his family and for his corner of the world would be like if he was no longer part of it.  He maintained his speed, steadied his hand on the wheel and prayed a last prayer to Almighty God.

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 

Facing death is hard.  Our physical death.  Communities as we grew up in them.  Congregations that served generations of the same family now in steep decline or closed.

The death of life as we know it, the death of life as we remember it in a time gone by – – facing death is hard.

Remember when the pews at church were full?  When you could hear the lock-step of the Elders returning the offering plates or the communion trays to the front of the sanctuary?  When Presbytery meetings were the place to be?  When the Establishment seemed unmovable?

When we see life lived and longed-for slipping from our very hands, our grasp, our memory, our ability to hold on, well, it is very hard.  And we struggle, we struggle to hold it so tightly that we clasp and grasp, and cling, turning inward to shield ourselves from the change to come.

And that is exactly what we have done.  We’ve planted our feet unwilling to move.  “I’ll die before I change!” one frightened church member exclaimed.

Our faces and faith have turned inward, my friends.  Maybe more so today than a week ago.  Individually, in our particular churches, the Presbytery of the Miami Valley, the Synod of the Covenant, and the PC USA.  And we tremble.  We tremble.

We don’t want to die.  We don’t our memories of full churches to fade any further.  Facing death is hard.

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid.

Seemingly quick or simple solutions are the first to surface in our minds and hearts and faiths turned inward – – we just need a charismatic pastor, or for churches to just do what they are supposed to do, or to cut out the troubled spots, to get rid of every one not like us; and then we can begin again.

These quick solutions aim to remove us from the muck and the mire and the hard work of following Jesus.  They remove us from being part of the solution.  Like the Left Behind messages that have for years taken people captive with a false comfort – – like those bumper stickers “in case of rapture this car will be unmanned” –  – simple solutions hope for something to take us, remove us, lift us like Elijah out of this hot mess of a world in which we find ourselves.

But the solutions aren’t simple.  And Christ didn’t take the easy way out.  And Christ doesn’t intend to pull us from bed, or the grinding stone, or the field, or the workplace, or the school bus, or the retirement home, or the pew, and lift us to some heavenly realm where we can escape the trials of the world.

Instead, “in fact”, he says, “the kingdom of God is among you”.  My friends, “in fact, the kingdom of God is among you”.  In Belle Center and Huntsville; Urbana and Springfield; Huber Heights and Downtown Dayton; Eaton: Oxford; in Bellbrook; Middletown; Blue Ball; Monroe; in Reily; in Morning Sun; Sugar Creek; Fairborn and every other town great or small with the presence of the people of God.  We, my friends, are to manifest the Kingdom of God in our individual lives, our congregations, and the Presbytery of the Miami Valley.  “The kingdom of God is among you.”

We are called not to turn inward.  We are called not to look to the skies to be drawn up in a chariot.  Instead, we are called to look down upon the holy ground on which we walk.  We are called to look onto the faces that we pass.  We are called out into the places in which we find ourselves each moment of each day; called to live and carry and forward the kingdom of God.

For it is among you.  It is among you.  Brothers and sisters the kingdom of God among you!  Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 

But let’s be honest.  We have failed.  We have fallen to fear and dusty memories and hopes unrealized; longing for a time when the world seemed less complex and divided, less violent, less apathetic.  We have not done what we should do, loved as we should love, given as we should give, trusted as we should trust.  We’ve embraced isolation at best, and at worst, hatred and division at times too.  We are Presbyterian but not Presbyterian.  Christian but not Christian.  Followers of Jesus as long as Jesus doesn’t put us at any risk.  Because we are afraid.  And our fear is deep and wide.  Our uncertainty is great.  Our self-preservation high.

Lift us away, O God, and leave the others behind. 

But self-preservation is not the Kingdom.  It does seems much less risky, much more secure.  When hear Jesus say that those who try to make their life secure will lose it, and those who lose their life will keep it – – well, it makes no sense at all – – how can that be?  If we just wait a little longer, keep the doors open a little longer, keep COM and Leadership Council running a little longer, show me some signs and some indicators so that we can say, “Look, here it is!” . . . the kingdom will surely come.

All the while ignoring those words already spoken.  “in fact, the kingdom of God is among you”.  All the while ignoring those words that those who lose their life will keep it, those who lose their life will keep it.  The Kingdom among you!

The Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 

My son started High School this year and that has brought some new phrases.  One day he was telling some story about something that happened and I honestly don’t remember the story at all except for the ending statement about whoever had misfortune in it, “sucks for him” he said.

At first I was rather mortified.  My younger son has the potential to make a sailor blush, but my older son, he’s like Ghandi shoved in a 14 year old’s body!  What?  What just spewed from your mouth, child?  But then I was fascinated.  Leave it to a teenager to understand how the world really is.  Sucks for him.  Sucks for you!  It’s the descriptive phrase used among these 14, 15, 16 year olds for the person who did not have things go his/her way, for the one who was defeated, for the one who was left alone, or whatever their misfortune may be.  Sucks for you.

How sadly reflective that phrase is of our world, our nation, our communities, our Presbytery, our congregations, even in our own lives.

Sucks for you.

“In case of rapture this car will be unmanned.”  Sucks for you who are left behind.   To heck with everyone else; I am out of here.

Sucks for you Syria and Yemen and Iraq where violence and starvation take life after life, for the women and girls who suffered under Boko Haram and then again under those in the camps where they sought refuge.  Sucks for you.  For Italy and the earthquakes, for Haiti battered and beaten by water walls and storms, for Chicago with over 600 homicides.  Sucks for you.  For Democrats and Republicans and everyone in between, our national division deep and wide.  Sucks for you.  Hungry child killed not too far from where we worship today for seeking something to ease the pain of a stomach that was empty too long.  And child’s mother who took her child’s life in mental illness, poverty, adrenaline, anger or whatever evil it may have been.  Sucks for you.  The list goes on and on.  Sucks, sucks for you.

O God, pull us from here!

Churches who leave.

Churches who stay.

Churches we’d like to see leave.

Sucks for you.

For Presbytery meetings we skip rather than endure.  Committees and networks we do not want to take the time to help staff.  Support dollars we withhold.  People we “minister” alongside for years and never say much more than hi.

For pecking orders among pastors, and congregations, and members.  For people we don’t like.  For the “crazy” people who take all of our time.

For good pastors and faithful congregations, large and small, seeking to do the work and will of God who seem to get lost, or ignored.

All the while we wait to be beamed up, lifted, removed.

Our outdated understandings of our roles, our congregations, of what effective and faithful means.  Our seeking to be members of the Church of Comfort rather than disciples of the Crucified God.

What we know and cling to is so much easier than what the Spirit of God says.

No worries.  It doesn’t matter anyway.

Sucks for you world.  We’ll be gone and you’ll be left behind.

But that isn’t what Jesus says at all, is it?  “In fact,” he says, “the kingdom of God is among you”.

Something does happen to us when we think we, or what we know, or what we love, or what we remember may die.  But Jesus isn’t much for hunkering down and hoping things will pass.  He’s not a “sucks for you” guy at all.  In sharp contrast, to proclaim that “sucks for you” does not have the last word, he stretched out his arms on the cross and he died.

Jesus doesn’t leave the mess.  He’s smack in the middle of it.  With tax collectors and prostitutes and lepers and fishermen!

Jesus is in the mess, in the midst, with the sick and the sinners JUST LIKE US!  Because he knows where the Kingdom of God is.  It is among you.  It is among you!  The kingdom of God among you!  Look around!  It is right here!

If we’ve had bad theology, or unfaithful service, or poor performance, it is not the end.  Looking death in the eye, facing the prospect of a loss, is sometimes is cleansing.  It gives us an opportunity to think hard about what matters to us and where we have been faithful and where we have failed miserably.

And if we are graced to see Death’s face but still live, that is a gift.  In that gift we see our lives are resurrected.  In that gift we do not seek to be lifted out, but to be faithful and intentional with every single second of every single day.

Yes, the prospect of death, the prospect of loss, can be a gift if we choose to see it as such, and if we choose to rise from that prospect, from the waters of baptism, and live.  Live.  For the kingdom of God is among you!  The Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 

Death is right before us.  And we can choose to hunker down and hide until our last breath.  Or we can live.  And if we choose to live, then we’ve got some work to do.  Work to let go of our preferences, our pretenses, our certainties.  Work to release our judgements of one another, of this Presbytery, of what we are called into.  Work to discern a future of collective, connected, covenantal ministry that isn’t based on a longed-for past, or ease, or our preferences, or who we like and don’t like, but on the true realization of the words of Christ Jesus.

The kingdom is not coming with things that can be observed.  For in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.  It is among you.  It is among you.  It is among you!  The Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 

Our time today is sacred.  The ground on which we gather holy.  The community to which we belong redeemed and saved.  Knowing that, may we take on this task with sincerity and integrity, with dedication and faithfulness.  May we allow ourselves to be startled by the Living God who called the church into being for the sake of the world and called each of us to be a part of that church – – particular and Presbytery.  Pray, discern, be faithful, my friends.  Not to what you want.  Not to what is easy.  Not to what is comfortable or familiar.  But to the future to which the Spirit calls us.  For the Kingdom of God is among us.  It is among us.

The world desperately needs us to stop seeking to get out, stop trying to save ourselves, stop being okay with sucks-for-you.  And instead, to proclaim salvation and justice and mercy and peace to the ends of the earth.  To preach and live and proclaim the kingdom!  This is our calling, our charge, our task, our life, my friends.  Surely God is our salvation; we will trust, and will not be afraid.

We have no reason to fear.  We are baptized – – we have already died and risen again in new life.

Our physical death is now just a detail.

Our old selves, old lives, old ways, those are the things Christ calls us to leave behind.  And rise, and be, and live into the Kingdom among you!

My husband maintained his speed, steadied his hand on the wheel and prayed.  The frame flew off the back of the truck, smacked in to the front of the car, and bounced in a perfect arc over the car in the far left lane, landing with a single bounce in the grass between highway north and highway south.  Traffic moved forward as if nothing had happened at all.   Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation.  When he got to where he was going, he got out of the car, gasping for the air that had been squeezed from his lungs and legs shaking in fear.  He walked to the front to see what damage was done.  The car was not scratched.  Except the “H”; it was gone.  Sucks for you.

Let us not be afraid, my friends.  Let us not turn inward.  May we not seek what is easy or familiar.  Instead, with courage and hope may we receive the presence and power of the Holy Spirit who seeks to guide us as we work and discern and covenant with one another over how to faithfully live out the Kingdom of God that is among us.

For the Lord God is our strength and our might.  He has become our salvation.

Trust.  And do not be afraid.  The Kingdom of God – – it is, my friends – – among you.  Among  you.  Among you.

All glory be to you, O Lord.  Amen.

Unless We Really Care

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Unless We Really Care

While the election season has finally ended, for now, political campaigning will nonetheless continue as usual. It is not surprising that in year or so professional politicians and their party machines will gear up to sway the public by manufacturing trivial crises and prioritizing a handful of superficial controversial issues that suit their billionaire/millionaire donors. Relying on armies of professionals, political pundits will wage wars with well-crafted speeches and repeat magic phrases and themes. Voters are often tempted to fall for dooms-day warnings, character assassinations, and empty promises for change. No wonder many simply do not exercise the right to vote regardless who is running.

With very few exceptions, candidates and politicians intentionally ignore major issues. Those brave and serious candidates however often fail to garner fair attention and support, or perhaps voters fail to give them the attention they deserve or fail to place such important issues before politicians.

Democracies rely on elections because democracy relies on the voices of the citizens, but self-serving politicians will rely on corrupting the political system even if that system is codifies in the constitution as a tool for democracy. A true democracy will respond to the needs of the people and accentuate hidden real issues even when voters are misinformed. Unlike Lady Justice, democracy has eyes that see the needs of the people, ears that listen to their cries, hands to deliver justice, and feet to move forward. Democracy’s eyes are capable of seeing and can make better determination as who and what the magistrate sword cuts, and whether the scale of justice is balanced. Nevertheless, democracy is as fair and compassionate as its voting citizens and their representatives.

We The People are often so distracted by the numerous cycles of elections and lost in our gerrymandered voting districts that we miss colossal realities. We often ignore such neglected but evil realities including waging 5 wars (some argue 7 wars) concurrently, incarcerating the world largest prison population per capita, boasting 750-800 disclosed military bases around the globe while neglecting and dehumanizing veterans. Not to mention drastic cuts in assistance to the very poor and inflating the national debt to slaughter innocent civilians and impoverish sovereign countries in order to profit from sale of weapons.

The Church must speak truth to this empire. The Church must denounce the unjust status quo. The Church must resist the corruption of this political system. The Church must preach less and serve more. The Church must repent and practice genuine love, charity, and compassion.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.”(Psalm 127:1-2)


Raafat  Zaki

“Christ’s Call to Witness in the Middle East”

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“Christ’s Call to Witness in the Middle East”

Assembly Meeting
Friday • November 4, 2016 • 12:30pm
Chirst Presbyterian Church • 4225 West Sylvania Ave. Toledo, OH 43623

Keynote Speaker: Amgad  Beblawi

Amgad  Beblawi was coordinator of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s mission in the Middle East and Europe for the past six years. As such, he serves as a resource for PC(USA) global partners, PC(USA) mission participants, and mission personnel engaged in God’s mission in these regions.

Amgad served for the previous five years as the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s associate for Middle Eastern congregational support in the United States.

Amgad holds master’s degrees in theology and biblical studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Egypt.

Amgad lives in Louisville, KY. with his wife Susan Templet Beblawi, and son Justin.


Featuring: Synod of the Covenant Mission Partners for 2016
Hany Gad Beshay Mikhail, George Shukri Makhlouf, Salam Hanna, Cathrine N.A. Abuamsha, and Mary Mikhael

From the Lions’ Den

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From the Lions’ Den

From the Lions Den

My mother was a smoker. Like many of her generation, she started smoking as a teenager, unaware of the health risks she was inviting. Once the dangers of smoking were publicized, she tried to quit, but a lifetime of habits is hard to break. She finally did quit, though, but it was too late, and cancer was already taking her life at the age of 61. Change – even life-saving change – is hard.

Earlier this year, I wrote a series of columns in this space about the challenges facing American Presbyterians in our day. I discussed the reasons for our chronic membership decline, the increasing marginalization of churches in a post-modern, post-Christendom America, and the need to develop a new way of being the church to adapt to this changing landscape.

I call that new way becoming an “inside-out” church. By “inside-out,” I mean a church which is not content to sit inside the church building trying to attract those who are outside to come join them to encounter God. Instead, an inside-out church is one which recognizes that we are called out from our churches to engage our neighbors in the world where Christ is already present in mission. The church building is no longer the destination for our mission but its base.

This is a tidal change in how the church has operated over most of its history in North America. It recognizes that our situation is more like the church of the mid-first century than the church of the mid-20th century. But change is hard, especially the kind of change that forces us to adapt our ways of being the church to a new and different set of challenges.

You might be familiar with the parable of the frog in the kettle. The parable points out two ways of trying to boil a live frog (don’t try this at home). The one way is to boil a kettle of water and then throw the frog in. That doesn’t work because the frog will detect the hostile environment and jump right out. The second way is to put the frog in a kettle of cold water and raise the heat so slowly that the frog doesn’t even know it. The frog will simply stay in the kettle until it is boiled to death.

The world is changing around us, but if we do not recognize the change and get out of our comfort zone, we will end up like the frog. Change consultant Robert Quinn calls this “the normal state” that leads to “slow death”:

The failure to change is a process of closing down, of ceasing to respond to the changing signals from the world around us. As we become increasingly closed, we lose energy and hope. We experience negative emotions such as fear, insecurity, doubt, and denial that lead us to shut out the signals being sent by evolving external realities. We thus become increasingly disconnected and lose still more energy.

In [churches], the same dynamics come into play. We all spend most of our time unconsciously colluding in our own diminishment and the diminishment of the [church]. We collectively lose hope, turn to self-interest, and experience increasing conflict. The [church] becomes more disconnected and loses more energy. At both individual and [congregational] levels, we tend to choose slow death over deep change. (Building the Bridge as You Walk on It, p. 19)

The work of transformation isn’t easy. We are creatures of inertia. We settle into routines and expectations that create a comfort zone in which we operate. Whenever we try to break out of those comfort zones and change those routines and expectations, hidden forces of inertia within the organization rise up to return us to the normal state of terminal comfort.

Change consultants call these adaptive challenges. They are different than the kind of problem solving we are used to doing that merely require applying some technical skill or launching some new program. Using a medical analogy, technical challenges are like broken bones: the physician resets the bone, puts the limb in a cast, and the healing will happen. Little is expected or required of the patient. But adaptive challenges are stopping smoking or maintaining long-term weight loss. They require the full participation of the patient to change behaviors and a larger community, typically, to assist in resisting the physical, social, and emotional pressures to return to the former condition. 12-step programs are examples of adaptive change (Heifitz & Linsky, Leadership Without Easy Answers).

Adaptive challenges require new ways of thinking and acting. Real transformation can’t happen by technical fixes like changing the worship service or starting a new program. It only happens when we change our way of thinking, and our desire for change is greater than our natural preference for the safe and familiar.

Changes are happening around us. The heat is on and no one will turn it off. We can recognize the change and get moving, or sit and boil.


Dan Saperstein, Executive Presbyter

Rebuilding in Homs, life slowly returns in Syrian city devastated by civil war

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Rebuilding in Homs, life slowly returns in Syrian city devastated by civil war

It is estimated that more than 250,000 Syrians have died since civil war broke out in the country five years ago. Another seven million are displaced. The United Nations and other world organizations say the crisis has set Syria’s development status back by four decades.

The city of Homs and the art painted in the streets by residents after they returned from three years of exile while extremists held the city. About 400 families have returned so far and say they don’t plan to leave again. —Scott Parker

The city of Homs and the art painted in the streets by residents after they returned from three years of exile while extremists held the city. About 400 families have returned so far and say they don’t plan to leave again. —Scott Parker

While more than four million people have left Syria for other countries, those that remain hope to one day see their country at peace and thriving. Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, in partnership with the National Evangelical Synod of Syria and Lebanon (NESSL) has been helping Syrian Christians rebuild their homes through a $100,000 grant.

As part of her visit to the Middle East, PDA Coordinator, the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus joined other organizations for a conference in Lebanon, followed by a visit to Syria where the PDA dollars are at work restoring life to the city of Homs.

“We met with hundreds of people displaced from Homs and other towns and cities in Syria who had either been threatened or were forced to leave by ISIL,” said Kraus. “I talked with families that had been there for five years. They left during the initial fighting in Homs in February 2012 and haven’t gone back.”

Kraus met with a displaced couple who had resettled in the Christian Valley of Syria. The man is a dentist and recently opened a practice in his new community. Both say they are not stigmatized but do not feel fully received by the community. However, there are challenges to returning to life in Homs.

“There are concerns about reestablishing a viable work life in Homs because the city and its economy are still very fragile,” said Kraus. “There are many many buildings and apartments in Homs that are not rebuilt, on blocks that remain filled with rubble and empty of people. Do they go home to a rehabilitated apartment or do they stay where they have work and their children are in school? There’s a tension either way and it is not a simple homecoming story. Further, many families experienced trauma as they endured assaults on Homs and eventually fled, and those feelings linger, making a decision to return more complicated.”

Kraus and the rest of the team heard similar stories through out their visit as people struggle with remaining in a devastated community or seeking to start anew in another city or country.

“It reminds me of many families that fled New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Some had to move to other states and never came back,” said Kraus. “So there’s a whole layer of story and pathos unfolding around hard choices they’re still going to have to make about where they want to invest their lives and try to re-create healing and wholeness for themselves and their families. It’s not an easy decision.”

In her talks with community leaders and residents, Kraus said there is a common belief and commitment from Christian, Orthodox and Muslim faiths that Homs must be restored. She says the interfaith groups believe that a multi-religious cultural environment is very important to the recovery and stability of Syria.

The city of Homs and the art painted in the streets by residents after they returned from three years of exile while extremists held the city. About 400 families have returned so far and say they don’t plan to leave again.

While touring the devastation in Homs, Kraus saw the impact of the bombing and shelling on the religious community.

“You’d walk down the block and see a wrecked church or Orthodox communion and mosque, all within steps of each other,” she said. “Apartment buildings looked like pancakes after being leveled by the bombing.”

Despite the devastation, a few families at a time, are beginning to make their way back into their restored apartments.

“One family’s flat had been completely restored while the one next to it was still in ruins. Most of us wouldn’t go back into a building where there were no other restored apartments, especially when the building next to it could collapse at any moment,” she said. “But people are going back into buildings like this. They are making a commitment to rebuild flat by flat, house by house.”

Kraus talked with one couple, an engineer and a pediatrician, who had returned to their home and were the only ones living in their block.

“Their block is dark at night. There is no one else in their building or on their street,” Kraus said. “The wife goes out at 3:00 in the morning to make house calls on children. They’re living like pioneers at a frontier outpost. They are living there because they believe it’s the only way to bring back their city.”

Kraus says she’s deeply moved when she thinks about what these families and communities are giving up in order to rebuild their life in Homs. But people are coming back. They’re going to school and they’re teaching.

“I met with an elder after church who was so proud when he shared about his son who is a high school senior,” she said. “Many young people want to leave the city when they can, but his son wants to stay and go to school in Syria so he can help people come back and build a life. A lot of people have given up on Syria but they haven’t seen the people we’ve seen who are just working day and night to make it happen. We want to work with this community to continue the rebuilding, which we believe Presbyterians will be generous in supporting.”


Support grows for national boycott of Wendy’s Restaurants

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Support grows for national boycott of Wendy’s Restaurants

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been trying for 10 years to convince the Wendy’s company to join the Fair Food Program (FFP), which focuses on the rights of farmworkers. Despite its pleas, the Ohio-based fast food company has said no. Now the CIW is ramping up its campaign by calling for a national boycott of the food chain. This is only the second time in the group’s history that a national boycott has been called. The first time was 15 years ago against Taco Bell.

Coalition of Immokalee Workers and supporters demonstrate against Wendy’s Restaurants in March on the campus of the University of Louisville. —Andrew Kang Bartlett

Coalition of Immokalee Workers and supporters demonstrate against Wendy’s Restaurants in March on the campus of the University of Louisville. —Andrew Kang Bartlett

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has supported the CIW from the beginning as it worked to secure Fair Food agreements from Yum Brands, McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway. At its recent meeting in Louisville, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board officially endorsed the call for a national boycott.

“Rather than support Florida growers who uphold human rights under the Fair Food Program, Wendy’s switched its tomato purchases to Mexico, where the denial of human rights in the produce industry was well-documented in last year’s Los Angeles Times expose,” said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “This is unacceptable, especially from a company that has prided itself on using U.S.-made products. Therefore, the PC(USA) joins the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in calling on Wendy’s to sign a Fair Food agreement.”

The FFP is a partnership between farmworkers, Florida tomato growers and more than a dozen major food retailers. Under the agreement, participating retailers agree to only purchase from suppliers who meet a worker-driven Code of Conduct, including a zero-tolerance policy on slavery and sexual harassment. In addition, retailers pay a penny-per-pound premium which makes its way directly to the workers. In the last five years, buyers have paid more than $20 million into the FFP.

The PC(USA) was the first Christian denomination to sign on for the national boycott, the timing of which anticipates the company’s annual meeting on May 26.

“We encourage Presbyterians to join the Wendy’s Boycott National Day of Prayer on May 23, and for those in the area, to gather outside Wendy’s corporate headquarters in Dublin, Ohio during the annual meeting,” said Andrew Kang Bartlett, associate for national hunger concerns, Presbyterian Hunger Program.

“The Presbyterian Mission Agency stands in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in their longstanding struggle for fair labor practices in the agriculture industry,” said Tony De La Rosa, PMA’s interim executive director. “In so doing, we commit ourselves to advocate ‘…as a prophetic witness to Christ’s transforming justice by speaking and living out God’s truth and compassion.’”

Susan Sampson of Temple Terrace Presbyterian Church in Tampa says the board’s endorsement is for anyone who is an ally of the Campaign for Fair Food.

“The Presbyterian Hunger Program has been supportive of the Fair Food Program for many years and we are grateful that they continue to support the human rights of farmworkers, and have taken this step as well,” she said. “I wholeheartedly support the Fair Food Program and the Wendy’s boycott. I invite my fellow Presbyterians and all people of faith to join with the CIW in the boycott and make fair treatment of farmworkers common practice throughout the industry.”

The CIW’s Gerardo Reyes Chavez says the PC(USA) endorsement of the national boycott is great news for their campaign.

“We are appreciative of the hundreds of thousands of Presbyterians who have steadfastly stood beside farmworkers in making our vision of a just and dignified agricultural industry a reality through the FFP,” he said. “Today, Wendy’s has heard the call of farmworkers and Presbyterians together to take responsibility for human rights in their supply chain, and be part of a program that is ensuring justice for tens of thousands of farmworkers across Florida and the East Coast.”

In March, the CIW announced the launch of the Wendy’s boycott during a multi-state Workers’ Voice Tour where students and people of faith joined them in actions from Florida to New York and through out the southeast. The group organized a demonstration at the University of Louisville and met with PC(USA) leaders before continuing their tour.


Presbyterian Disaster Assistance shines light on immigration detention in new documentary

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Presbyterian Disaster Assistance shines light on immigration detention in new documentary

Award-winning film focuses on detainees and those who minister to them


Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA), working in conjunction with Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS), has produced a new documentary on immigration detention in the U.S. “Locked in a Box” follows the lives of individuals who have fled their homelands in search of safety and freedom in the U.S. Instead, the road to freedom has led them to months, or even years, in detention. The film also provides insight on those ministering to the incarcerated.

“Everyone is talking about detention and immigration. We wanted to get at the heart of the issue and tell the human story,” said David Barnhart, film director. “What you see are people: fathers, mothers and children. What immigration detention is doing to families leaves me speechless.”

Susan Krehbiel is PDA catalyst for refugees and asylum and has spent significant time meeting with detainees and those ministering to the incarcerated.

“Personal contact is so important because detainees get lost in all of these debates,” she said. “There are people being held across the country who could use personal visits.”

PDA officials say the immigration detention system continues to expand with 27,000 to 34,000 immigrants in detention on any given day. Approximately 250 facilities, many for-profit, are scattered across the country.

“The response from Congress is enforcement first. Fixing the broken immigration system will come later,” said Krehbiel. “Everyone admits the laws are broken, but the focus is enforcement. We need to shift away from that approach.”

Working in partnership with LIRS, PDA has supported the development of visitation ministries, legal orientation programs and other community based services to help those who remain locked up.

“This film tries to lift up visitation ministry as a way for churches and others in the community to engage and see firsthand,” Barnhart said. “People have come out of the visitation experience unable to speak because they’re so angry and impacted by it.”

Barnhart said most of the detainees came to the U.S. to protect their families, seek freedom and a new life. Many, he said, were fleeing war, drug trafficking and gang violence where their families were threatened.

“Many people that come here have some form of post-traumatic stress and other serious issues,” said Barnhart. “One former detainee we talked to traveled through 12 different countries to escape religious persecution, torture and jail. Another saw his own son murdered by gangs and had to flee his country just to survive. They come here seeking asylum and then find themselves locked up for months and even years.”

Church officials believe incarceration is the problem and not the answer, saying there are other solutions that are much more humane and helpful to those who come to this country seeking freedom.

“Many of our partners provide community-based programs so immigrants could be released to a partner with the resources and support they need,” said Krehbiel. “Some of the delay in processing is the low number of immigration court judges. Those working now are overwhelmed with a backlog of cases and it slows down the process for people.”

PDA officials are encouraging churches to schedule screenings of the film as they have done with previous church documentaries.

“Just from word of mouth, we already have more than 30 churches that want to host screening events and panel discussions, inviting other churches and community members to participate in the conversation,” said Barnhart. “The film is a reflection piece that can facilitate discussion and find ways to engage and be involved through advocacy or visitation ministry. It can be a resource for the church and wider community.”

“This is a powerful documentary that will inspire Presbyterians to take part in detention visitation and to question our government’s practice of detaining migrant adults and families with children,” said Teresa Waggener, manager of the Office of Immigration Issues with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Recently, the film won top honors in the Tryon International Film Festival in North Carolina. For more information on the film, click here.


Choose welcome, not fear

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Choose welcome, not fear


We are a world grieving. We mourn the many deaths, not only in Paris, but also in Beirut, Baghdad, and Egypt. Any sense of security we have had is badly compromised by these horrific events; moreover, our fear of ISIS grows with every successful execution of its violent agenda.

Much has been taken from us but we still hold the choice as to how we react in our grief and fear. Many politicians have rushed from grief to fearful judgment. More than half of the governors of our states have attempted to protect their citizens by issuing declarations denying entry of Syrian refugees into their states (as if all of the potential terrorists are Syrian). Some have gone so far as to call for denial of entry to all refugees at the present time, as if that will guarantee safety to the citizens of their state.

As U.S. governors pledge to refuse Syrian refugees within their states and some presidential hopefuls promise to abandon the refugee program altogether, we the people have a choice to make. We can choose to follow those who would have us hide in fear or we can choose hope.

Our nation, for decades, has chosen hope and welcome for those fleeing war and persecution. Since 1975, more than three million refugees have found safety and security within our nation’s borders. Right now 11 million Syrians cannot go to school, tend to their land, or raise their children in the place they know as home. They cannot do these things because they, themselves, have been terrorized for far too long by numerous factions, including their own government.

Do we choose to abandon our plan to protect these Syrians because the people who have been threatening them are now threatening the West as well? ISIS has taken lives; they have taken our sense of security. Do we now hand over our hope and compassion to them?

Obviously, we need to move forward with a disciplined response, expediting security checks such as those employed by the U.S. refugee admission program. To refuse certain persons who are fleeing terror and persecution because they are “Syrian” or of some other particular ethnic group is unjust and may be illegal under U.S. law. We can be disciplined and, at the same time, led to love beyond our own limited, fearful vision.

After the crucifixion of Jesus, the disciples hid in fear. They locked the doors but God had another plan. Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn. 20:21). We were not meant to hide. We were meant to walk out in hope and compassion.  Author, poet, and peace activist Wendell Berry wrote, “Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation” (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays, “The Body and the Earth,” p. 99). The way to end terror is to prove that those who demonize us are wrong. We are not a heartless secular culture. We must witness to the Gospel with generous hospitality. To hide in fear is a mistake. Fear is the ammunition of terror. Hope is the best defense.