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NCC delegation meets refugees in Middle East

Iraqi children show their artwork at the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center. UMNS photos by Linda Bales.

By Linda Bales*
May 25, 2007 | AMMAN, Jordan (UMNS)

Shadia, a 22-year-old Palestinian refugee, has lived her entire life in a refugee camp in Jordan.

She has been fortunate enough to find work and health care at a clinic in the camp operated by the Middle East Council of Churches in Amman. Her work in the clinic with women and children brings her a sense of fulfillment and purpose, and she hopes to become a nurse.


 Palestinian women on the West Bank face many daily challenges, delegates learned.

Shadia was one of the refugees who met with a delegation of 16 women from the U.S. National Council of Churches during a May 9-22 visit to the Middle East.   

Not far from the clinic where Shadia works is a program called the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center, directed by the Rev. Nabil Haddad, a dynamic, jovial man dedicated to peace.

"What is our calling as Christians?" Haddad asked. "American Christians take their religion for granted. Here it takes courage." Christians are only 3.5 percent of Jordan's population. 

Refugees from Iraq

The coexistence program serves women and children who are refugees from Iraq because of the ongoing war. The program is supported in part by a grant from the U.S. State Department. The more than 80 children served by the program are regaining a level of stability in their lives due to the love and care of the program's staff. 

"When the children first arrived at the center, they were drawing pictures of tanks and guns. Now, they draw flowers, houses, men and women shaking hands in peace," Haddad told the delegation. "When I feel depressed or anxious, I leave my office and come to this room to see the children, and my sadness disappears.


The Rev. Sue Turley lost a son in the
Iraq war.

"The Iraq war is destabilizing Jordan," he added. "There is an urgent call for forgiveness and repentance."

The U.S. women also met with Iraqi women at the Assyrian Orthodox Church in Amman. The Rev. Sue Turley, a delegate from the Swedenborgian Church, opened the meeting by noting that she was a "Gold Star Mom" - a mother who had lost a son in the Iraq war.

Her son, Keith, she said, was "born into privilege and felt a need to serve his country. Keith was idealistic, perhaps not wise. He came to Iraq to help the women and children, began to learn the language and treated the Iraqi people with dignity and gentleness."

Speaking directly to the Iraqi women, she added, "I join you in your loss and send our apologies. We want to build a world of peace with justice together with you."

Daily hardships

After the refugee women extended their sympathies, they began sharing their own experiences as refugees in a foreign land. Many of the women can't afford to pay for health care since their permits have expired. Several reported serious health conditions that weren't being treated. One couple reported that a relative was kidnapped for ransom in Iraq. The couple felt threatened and afraid for their lives, so they fled their homeland to Jordan. 


The West Bank Barrier, a wall constructed by Israel around the perimeter of the West Bank, hampers Palestinians' access to medical care. 

Palestinian women also have experiences of homelessness, a situation clearly articulated to the delegation by Palestinian Christian women living in the West Bank. One YWCA representative spoke about facing discrimination as a woman and a Christian. She believes it is critical for women to not only care for and nurture their families, but also work for peace and justice.

The delegation heard from Palestinian women whose lives are complicated and even threatened because of delays reaching medical services; by the West Bank Barrier, a visible wall constructed by Israel around the perimeter of the West Bank; and by hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints.

*Bales is an executive with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society in Washington.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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