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United Methodist stays with peace group in Baghdad

4/1/2003 News media contact: Linda Bloom · (646) 369-3759 · New York

By United Methodist News Service

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
Scott Kerr views the wreckage of a civilian home in Baghdad, Iraq. He is part of Christian Peacemakers Teams, an ecumenical ministry started by Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings to support "violence reduction" efforts around the world. Kerr is a member of First United Methodist Church in Downers Grove, Ill A UMNS photo courtesy of Christian Peacemakers Teams. Photo number 03-126, Accompanies UMNS #196, 4/1/03
Despite the war with Iraq, a United Methodist from Downers Grove, Ill., has remained in Baghdad as part of Christian Peacemaker Teams to make a witness with Iraqi citizens amid the violence.

Scott Kerr, 27, has been in Iraq since early February. Previously, he has worked with the ecumenical ministry - started by Mennonite and Church of the Brethren congregations and Friends Meetings - in Chiapas, Mexico, and Colombia.

United Methodist Bishop C. Joseph Sprague of Chicago noted that Kerr has put his "life on the line" in efforts to be a presence where people are threatened by violence. "Scott is a remarkable, remarkable young man, deeply committed to the holistic gospel," the bishop told United Methodist News Service.

Kerr "struggled mightily but prayerfully about the decision to go to Iraq," said Sprague, who has not been able to talk to the young man since the war began.

The Iraqi government unexpectedly expelled seven activists with Christian Peacemakers Teams, along with several others, March 29. Kerr, however, is still in Baghdad, according to Claire Evans of CPT.

Kerr's parents, Steve and Diane Kerr, had been in regular telephone contact with their son until March 27, when a missile attack on the telephone exchange covering southern Baghdad disrupted communications.

"Scott's a devoted Christian and believes strongly in what he is doing," Steve Kerr said in a March 31 telephone interview. The family belongs to First United Methodist Church in Downers Grove, which has provided prayer support.

Though worried for their son's safety, the Kerrs also realize that he has always helped people who have difficulty helping themselves. "He's been a good Christian and followed his faith pretty strongly since he was about 15," Steve Kerr explained.

While fully supporting the U.S. troops in Iraq, Steve Kerr also said he is "very proud of my son in the work that he does."

CPT is working in Iraq with Voices in the Wilderness, a grass-roots organization that has campaigned in recent years against the continuation of U.S.-supported sanctions for the Iraqi people. The organization initiated its Iraq Peace Team, of which CPT is a part, last September.

"We accompany civilians who are suffering, largely due to the combined efforts of the U.N. sanctions and the Gulf War," the team said in a March 17 statement to the U.S. and Iraqi governments. "We are committed to continue to accompany and befriend civilians in the event of escalating violence."

Much of that accompaniment occurs through visits to families, hospitals, churches, mosques and orphanages. Since the outbreak of war, the team has visited families in about 10 different neighborhoods whose homes were bombed.

The start of the war, not surprisingly, has had an effect on team members. "We have all heard about 'shock and awe,' but I can tell you that on the ground it feels a lot more like 'misery and terror,'" Scott Kerr wrote in the March 24 "Iraq Diaries," posted online. "For the last week, people have not been working, there has been a very limited access to food, and other basic necessities. I would say that about 95 percent of the city is shut down."

Three of the expelled team members suffered injuries when one of the taxis taking them to the border blew a tire on the highway and rolled into a ditch. According to CPT, the injured were initially taken to a nearby children's hospital in southwestern Iraq, but the facility had been bombed, so they were treated by Iraqi medical staff at a secondary clinic.

Some expelled team members, now in Amman, Jordan, will remain there to provide support for the Baghdad team.

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