"I met today's author last Fall during my first day at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS). As we introduced ourselves in a history class--Christian Attitudes toward War, Peace and Revolution--we realized we had both been in Washington DC a few months earlier for a demonstration sponsored by Christian Peace Witness for Iraq. She helped me feel at home at AMBS, and I hope we'll welcome her warmly as well." --Jeff Boyd
My name is Hilary. These last couple years, I have spent several months abroad getting to know the beautiful Kurdish people of northern Iraq, working with them toward an end to the violence that devastates their communities daily. I go to Iraq as a member of the organization Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT). We believe that Christians are called by Jesus to renounce all violence in all forms. We believe that Christians are called to stand in nonviolent solidarity with those around the world who live under threat, wherever that may be, whatever that may bring. Communities torn by war and violence invite us to come live among them so that we may support them in their efforts to create peace and so that we may be a witness to both the beauty and destruction present in their lands. We do this with deep respect for the communities we enter, with prayer, and with hope.
This week is Holy Week. This week, we as Christians are asked to ponder the meaning of the death of Jesus. The time I have spent in Iraq learning from my Kurdish sisters and brothers has taught me quite a bit about death. I want to tell you a few stories.
The Kurdish people have experienced various forms of oppression and genocide for generations on end. Most recently, Saddam Hussein waged a genocidal campaign against the Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s. One day, our Kurdish friends took our team to visit a museum of sorts, formerly one of the prisons used to hold, torture, and kill Kurds. The air was thick and silent. There were scratches on the walls. There was blood. No one had died in this place for twenty years, but death was everywhere. In one room, there were pictures, and they were terrible. Bodies in mass graves, beheaded children… One photograph will stay with me for the rest of my life. There were three military men holding the body of a Kurd they had just beheaded. All three of them had wide smiles on their faces, and the one holding the knife held his other hand up flaunting a peace sign. A dear Kurdish friend whose own family had been held in this prison sunk her head into her hands, tears falling, and whispered, “Why do we not matter to your people?”
Death is real. Death is not triumphant. Death stays with us long after the killing has stopped.
And, while that particular genocidal campaign against the Kurds in northern Iraq has ended, killing, violence and destruction have not. We all know that Iraq suffers from sectarian violence as well as ongoing violence at the hands of the U.S. military. What is less known is that Turkey and Iran are regularly bombing Kurdish communities along the borders Iraq shares with these nations. Iran fires shells over the border, and Turkey both drops bombs from planes and operates from Turkish military bases inside Iraq. All of this is done with U.S. intelligence. Why? It’s complicated. What you need to know is that civilians are routinely targeted. Hundreds of thousands of Kurds are displaced, threatened, living in fear and denied the ability to sustain themselves. Many have been killed. When I come home and talk about my work in Iraq, the most common question I receive is, “Who are the Kurds?”
Death is often kept silent. The more unjust it is, the more silently it is kept.
I fell in love with a five year old girl named Sana (pictured above). The first time I met her, she sat in my lap brushing my hair for hours. When I tried to get up she bit me on the arm, so I stayed with her. That night, she fell asleep on top of me under the wide open sky. Due to the bombing of her village Sana’s family now lives with others in tents. They have very little water, no protection from the heat, no electricity, hardly any food, and no means of livelihood. It is a tragic existence.
The children are full of joy. But, life in the tents is too hard on them. When they get sick their parents have to take them back to the cool village where there is running water and food to eat so that the children can get well. One day, I visited the tent camp and noticed that Sana was missing. One of the older women broke down in tears, telling me that Sana was taken back to the village to regain strength and that bombing had started. I felt like I had been knocked over. When an attack begins, the people rush into covered holes dug in the ground. Children are often alone in those holes. When bombs hit, the ground shakes and the loose dirt falls in on them. All they can see is the flash of light that goes with each explosion. All they can hear is the whistle and crash of attack. What happens to the soul of a five year old child who sits in the violent ground afraid she will not come out?
Death is something that happens even when bodies are not killed.
There is a temptation among western Christians to either make the death of Jesus into something positive or something tragically romantic. I have a hunch that we will see Jesus much more clearly if we find a way to be real about the fact that the death he experienced was, in fact, death. It is the same death that ravages our world today. It is the same death that plagues the Kurds of Iraq, and that is precisely why it matters. So, what do we do? There are as many answers to that question as there are people called into the family of God. In CPT, we believe in resurrection. We listen. We stand, eat, live, and struggle with people against the death that threatens them. In doing so, we are also struggling against the spiritual death of complacency and comfort that threatens us. It is through binding ourselves together in relationship and binding ourselves to God in spirit that we all are saved.
Remembering the death of Jesus, I invite you to enter into the lives of those for whom death is real. Start with prayer. Then, listen, read, learn. Move without fear into relationships with those who do not know security, and I guarantee you will find both challenge and Jesus.
Learn more about CPT, or participate:
CPT Website: www.cpt.org
CPT Iraq Website: http://cpt.org/work/iraq
My blog: http://9lowbranches.wordpress.com/
Human Rights Report: http://cpt.org/files/CPT_Iraq_Bombing_Report.pdf
Or contact me at hilary.scarsella [at] gmail
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2275