AMMAN, Jordan -- I bear much pain here. Healing comes slowly to my body, soul and spirit. It is pain held in my whole being. My pain is bearable because my beloved family, church and friends in Seattle, across the country and around the world hold me in love and prayer. My pain is bearable because Iraqi neighbors rescued me from our battered vehicle and cared for me in their bombed village and medical clinic. My pain is bearable because Jordanian doctors and nurses took me in and poured oil of healing love on my wounds.
I bear physical pain because, shortly after gingerly driving over an Iraqi bridge bombed by our nation's warplanes, our taxi blew a tire, sending us careening into a ditch on the desert highway. Baghdad was more than 200 miles behind us, Amman more than 200 miles ahead. Broken ribs and other injuries made that 16-hour journey to the Arab Medical Center here the most painful of my life.
I bear spiritual pain because this heinous war on Iraq is being waged in God's name and in my name as a battle of good against evil. But most of all I bear pain in my soul because the pain borne by our Iraqi neighbors is much greater than all my pain. These Iraqi friends, whom we met in Rutbah, Baghdad and along the desert highway, all live under the terrorism of the U.S. attack. They are the voiceless victims living under our bombs, as they have lived under our sanctions for more than 12 years. These victims are our neighbors, not our enemies.
When Jesus was challenged by the lawyer of his day about the greatest commandment, he turned the question back on the one who was supposed to know the law and the faith. "What is the great commandment? You tell me?" "Love God, self, neighbor" came the reply. "You're right," said Jesus. "Do this and you will live." Persisting in twisting the law, the lawyer asked, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus responded with the story of the Good Samaritan, ending with the question, "Who was neighbor to the victim?" Even the lawyer had to confess, "The one who showed mercy."
I have been shown unimaginable mercy by Iraqi and Jordanian neighbors these past few weeks. How is it that so many who make claims to this same Jesus in my own country are so willing to twist the law into merciless bombs in a war waged on these merciful neighbors? What has happened to the soul of America willing to commit such war crimes?
We at Seattle Mennonite Church, along with many others, have raised our voice with the unheard voices of Iraq and the world to say, "War is not the answer!" We have done this through Sound Non-violent Opposition to War, Mennonite Church USA, Sojourners and Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Never have so many people around the world raised a voice to stop a war. Our voices largely have fallen on deaf ears. In late February, in a most surprising time and way, God reminded me that our lives and our actions are also a voice for the victims. God called me to go to Iraq to be a neighbor and "get in the way of war" by joining a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation planning to be there when the bombs began falling. God led us every step of the way, not the least of which was to discover that we were the ones "being neighbored" by our Iraqi sisters and brothers under U.S. attack.
Our nine-member Christian Peacemaker Team's delegation arrived in Baghdad March 25 in the midst of a shargy, a desert sandstorm. In the late afternoon sun, the Baghdad landscape turned to an eerie blood-red hue. I wrote in my journal, "Today God weeps tears of blood over Baghdad for our Iraqi neighbors."
Within hours U.S. and U.K. bombs accosted us over Baghdad. One can never be prepared for what it feels like to be the target of an empire's bombs. Only in faith, grounded in Jesus' words "Do not be afraid," was it possible for me and our Christian Peacemaker Team to carry on our mission of listening to the people, documenting the civilian victims of our bombs and being their voice.
At one bombed home we visited a young boy who had severe and recent leg injuries. An elderly woman wailed her angry grief at us as two women tried to console her. We could not understand her words but there was no mistaking her gestures of bombs dropping from the sky on her family. There is also no mistaking the countless times we heard Iraqi people screaming "Down Bush! Down Blair!"
The message I bring home is one we heard everywhere we went in Jordan and Iraq. It was spoken Tuesday by my nurse, Hamid, in the Arab Medical Center. Coming into my room, Hamid asked, "Can I talk to you?" I knew he wanted to ask more than a caring nurse's question about my pain and I welcomed the opportunity. "Please take a message back to your country," Hamid said. "Tell your people that we don't like American aggression, but we like Americans."
His was the message I heard a thousand times. "Why?" Hamid asked later. "Why does Bush do this to us? Why would Americans let him do it? What do they have against us as Arabs and as Muslims that they can treat us with this aggression?"
I said that it is very complicated and it is very simple. Geo-politics, oil, revenge and lies are all part of this evil U.S. and U.K. aggression against Iraqi people. But the underlying motivation for this aggression is fear.
"Fear is the root of war," Thomas Merton reminded us in the Vietnam War. "But why would Americans be afraid of us? We want to be friends and live in peace with you," Hamid lamented. "This aggression only makes everyone support Saddam Hussein even when they know he is dangerous. You invade us and we will support such a leader against your invasion. We want to be friends with you. We want to live in peace with you."
My heart cries out with these voices of pain. How long, O God, how long?
When will we ever learn?
Weldon Nisly, pastor of the Seattle Mennonite Church, is scheduled to return to Seattle this weekend.
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