The Common Good

'Waiting Has Taken on a Whole New Meaning'

Sojomail - December 23, 2005


SPECIAL ISSUE: 'Waiting Has Taken on a Whole New Meaning' 12.23.2005 www.sojo.net


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ADVENT REFLECTION ^top

'Waiting has taken on a whole new meaning'
by Rose Marie Berger

Living in Baghdad outside the Green Zone, Christian peacemaker Maxine Nash talks about what Advent means while four of her team members are held hostage.

WEB EXCLUSIVE

When Maxine Nash volunteered to go to Iraq, she didn't go with weapons ready. She went armed with her faith, her skills in conflict resolution, and her courage to be as defenseless as those she was serving: the ordinary people of Iraq.

Nash, 43, a Quaker from Waukon, Iowa, joined the Christian Peacemaker Teams' steering committee in June 2002. CPT provides organizational support to persons committed to faith-based nonviolent alternatives in situations where lethal conflict is an immediate reality. As her service with CPT continued she was hooked by CPT's fundamental question: What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war? In the summer of 2003, Nash went through CPT's rigorous training in nonviolent intervention in conflict situations. In February 2004 she was on her way to Iraq, where she has been stationed full-time ever since.


CPT member Tom Fox visits with refugee children the month before he and three other team members were abducted.
On Nov. 26, four of Nash's team members were kidnapped by people calling themselves the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. In the days following the kidnapping, the group released videos of Tom Fox, 54, Norman Kember, 74, James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Sooden, 32, to al Jazeera threatening to kill the four men by Dec. 8 if detainees in U.S. and Iraqi prisons were not freed. The deadline was extended to Dec. 10; the date passed and there has been no further news. These four join hundreds of Iraqis who are currently held by kidnappers.

On Friday, Dec. 16, I called the CPT apartment in Baghdad and spoke with Maxine Nash about the four men, the Iraqi elections, and Advent. - RMB

BERGER: Maxine, thanks for talking to us. What are you and fellow Iraq team members Greg Rollins and Anita David doing in the midst of the kidnapping situation and the elections?

NASH: Well, right now we are pretty restricted to our apartment and our small neighborhood in Baghdad during the elections because of the road closures. They've been closed for three days and everybody is stuck right now. We haven't been able to get out and see what's happening very well, but we've been hearing lots from our neighbors.

BERGER: How was the voter turnout for this election?

NASH: There was an incredible voter turnout. People have told us that they waited in long lines and that the lines at the end of the day were as long as earlier on. This is different from the first election and referendum where the lines were pretty thinned out by the end of the day. This time it seemed pretty quiet. There was not a lot of violence or disturbances. In the past there has been a lot of on-the-ground violence in the voter lines. But the reports we hear is that this time everyone was smiling and friendly, and it was a good election.

BERGER: Were there any bombings?

NASH: The most we heard was mortars hitting the Green Zone. We heard one around 7 a.m. [Dec. 15] and a few more this morning. Because the mortars were clearly aimed at the Green Zone, the message seems to be clearly against the occupying force or the existing Iraqi government who are all headquartered in the Green Zone.

BERGER: Do you think the election outcomes will affect the work of CPT at all?

NASH: It's hard to know if the elections will affect our work. It's just wait and see for us, but we don't expect that the outcomes will have much effect on our ongoing work.

BERGER: Tell me about your ongoing work.

NASH: We have worked a lot on the detainee issue because we were getting requests from families who had a member taken into the American detention system and they needed English speakers to help them navigate the system. We first started doing that work when the Red Cross has been bombed. The Red Cross wasn't available to help, so people came to us. Now the U.S. has developed a better tracking system. We don't have to do so much of this work any more. It's easier for families to find people. Now we are doing a lot of human rights work to give media attention to situations that we think need more coverage.

BERGER: What are the current situations you are focusing on?

NASH: We are getting reports about people being disappeared within the U.S. detention system or in the Iraqi prison systems. We are trying to follow up on this.

BERGER: Have you seen a change in the presence of U.S. forces? The news we are getting is that they are pulling back.

NASH: The U.S. forces have pulled out of a few urban areas. In Karbala, for example, the Iraqi troops have taken over the area and the U.S. is much less visible. But Karbala is a pretty settled area. In Baghdad, there are still house raids and people being detained in the middle of the night - but we are seeing less of the U.S. troops. What we are learning though is that now the Iraqi troops have taken over doing the house raids and detaining people and are now putting people in Iraqi prisons. In areas with increased violence, like Ramadi, the U.S. troop presence has increased exponentially, according to the reports we hear.

BERGER: Thousands of people, including us here at Sojourners, are praying for the safe release of your four team members who are currently being held hostage.

NASH: Please tell every one thank you for us for the prayers. We wish that the four guys could somehow know that everyone is praying for them. In particular, I think Tom [Fox] is very aware of that kind of spiritual presence and I'm sure he feels it. A few weeks before they were taken we had a worship where we were doing centering prayer. Tom said that the word that kept coming to him in prayer was "open." Can you believe that? I think they all know that people are praying for them. Tom, I know, feels the spiritual support. And if he feels it, then he will tell the others.

BERGER: Has there been any further news about their fate?

NASH: There is no news yet. Continued prayers are our best hope. It really is the best thing we think to do. Also, please keep the story alive in the media. It keeps pressure on the kidnappers to acknowledge that the guys are who they say they are and to release them.

BERGER: What are your next steps?

NASH: We are looking for ways to expand attention to our human rights work. Tom, James, Harmeet, and Norman have now become part of that monitoring of human rights abuses. Our human rights work now includes the abduction of our four guys.

BERGER: What has waiting meant to you this Advent season?

NASH: My personal reflection is that waiting has taken on a whole new meaning. Advent is a season of hope. I am personally drawing strength from that. The comparisons between our Iraq and Jesus' Israel run through my mind. The season before Jesus was born was a troubling time. It was the time of an occupation. Jesus' parents were going to register for a census. We know what happened at the end: There was a miracle! We are hoping for the same thing at this point.

BERGER: How has your local community responded to the news of the kidnapping?

NASH: Our neighbors here are very saddened by what has happened. Many of the families here have had members kidnapped. For them it is not a new situation. But they know that we are here for the right reasons and that we are one of the few NGOs still here. They are very much against what has happened. They tell me, "I saw Tom on the TV and I cried," because that's how they found out the news. They bring us meals or ask if they can do shopping for us. The 10-year-old daughter of our neighbor told us she was doing her daily prayers for our kidnapped folks. It's very, very touching.

BERGER: Is there anything else you would like to say?

NASH: We want to express our deepest and sincere thanks for the outpouring of support that we have received. We've found out about all kinds of people doing things for us. Even the variety of people who have come out in support. There are people we would never have imagined - Muslim clerics and religious leaders. We are so thankful for the amount of support we've received. It's very hard for us even to imagine here in our cocoon in Baghdad, but we hear about all the vigils and prayers and things people are doing. We are very grateful.


Iraq Team Message to the Missing CPTers
17 December

Dear Harmeet, Jim, Norman, and Tom,

We still are longing to see your faces. So many people continue to let us know that they are thinking of you and praying for you. As Christmas approaches, we continue to hope that you will be able to join us and your families for the celebrations. Anita has written her aunt for the best turkey dressing recipe known to the world. We continue to stay in touch with your families. Your friends in Iraq ask about you all the time. We don't know how much you get outside, but the weather is nice here in Baghdad. We hope to see you soon.

With much love,
Your Teammates in Baghdad

+ See CPT's response to President Bush's address about the war in Iraq

+ Keep up with the CPT captives' news on the "Free the Captives" blog

+ Share this issue with your friends


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