A report from Israel/Palestine
Small steps toward a just peace
another report from Shannon O’Donnell
Shannon O’Donnell is a Presbyterian Volunteer in Mission,
serving in Jerusalem with the
Liberation Theology Center.
For her earlier reports >>
In this report, Shannon begins:
This past month I’ve had a number of experiences that
continue to shape my thoughts, faith, and point of view. I was able to
help rebuild some houses that had been destroyed, serve as an Ecumenical
Accompanier in Yanoun, and participate in a protest in Bil’in. Each
experience taught me something about what it means to work for peace,
how to live out my beliefs, how to put actions behind my words, and when
to rest within silence. The
rest of the story >>
PC(USA) mission volunteer visits West Bank town of Hebron
"I would rather live in the refugee camp than here"
by Shannon O’Donnell [3-15-07]
I never imagined I would have such a thought. I was
traveling with a group of international participants that Sabeel was hosting
for the spring "Witness Visit." We went all over the West Bank, met with
mayors, priests, political leaders, and regular people to hear about their
The rest of her report >>
Also from Shannon O'Donnell: Meeting the Real
Another recent report from Shannon has been published in
Network News, describing her experience at a Palestinian farm and
vineyard outside Bethlehem, where she finds a project dedicated to "prepar[ing]
young people for a positive contribution to their future and culture by
bringing values of understanding and tolerance into their life
experience." Click here for the
PDF version of Network News (Winter 2007), and jump to page 5.
Young adults sought for volunteer service both
internationally and in the US [2-5-07]
Doug Baker, who is the PC(USA)’s Regional Liaison for Ireland and UK, has
sent this reminder and invitation:
One of the most exciting opportunities the Presbyterian
Church USA has for individuals and congregations to become directly involved
in mission is the Young Adult Volunteer Program. There are nine
international sites (including Northern Ireland) and about an equal number
of sites within the US where young adults ages 20-30 can spend 11 months in
service and learning. At each site there are at least three YAVS so that
they can also form an intentional community for their year, and engage in
discipleship training and reflection with a Site Coordinator, who in most
cases has been a long-term mission person in that setting. (I am the Site
Coordinator for the Northern Ireland program.)
Sadly, most years we have more positions to fill than
applicants! Those of us associated with this particular form of mission
service, whether in the Louisville offices or on location at each of the
sites, can 't believe that there aren't more candidates out there – if they
simply knew about this possibility. That is where you come into the picture.
Please think seriously about ways to make individuals you know, who might be
interested in serving as part of this program, aware of it. I am attaching a
description of the Northern Ireland program - not to push candidates toward
this one site, but as one example of what is possible. I would encourage you
to look yourself at the information on the two PCUSA websites that relate to
this program worldwide and then encourage possible candidates to do the
Applications need to be submitted by the end of
February in most cases, for a selection process which includes phone
interviews before a residential placement event in Louisville in mid-April.
There are two PCUSA websites that have information on the
YAV program: Go to
then select "search." Enter a region (or select "any region" depending on
how much you care to search), select "full-time," and then "young adult
opportunities." Just for the sake of seeing the listings, check "member of a
TO FIND OUT ABOUT BECOMING A YOUNG ADULT VOLUNTEER: you
may also contact PCUSA Mission Service Recruitment at 888-728-7228 ext 2530.
A Final place to get great information on this program is
by going to
and reading some of the letters written by Young Adult Volunteers currently
serving in different sites.
Thank you for taking time to explore this program and
making others aware of it.
Grace and Peace,
Regional Liaison for Ireland and UK
A little Witherspoon note: A number of
recently returned Young Adult Volunteers played very active roles in
Witherspoon's "Dancing with God"
conference on world mission in September, 2005. Their
contributions to our conversations gave evidence of the wide variety of
experiences they had enjoyed, and the deep learning they had done.
We recommend this program with real enthusiasm!
|The forgotten elephant in the Middle East
Shannon O’Donnell reflects on her first-hand encounter
with the Israeli occupation of Palestine
[received Jan. 5, 2007, posted here on 1-17-07]
There is an elephant in the middle of the Middle East. It gets smaller and
smaller with each passing day. It is not officially recognized by the world,
although everyone knows about its existence.
What am I talking about? The country in which I now live:
I am going to tell you some ugly truths that I have
discovered during my time here. Words you probably are not familiar with: "Nakba"
and "Occupied Territories."
The rest of her
|Shannon O'Donnell is a Presbyterian Volunteer in
Mission, serving in occupied Palestine. The Witherspoon Society is
proud to be providing a modest contribution to her support, and she is
keeping us informed of what she is learning there.|
|Her earlier report >>|
|Witherspoon goes global
At our Fall board meeting, held in
September at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, the Board of the
Witherspoon Society voted to take some concrete steps toward engaging more
directly with the big wide world. We adopted as a working title for this
project the "Global Engagement Initiative."
As one step in this project we have committed to provide
partial support for Shannon O’Donnell, who has recently gone as a Mission
Volunteer to serve at the Sabeel Ecumenical and Liberation Theology Center
We are happy to present more information about this new
Witherspoon project, including an
introduction by Board member Peter Barnes-Davies, a
"report from Jerusalem" by Shannon herself,
a statement by Sabeel of its current
"points of emphasis," and more.
Click here for a page that will be devoted specifically to
our partnership with the PC(USA) in its global mission, through Shannon
O’Donnell and Sabeel in Jerusalem.
If you have comments or suggestions
about the Global Engagement Initiative,
please let us hear from you.
Just send a
Witherspoon goes global by adopting a PC(USA) Mission Volunteer
by Peter Barnes-Davies
At last year’s "Dancing with God" conference at Stony
Point, many of us met Wes Wilkinson, a staff person in the Worldwide
Ministries Division of the PC(USA). Like myself, Wes was one of several
handfuls of people who were excited about the emerging partnership between
Witherspoon and Worldwide Ministries. Since the Stony Point conference, Wes
contacted Trina Zelle, our co-moderator, to ask a specific question: would
the Witherspoon Society be willing to "adopt" a long-term PC(USA) mission
volunteer who would start her service in Jerusalem beginning November 2006?
An emphatic "yes!" was our final answer. Witherspoon
indeed has "gone global" in this "adoption," and I am personally thankful
and overjoyed. I myself served as a Long-Term Mission Volunteer from 1996 -
1999 in Africa, both Burkina Faso and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Indeed, my passion for international service and my commitment to
cross-cultural sharing in faith is the primary reason why I joined the ranks
of "officers" in the Society.
Given my six years of service with the Worldwide
Ministries Division, I hope to encourage further strengthening in the bonds
of mutual enrichment between the Society and Worldwide Ministries
(realizing, of course, that given current restructuring at our national
offices, a new name is being created for what we used to call Worldwide
Shannon O’Donnell, our newly "adopted" mission volunteer,
herself worked for nine months in the Worldwide Ministries Division. She
assisted in the office of the life-changing Young Adult Volunteer Program, a
program in which she previously served (from August ’04 to August ’05 in
Thailand). Now in fall 2006, Shannon is living and serving at the
Sabeel Ecumenical and Liberation Theology Center
in Jerusalem. She has a two-year term with Sabeel, where she will serve as
Assistant to the Director, Rev. Naim Ateek, with a special focus on research
assistance. To learn more about Shannon’s work,
please read her article here, and look for more articles from her on
this page and in Network News.
What does it mean precisely that the Witherspoon Society
has adopted Shannon as "our" mission volunteer?
For one thing, the board of officers has pledged our
financial support to Shannon’s ministry. Through the PC(USA)’s Joining
Hearts and Hands campaign, we are giving $100 per month for the entire two
years of Shannon’s term of service. Beyond this financial support, we have
also pledged to support Shannon - and Sabeel - with our prayers, our gifts
of learning, and our capacity for solidarity and just action. Indeed, I
believe our "adoption" of Shannon allows us Witherspooners to actively
pursue, in one effort, many of
the stated mission
goals of our organization.
Please join me in giving thanks for this recent expression
of the growing partnership between Witherspoon Society and the Worldwide
Ministries Division. Please lend your ears, your eyes, your voice, and your
prayers to the support of "our" mission volunteer, Shannon O’Donnell. And
please give generously to the Society so that we might more faithfully and
readily fulfill the pledge of financial resources that we made. In so doing,
let us all honor and remember the One who calls us, who sends us, and who
sustains us – wherever our place of service may be.
is a member at large of the Witherspoon board, and is currently a 4th year
M.Div.student at San Francisco Theological Seminary.
The view near my house in Beit Hanina
by Shannon O’Donnell, Presbyterian Mission Volunteer
[Posted here 12-20-06; written in late November, 2006]
Beginning with Hope
From the generous contributions I received from various
sources, including the Witherspoon Society, I have been living and working
in Jerusalem for the past month. During my two-year appointment, I will be
working at Sabeel. Sabeel is a grassroots
organization that advocates for peace with justice and provides an
ecumenical ministry within the local Christian community as well as
interfaith work between Christians and Muslims. I am the assistant to Rev.
Dr. Naim Ateek, the Founder and Director of Sabeel.
I arrived just in time to help with Sabeel's 6th
International Conference. This event brought participants from 30 different
local and international communities, focusing on the theme of the "Forgotten
Faithful," referring to the Palestinian Christians. Jean Zaru, a founding
member of Sabeel, was the first keynote speaker. She began by stating:
These are very hard days in Palestine. The settlement
expansion and the construction of the Wall continue unabated.
International law and UN resolutions sit collecting dust. While the
political landscape has changed dramatically and global powers maneuver a
response, humanitarian aid and military violence against civilians is used
like a playing card without regard to ordinary families struggling to
secure their daily bread.
During such times as these, it is necessary to name the
atrocities, to name our individual and collective pain. For it often goes
unheard. Voicing it always includes risk but is nonetheless crucial, for
with the cry of pain begins the formation of a counter community around an
alternative perception of reality. Thus, the act of crying out and
groaning is at once an act of subversion and an act of hope.
Jean is a Palestinian woman living under Israeli military
rule and at the same time found herself in a traditional culture. Her life
has been devoted to the struggle for liberation—for Palestinians, for women,
and for all peoples. She has done this through her work in her own community
and internationally. For many years, Jean taught religion and ethics at the
Friends Schools in Ramallah.
|This collage has been created by the
people of Sabeel to represent their people, their situation, and their
Finding Justice, furthering Hope
Most of my work during the conference was with the local
and international volunteers. They came early, worked hard, and stayed late
to do all the little things that it takes to pull off a big event such as
this. This was a traveling conference, beginning in Jerusalem, moving on to
Jericho, to Ramallah, to Nazareth, and ending in Galilee.
The international volunteers were chosen based on their
previous work experience in the region. Several had participated in the
Ecumenical Accompaniment Program, an initiative of the World Council of
Churches to monitor and report violations of human rights. It is a program
developed as a response to Israel's violation of internationally accepted
norms and principles of human rights based on the Geneva Convention and the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Ian Alexander, from the UK, was a volunteer who spent this
past summer working with the Accompaniment Program and came to help with the
conference. Regarding his experience this summer, Ian wrote:
Israel is a state, and no state should be above the law,
even when it is born out of tragic circumstances. There is a huge
injustice being committed which only the end of occupation can begin to
redress. Justice is the guiding light and is applicable to Israeli and
Palestinian alike. The central injustice here for this moment in history
is occupation and until it ends there can be no true peace for Israel, for
Palestine, or for the region.
Eric Fistler, from the U.S., was in the same Program and
spent his summer in Bethlehem. Eric also came to volunteer with the
conference. Of his time observing despair at the checkpoints, Eric wrote:
Despair stems from a variety of sources. The first is
the extreme difficulty, if not the impossibility, to visit Jerusalem. Two
men whom I see regularly at Checkpoint 300 (the only passage for Southern
West Bank residents to travel to Jerusalem) are lucky enough to receive
work permits which allow them to be in Jerusalem from 5 am until 7 pm.
Unfortunately, their families have not been able to visit Jerusalem in two
years -- not for Easter, not for shopping, not to see relatives. Jerusalem
remains the major commercial center for the West Bank and thus restricted
access to Jerusalem, means restriction. Not only restricted access to holy
sites and family, but also to basic shopping and commercial needs and
Despite all of this, my spirit remains hopeful, for God
is indeed still at work here. In Bethlehem there has been a growing
non-violent protest movement built on the examples of Gandhi and Martin
Luther King, Jr. The spirits of the prophets of old and the Prince of
Peace are still alive in this Holy Land working continually and
non-violently to create not only a just peace, but reconciliation as well.
These movements are working to bring about the dream of
many: a dream of reconciliation and peaceful co-habitation in which the
physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual security of all—Palestinians
and Israelis—is achieved.
If I had read or heard these things from Jean, Ian, and Eric prior to my
arrival to Jerusalem, I don't think I would have been able to understand
what they mean. There is something valuable about being here. To hear and
see the Wall being built less than a block from my apartment. Seeing young
and old people sneak through the gap in the barbed-wire fence, where the
Wall will soon be built, just to get into the city. I see the injustice, and
already I have come to view it as "just how things are here." I suspect that
is a coping mechanism, a way to rationalize the injustice I will never
I have a lot of learning and listening to do during my
time here. I hope to hear the stories of the older people, to hear how
things used to be. To hear the dreams of the younger people, to see what
they think their future will be. And I also hope to learn to read, write,
and speak Arabic! All of this will take time, and I look forward to the next
two years in this place people refer to as the Holy Land.
May God's Peace fill this Land,
Mission Volunteer in Jerusalem
|What is Sabeel?
First, their full name is the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center.
And they have explained the major elements of their identity and mission in
a statement adopted at their 6thInternational Conference in
Jerusalem, November 2-9, 2006
the full statement >>
Here is an excerpt:
Sabeel’s 6th International
Conference Statement (2006)
POINTS OF EMPHASIS
1. The Palestinian Christians are the
descendants of the first community of believers who loved, believed in, and
followed Jesus Christ. From the beginning they were a mixture of many ethnic
and racial groups but all became members of the One Body of Christ, the
2. In spite of the vicissitudes of history,
they have maintained their faith in Christ during the last 2000 years amidst
excruciating circumstances and in spite of the religious and political
upheavals. Yet they have preserved the beautiful mosaic of their rich
liturgical traditions and continue to bear witness. In order to strengthen
the Christian presence and witness, it is mandatory, therefore, for
Palestinian Christians to work together ecumenically. The hierarchies of the
churches have a great responsibility to rise above denominationalism and
commit themselves to nourishing closer bonds of love and acceptance among
3. Due to political and economic
instability, many Palestinian Christians have been emigrating to the West.
Internal as well as external factors have undermined their presence. Those
who are in the Holy Land today make up less than 2% of the population.
4. Palestinian Christians are an integral
part of the Palestinian people. They share the same aspirations and destiny
as their Muslim sisters and brothers. All Palestinians in the West Bank and
Gaza have been living under an illegal Israeli occupation for almost 40
years. With many peace-loving people from around the world, whether
faith-based or secular, Muslims and Christians continue to work for the end
of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a viable, independent and
sovereign state in Palestine.
5. The Israeli Arab community – Christian
and Muslim – continues to struggle for total equality with its Jewish
counterpart. The obstacle, however, is the nature of the state of Israel. It
is a Jewish state and not a state for all its citizens. Therefore, the
struggle will continue until total equality is achieved.
6. Participants also observed the daily
suffering of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and were
acutely aware of the plight of Gazans, about 80 of whom (half of them
civilians) were killed during the week of the conference. Conference
participants were shocked by news of the Israeli army attack on an apartment
building in Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip that resulted in the deaths of 19
civilians, primarily women and children. Moreover, during the conference day
in Bethlehem, participants were unable to visit the Church of Nativity or to
view the Wall in central Bethlehem because of funerals being held for 2
Palestinians who had been killed and had their family homes demolished by
the Israeli army. Special prayers were raised for the victims and their
7. It was clear to participants that
Palestinians and Israelis – Christians, Muslims, and Jews can live together
in peace. The greatest obstacle to genuine reconciliation, however, stems
from Israel's refusal to accept Palestinian rights to a state of their own
within the 1967 borders, i.e. all of the West Bank including East Jerusalem
and the Gaza Strip. The conference called for strong response against the
Israeli government policies of confiscation of Palestinian land in the West
Bank, building and expanding of settlements, the presence of hundreds of
checkpoints, and the building of the segregation Wall which separates
Palestinians from Palestinians and takes their land and water. All these
measures are eroding the possibility of the two state solution to the
8. Such obstacles to peace must be actively resisted both locally and
internationally through nonviolent methods like boycotts and Morally
Responsible Investment. Moreover, international sanctions that make life
untenable for people in the occupied territories must be immediately lifted.
9. Palestinian Christians have a mandate from Christ to be salt of the
earth and light of the world. They have a vocation to remain in the land and
maintain a prophetic voice for justice, peace, and reconciliation.
|More on conflict and peacemaking
in the Middle East [12-20-06]
For excellent background material on the situation in Israel
and Palestine, and the wider Middle East, the most recent issue of Church
& Society is just what you’ll want. With the title "To All the Children
of Abraham: A Call for Peace in the Middle East," the July/August issue
offers "visions of peace" from a Palestinian Christian, an American Muslim
and an American Jew, along with a wide variety of views and statements on
the conflict between Israel, Lebanon and Hizbollah.
You can order this issue (and other back issues) from
Presbyterian Distribution Service, 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY
40202-1396. Call (800) 524-2612; FAX (502) 569-8030. Use the PresbyNet inbox
PDS Orders, or go through the
Church & Society
website to the Marketplace:
www.pcusa.org/churchandsociety. The PDS order number is 72-431-06-606.
Single copies are $3.00; 10 or more are $2.50, plus shipping and handling.
Even as we rejoice in the rich resources offered for many
years by Church & Society, we lament its cloudy future as a result of
the cuts in staff and programs in the General Assembly agencies of our
church. Various people are seeking ways to continue its mission of providing
resources on Presbyterian concerns for peace and justice, and you may be
sure that the Witherspoon Society will support them in any way it can. If
you have ideas, we’d like to hear from you!
Thanks for Witherspoon’s global
engagement initiative [1-2-07]
Dear Doug King:
Congratulations on the new Global Engagement program ! I
attended a Sabeel Conference in Denver last fall, and have become an ardent
supporter of their work. I'm glad Presbyterians are supporting them and
giving them wider publicity ... their voice needs to be heard!
Hallelujah! God Bless!
If you have comments about this
send us a note!
Some blogs worth visiting
Mitch Trigger, PVJ's
Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where
Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and
views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both
personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!
You can post your own news and views,
or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.
for Life" website
Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck,
a Presbyterian minister currently
serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton,
Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized
and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and
Click here for his blog posts.
Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores
the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."
John Harris’ Summit to
Theological and philosophical
reflections on everything between summit to shore, including
kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology,
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens
neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City
Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon
board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in
Voices of Sophia blog
Heather Reichgott, who has created
this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:
After fifteen years of scholarship
and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the
voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy,
students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers
and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God
in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God
through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through
articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and
Got more blogs to recommend?
send a note, and we'll see what we can do!