by Barbara Dundon
“We need people who can give us a reason for hope.”
These words from The Rt. Rev. Fred Borsch, former Episcopal Bishop of California, resonated with many who showed up to hear New York Times journalist Eliza Griswold, of Chestnut Hill, address an audience of more than 150 at Cathedral Village on Sunday, April. 4.
Her talk was provocatively titled: “Is this the End of Christianity in the Middle East?”
She shared the stage with Anne Lynn, president of the nonprofit American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ), which provides humanitarian aid in the diocese. The event was a fundraiser for AFEDJ.
After being introduced by The Rt. Rev. Frank Griswold, former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and also her father, she said, “I will talk about the problem – Anne, the solution.”
Griswold said she and her sister were walking in New York’s Central Park on Sept.11, 2001, when planes piloted by terrorists crashed into the World Trade Center towers. Two weeks later she was on a plane to Pakistan, on assignment for the London Sunday Times.
“The dust from the Trade Center was still on my shoes,” she said.
She later documented her experience in her book “The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches From the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam.” In it she paints portraits of the people she met along the latitude line in Africa and Asia where Christianity and Islam often meet and clash. She expanded on these stories on Sunday by describing what she saw on recent travels to war-torn Syria and Northern Iraq.
Griswold told chilling stories of houses owned by Christians in Northern Iraq targeted with red “N’s” on their doors (for “Nazarene.”) Christian women there are routinely traded into sex slavery, often with the collusion of their neighbors. Christians in the Middle East can become scapegoats, Griswold said, and are thought to represent The West.
The U.S. invasion of Iraq has destabilized the region, she explained. The number of Christians in the region has since diminished from 1.5 million to 300,000.
Anne Lynn spoke in counterpoint to Griswold’s accounts of sectarian and ethnic violence in the Middle East. Representing AFEDJ’s humanitarian work in the Diocese of Jerusalem, which includes Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, she described the impact of the schools, hospitals and institutes for people with disabilities that they fund in the region.
“While others work for peace and justice,” Lynn said, “we work to insure families can feed their families tonight and send their children to school tomorrow.”
Students at diocesan schools learn respect for differences, tolerance and group problem solving.
“Many Muslim families with little disposable income choose to pay tuition to attend Christian schools,” said Lynn.
Both spoke passionately about the urgency of supporting one of the handful of humanitarian organizations that positively impact the fabric of pluralism in the Middle East.
When asked by several audience members how area churches can help, Lynn responded, “With your presence, your prayers and your checks. Start a pilgrimage from your parish. Go there. That’s the best way to know ‘the other.’”
To learn more about AFEDJ go to www.AFEDJ.org.