The first task of any endeavor is knowing what to call it. In this case, that’s a particular issue for the Christian Peacemaker Teams. Although the organization is a recognized NGO in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, the organization has always been willing to take a stand that their host governments may find unpalatable. Earlier this week, CPT endorsed a call for an independent investigation into the murder of a 23-year-old journalist who had been critical of Kurdish government policies. CPT has only recently gained the necessary visas to maintain a long-term presence in northern Iraq. Until very recently, visas have been issued on a short-term, emergency basis. The Team members have been living week to week. Such is the life of a peacemaker in the world of nation states.
For these and other reasons, “peacemaking” isn’t a safe word to use. And in a world where peacekeeper is a name for a missile, you can’t be sure the word won’t be misinterpreted. What do you say when it comes up, whether it’s with the customs officer or a taxi driver? I didn’t have a good answer, so my cab driver guessed I was a security contractor. He must have noticed my silence and believed he was halfway toward determining I’m the “strong, silent type” that security contractors must usually be.
One of our team members has a simple answer. She says we’re going to Iraq “to do charity work.” That probably puts a picture inside the person’s head that is less inaccurate than anything I had come up with. CPT staff has cautioned us again and again against providing anything that could be seen as “material aid.” I was told not to bring a small sack of collapsible nylon Frisbees. (It didn’t help that they were emblazoned with a “Bank of America” logo.) We had a discussion today whether giving children sticks of gum might be misinterpreted.
Charity can be a distraction when your real goal is peacemaking.
If peace can be built between families and nations and peoples, there will be almost no need for charity. The planet provides abundance, even with six billion to be fed. If only that wealth can be distributed in a way that fulfills basic needs first, the hard work of providing material aid will become obsolete.
CPT of course is grateful for those organizations which “fill the gap” and help people survive. CPTers tell stories of their hearts breaking when they must tell friends “no” when they plea for money or food. CPT remains resolute about its job of “working ahead” to attend to the problem of war.
That resolute spirit may explain the accommodations in Amman, our staging ground before entering Iraq. We were given the name of a very nice hotel near the Abdali center. Drivers recognize the name. We were then instructed to look a couple doors to the right for a “scruffy” little awning and a walk-up entrance to the place we’re staying.
The nice hotel charges 70 dinar a night (about $100). Our place charges 11 dinar ($15). The low price is hardly the only consideration. Teams have stayed here for almost a decade. The owner knows all about our work. We pay the regular price, and everybody is happy with the arrangement.
CPT could surely find a nice hotel willing to donate rooms to a worthy cause, giving team members more creature comforts while readying for the real work ahead. But they don’t ask for such favors, and I think I know why.
Favors require upkeep. They can create instability. And who may come along next asking a bigger favor? Receiving charity is not unlike giving it, in this case. It provides a distraction, however welcome it may be, from the work that lies ahead.
“Getting in the way” requires keeping distractions of every sort out of the way.