All-Women Church Delegation Amplifies Mideast's Muted Voices

In a land where the voice of women is almost non-existent, a group of Christian women sought to shed light on the plight of women and children in the Middle East and to lift up their voices to be heard around the world.

The all-women ecumenical delegation to the Middle East returned after a two-week visit to the region on Tuesday. They brought back news of hope as well as suffering experienced by victims of the region's ongoing conflicts.

The delegation of more than a dozen church leaders from several denominations affiliated with the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States (NCC) began their pilgrimage in Jordan where they met with refugees, leading Jordanian women, and Prince Hassan Bin Talal - uncle of Jordan's King Abdullah II.

In Jordan, the delegation heard of a wide range of difficulties faced by women refugees such as their inability to afford health care now that their permits have expired, their stigmatization from society, and their struggle to find a school to educate their children.

"Meeting with women and children who have been so impacted, and in some cases devastated, by the trauma caused by homelessness in the Middle East, provoked many emotions within the hearts and souls of delegation members," reflected delegate Linda Bales, director of the Population Project of the General Board of Church and Society for the United Methodist Church, in a posting on the NCC website.

The delegation was also challenged by the founder and director of the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center during their visit. The Center serves women and children from Iraq and provides education to school-age refugee kids.

"What is our calling as Christians?" Bales recalled Fr. Nabil Hadad asking. "American Christians take their religion for granted. Here it takes courage."

Hadad reported that when the children first arrived at the center they drew pictures of tanks and guns, however now he said they draw flowers, houses, men and women shaking hands in peace.

"When I feel depressed or anxious, I leave my office and come to this room to see the children, and my sadness disappears," said Hadad, according to Bales.

The women delegation also visited Israel/Palestine and heard the difficulties confronted by Palestinian women and children with the new security measures imposed by Israel in the West Banks which significantly obstruct access to health, education, job and markets in the areas.

The National Council of Church of Christ USA sponsored the May 9-22 pilgrimage of 16 women Christian leader to the Middle East to meet with women and men about peacemaking and learning about current needs in the region. The NCC is comprised of member bodies that encompass a wide spectrum of American Christianity, representing traditions as varied as Protestant, Orthodox, Evangelical, Anglican, and African-American churches.