On a Wednesday in mid-October, I’m at the auto shop for winter tires; a TV on the wall flashes tanks, rubble and protests alongside talking heads.
On social media, I can’t look away from children held hostage or from parents pulling kids from collapsed buildings.
When my church gathers on Sunday, I struggle for words to pray, our requests cracking on the complexity of suffering and violence.
I don’t think the little congregation that meets in my backyard is alone in this. In the face of the crisis in Gaza, we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words (Romans 8:26).
God responds with wisdom through community. I asked other pastoral leaders in Mennonite Church Saskatchewan, “How is your congregation responding to the crisis in Gaza?” The following is what they told me.
Some feel the struggle sharply; strong opinions pull in opposite directions just below the surface in their congregations. There’s a temptation to keep prayers bland: “. . . for the situation in Israel-Palestine.” But one pastor confesses to feeling more and more “courageous” to explore the “complexities of peace”—making peace, imagining peace. Another says that feeling “at a total loss” as to how to respond makes it easy for this crisis to “blend into all the other personal and universal challenges.”
Congregations consistently share a basic hope that, in the words of one minister, “conversation and compassion might carry the day.” Another says her group asks for “strength for organizations” and offers thankfulness for those trying to help.
Many turn to Mennonite Central Committee, Community Peacemaker Teams, or Mennonite Church Canada for “words and context” as they bring this crisis into their worship. One pastor uses Psalm 13 to enter the work of shared lament.
My heart echoes words from another worship leader: “It’s hard to know what to say these days except that this is God’s world, and we are all connected.”
I also turn to MC Canada’s Palestine Israel Network. Since 2016 this group has worked for justice and life in Israel-Palestine. Already they’ve provided guidance for prayer and action, but I ask them to elaborate:
What are their prayers for the crisis in Gaza?
They tell me of weaving between “lament and intercession.” They lament the “immense inhumanity and suffering . . . that the international community hasn’t done enough . . . that God hasn’t stepped in to miraculously stop the carnage.”
But they also intercede: for “relief for the two million victims of the blockade and bombing campaign” and that “desperately needed medical aid, food and water can get through.”
What are one or two stories you feel need to be heard, I ask them.
They point me to stories of young people growing up in Gaza, “what it’s like not to be able to remember a time before the 16-year siege, while your neighbourhood endures bombing and threats of bombing.” They also remind me of Palestinians working for just peace nonviolently amid suffering that began “long before the latest explosion.”
Then I ask about one or two actions by which congregations can respond to the crisis in a good way.
Start with prayer—prayer as action, prayer accompanying action. Next, they suggest, choose to learn the “long quest for a just peace” of the Palestinian people. Finally, they ask us to write to our MPs. “Tell them that Canada must do better at upholding international law when it comes to Palestine and Israel.”
When we gather in my backyard, we pray, “Creator God, we lift to you the weeping world. Our sisters and our brothers cry. Creation groans. Rise up and do what only you can do. Turn rulers’ hearts away from war.”
Lord, teach us to pray.
Josh Wallace serves as church engagement minister for Mennonite Church Saskatchewan.