[saymaListserv] Norman Kember by Ken Sehested

Mmarjean at aol.com Mmarjean at aol.com
Sat Feb 25 12:36:42 JEST 2006

Some of you (Memphis/Asheville) may know Ken Sehested who wrote this letter 
to his friend Norman Kember who is one of the captured CPT workers in Iraq.  I 
keep running across folks who know Norman, through their work with Baptist 
Peace Fellowship.  The letter is quite moving. Please continue to hold the team 
and their captors in the Light
...Kristi Estes

Prisoners of Hope: A Letter to a Friend    
Norman Kember, member of a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Iraq that 
was kidnapped 26 November. Their captors threatened to execute the group by 8 
December, then extended the deadline to 10 December. That date passed without 
word of their fate. Norman is a retired medical physicist from London, 
England. Others in the group, which was investigating human rights violation in the 
country, are Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, along with Tom Fox from 
the U.S. The photo is from a video taken by their captors and aired on 
al-Jazeera television. For an overview of CPT’s work in Iraq: 

Download this letter as a PDF file. 

Prisoners of Hope
Letter to a friend kidnapped in Iraq
Ken Sehested

I nearly gagged on my granola when I saw your name, about 10 paragraphs into 
a story summarizing the weekend’s violent episodes in Iraq. Having been among 
the references for your application to join the delegation, I knew, but had 
almost forgotten, you were there.

The two-sentence account said that four “humanitarian aid” workers in Iraq 
had been kidnapped, naming only you: Norman Kember. 
Earlier, during the phone interview with CPT staff checking your suitability 
for this trip to Iraq, I remember thinking: this will be a stretch for you. 
But then, being stretched is as integral to spiritual formation as the slower, 
more incremental kinds of growth. Besides, I have come to admire not only the 
courage of CPT but also their intelligence and street-smarts. I knew you would 
be in good hands.
Even so, none of these thoughts—even knowing now that your three companions 
were seasoned travelers in conflict zones—could dispel the grief that washed 
over my breakfast table. It’s interesting what comes to mind in such stunned 
moments. Like my first night in your home, when I slept soundly through the 
history-making storm that came crashing through London in 1987.
I referred to that story in the prayer vigil we did here for the four of you. 
For that occasion I created a poster with your enlarged photos. It was 
propped on the altar of the local Episcopal Cathedral and surrounded by votive 
candles, serving as the visual aid for our petitions. I mentioned that all of you 
would be embarrassed, maybe annoyed, that your faces are displayed rather than 
the millions whose lives have been taken or tattered by a quarter century of 
oppressive rule and violent conflict in Iraq. But your faces are not only 
yours. They are our intercessory portal into the larger world of which we know very 
little. I think that’s how intercession works: moving from the familiar to 
the slightly less familiar, on and on, until we find connection with the stark “
otherness” of creation—and thereby with God.
When news of our friendship reached Britishmedia outlets, several called for 
interviews or wrote asking for background. “Who is this person; and why is he 
doing this?” Odd how common it is to assume the soldierly commitment to face 
danger for the sake of national honor. But how outrageous—foolish! naïve!—the 
thought that Christians might do likewise, for the sake of the beloved 
community. “What would happen,” as the CPT mission states, “if Christians devoted 
the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies 
devote to war?”

As you might imagine, cynics abound. Popular talkshow host Rush Limbaugh 
laced disbelief with gruesome glee in recent commentary on your kidnapping: “I’m 
telling you, folks, there’s a part of me that likes this.” Our own 
Commander-in-Chief’s blustery appeal to patriotic vigor in defense of the war sounds 
like history unfolding in reverse. Just this past Sunday he assured us that “we 
can win the war in Iraq—we are winning the war in Iraq,” now more than two 
years after having claimed “Mission Accomplished.” 
I’m confident that what you and your captive companions were finding is what 
CPT has been steadily reporting (including the first news of torturous 
happenings at Abu Graib prison), first-hand, for a decade: the escalating loss of 
faith in the purported U.S. reconstruction, stunning absence of security, 
scandalous lack of basic services, and continued violent reprisals by every armed 
sector in the country. A quarter of a trillion dollars doesn’t buy what it used 
Ironically, despite our plummeting international reputation, your kidnapping 
has provoked a global outpouring of Muslim and Arab protest against your 
captors and on your behalf. Notoriously as contentious and sectarian as their 
Christian counterparts, a stunning array of Muslim leaders and organizations have 
united to call for your release. I can only hope that some of these 
developments have made their way to your ears.
Norman, if I could steal into your cell and whisper in your ear, I would say: 
“Fear not those who can only kill the body” (Matt. 10:28). Look what you’ve 
done, without even meaning to—which, more often than not, is typical divine 
protocol. I would also chide you for your self-depreciatory comment, before you 
left, about how “cheap” your Christian witness has been heretofore. There’s 
nothing cheap about 74 years of persistent advocacy for those with no place at 
the table. The race, my friend, is not to the swift.
In the end, though, I would draw from your memory the assurance spoken by 
that ancient Semite, Joseph, whose ancestral home is not far from where you are 
shackled: They have done this for evil, “but God intends it for good” (Gen. 
Whatever comes next, be confident of this: nothing is wasted. The heavy night 
of those who rule this dark solstice season shall end. For you, and all who 
crouch in the shadow of darkness, light is coming. The Advent word is rarely 
heard outside the context of threat. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of 
hope (Zech. 9:12).

—Ken Sehested, Advent 2005

Ken Sehested, founding Executive Director of BPFNA, is now at Circle of Mercy 
in Asheville, North Carolina.

Posted by bpfna,  12/24/2005, 8:19 AM 
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