[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
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
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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