Monday, December 14, 2009

2009 Illinois Maya Ministry Annual Report and Appeal

Dear Friends of Illinois Maya Ministry,

Greetings in the name of the One who accompanies us all. 

I’m just back from accompanying Mayan sisters and brothers in Chiapas where people struggle to make their voices heard.  I was there for the annual board meeting of SiPaz, an international observation group dedicated to non-violent peacemaking.  IMM has partnered with SiPaz from the beginning.   While there, we visited a community that had suffered repression at the hands of a death squad known as “The Army of God”.  A young man was killed and five others wounded simply for demonstrating against the building of highway that is to split their communal farmland down the middle and change their lives beyond knowing.   For protesting, for demanding a place at the table where development decisions are made, a bright young person is dead.  And no one has been held accountable.  I was able to accompany this community for one day. SiPaz is there everyday.

Over the years IMM has come to value partnerships like the one we have with SiPaz.  We have some deep and long-lived ones to be thankful for.  And new ones that are emerging. 

This past year we have joined with our partners in Guatemala (Guatemala Cultural Action - ACG) to support their projects to work with youth, sustainable agriculture, healing herbs, a short-wave radios, and building stoves so that open cook fires in the home become a thing of the past.  We continue to support our Global Missions missionary, Gloria Vicente, who works with ACG.

In Chiapas we continue to support INESIN, the Institute for Intercultural Studies and Research, formerly known as the Ecumenical Bible School.  They’re making progress on construction projects, building more classroom and meeting space. They’re programs bring together grassroots people from rural and urban areas to study and develop relationships across lines that all too often divide – ethnic, gender, and faith traditions. Perhaps you’d like to join a group of UCC pastors this summer who will participate in a 2- week study group sponsored by the Wisconsin Conference.  Let us know.

These are our longstanding partnerships.  We remain committed to supporting these ministries and programs.  They continue to serve profound needs among the Mayan peoples of Chiapas and Guatemala. 

                                 And as I said before, there are new partnerships emerging. Two of our members just returned from accompanying the Honduran people in their struggle to defend their democracy after a military coup ousted democratically elected President Zaleya.  Our partner group, Chicago Religious Leadership Network joined with other groups to sponsor this delegation.  We traveled numerous times to Borderlinks and Centro Romero organizations on the Arizona/Mexican  and California/Mexican border respectively.  Both serve new immigrants and stand in solidarity with them, even as they offer immersion experiences to folks like us so we can appreciate the roots and struggles of migration and offer our support and solidarity to new immigrants who travel through Mexico and cross the border at great risk.

In Chicago, we’ve partnered with Borderlinks to develop a Borderlinks North immersion experience.  This new program explores the challenges of life for new immigrants north of the border.  We’ve also joined with the New Sanctuary Movement in accompanying those who are about to be deported, offering prayers and presence at a time when all the world seems to have abandoned them.

We’ve continued to develop our relationship with the faith communities of Postville & Decorah, Iowa. On May 12, 2008, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement conducted one of the largest raids in United States history in Postville, Iowa.  398 workers were arrested.  Most were Guatemalan.  The raid devastated the community. The faith communities in Postville and Decorah, Iowa responded with quick generosity.  Those faith communities now have incredible stories to tell of the work they’re doing to meet needs, re-build their culturally diverse communities, and respond to the immigration crisis in our nation.  IMM offers two and three day delegations as an opportunity to see God's hand at work in the people of Postville and Decorah and ask deep questions about how we might respond to the current immigration crisis locally.  Contact IMM to arrange a delegation for a group from your church, cluster or association.

We’re proud of the work we’ve done this year to advocate for just foreign and trade policies toward Latin America and for comprehensive immigration reform.  IMM members participated in Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C. This week some of our members will travel to Fort Benning, Georgia to join thousands from around the US calling for the closure of the School of the Americas.

Partnerships, some spanning decades, others new and promising.  We can do much together.  Will you join with us to sustain our work?  We depend entirely on gifts from individuals and congregations.  Please give as generously as you are able.

Rev. Denise Griebler
for Illinois Maya Ministry

To make a donation to Illinois Maya Ministries, please send a check payable to the "Illinois Conference UCC" to Illinois Maya Ministry; c/o Rev. Michelle Prentice-Leslie; 410 McHenry Avenue; Crystal Lake, IL  60014-7128.

School of the Americas Watch Report 2009

by Rev. Don Coleman

Thousands demonstrated again this year (Nov. 20-22, 2009) at the entrance into Fort Benning.  It was an inspirational event with singing and dancing and speeches.  People from Latin American countries told stories of family members being killed and villages razed to he ground by the military whose officers were trained at the U.S. military base located at Columbus, Georgia.

Healing was facilitated as people shared their tragic stories, found comfort and support and when all united in cries to close the Western Hemispheric Institute for National Security Cooperation. (WHINSEC) – formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA).  Hundreds of thousand Latin Americans have been killed or disappeared by action of military personnel trained in the United States.
Four people courageously crossed the line entering into Fort Benning.  They were immediately arrested: Nancy Gwin of Syracuse, NY; Ken Hayes of Austin, TX; Fr. Louis Vitale of Oakland, CA; and Michael Walli of Washington, DC.  Michael is refusing to put up bail and will remain in custody at least until the trial in January 2010.  Nancy, Ken and Louis posted bail and were released.  They will all return to Columbus to be tried in  Federal Court..  If history is repeated and they are found guilty they can expect a fine and imprisonment.

All of us can continue our support of these four committed folks by supporting the passage of HR 2567.  This bill, authored by Rep. McGovern of Massachusetts, calls for suspending operations of WHINSEC until an investigation takes place.  Illinois sponsors of HR 2567 include Jan Schakowski, Bobby Rush, Jesse Jackson, Jr., Melissa Bean and Luis Guitierrez.

The crowd erupted with joy when informed that Fr. Roy Bourgeois and the School of the Americas Watch have been nominated by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) for the Nobel Peace Prize.  The nomination is made “for our (SOAW) sustained faithful nonviolent witness against the disappearance, torture, and murder of hundreds of thousands of civilians by foreign military personnel trained by the U.S. military at taxpayers expense at the School of the Americas.”

La lucha sigue!   The struggle continues!

Honduran Protest

by Rev. Don Coleman

Approximately 75 people gathered in front of the Honduran Consulate in Chicago on Sunday, November 26. The group was protesting the rigged Honduran elections taking place that very day.

On June 28 a military coup d’etat took place in Honduras with the military arresting President Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales. Leaders of the coup were trained at Fort Benning (Columbus, Georgia) by the School of the Americas (SOA).

U.S. human rights delegations to Honduras have verified systematic abuse of human rights since the coup.  They saw evidence of raids, detention, physical abuse, and intimidation on the part of the Honduran state security agents.

The demonstration in Chicago was an act of solidarity with the people of Honduras.  Rev. Dan Dale, pastor of Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ, led the gathering in prayer and read aloud the names of the 25 martyrs killed since the coup.  In typical SOAW style, as names were called out, people responded: PRESENTE.  Martyrs sacrificed continue to be a living presence.  

The photo to the right is of Hondurans in civil resistance surrounding the Brazilian Embassy in Tegucigalpa to greet President Zelaya, ousted by the coup.  That morning, coup regime troops attacked them violently, sending 24 to the hospital.