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Young Alumnus awardees have common calling in the Middle East

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- The Awards Committee of the Bethel College Alumni Association has selected Alain Epp Weaver and Sonia Weaver, Amman, Jordan, and Terrance (Terry) Rempel, Bethlehem, West Bank, as recipients of the Young Alumnus Award for 2006. The three will be honored at 11 a.m., Monday, March 27, in Krehbiel Auditorium in the Fine Arts Center during Bethel College convocation. Following the award presentation, they will speak about their work, including showing Mennonite Central Committee’s DVD "The Children of the Nakba."

Rempel is one of the founders of the BADIL Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights in Bethlehem. From 1998-2004, he was coordinator of research and information for BADIL, and from 2004-05, he was senior researcher with the organization. He is now an independent consultant for BADIL.

Rempel, a native of Alberta, graduated from Bethel College in 1990 with a history major. He also has an M.A. in Middle East politics from Exeter (United Kingdom) University and is a Ph.D. candidate in politics at Exeter University. His dissertation is titled "The politics of refugee participation: Palestinian refugees in comparative context." He has authored, co-authored and edited numerous articles and publications, including the forthcoming book The Refugees the World Forgot, written with Susan M. Akram.

Alain Epp Weaver and Sonia Weaver became co-country representatives for Palestine, Jordan and Iraq for Mennonite Central Committee in July 2004. They were previously MCC country representatives for Palestine (since 2000), worked in the Gaza Strip as MCC project coordinators in 1996 and 1999, and taught English in the West Bank from 1992-95.

Alain and Sonia are 1991 graduates of Bethel College, Alain with majors in Bible and religion, English, German and philosophy, and Sonia with majors in Bible and religion and German and a minor in international development. They spent their junior year at Philipps-Universität in Marburg, Germany.

Alain has a master of divinity degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School and Sonia has an M.A. in religious studies from the same institution. They spent the 1991-92 school year studying at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.

Alain and Sonia are co-authors of Salt and Sign: Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine, 1949-1999. Alain is the editor of a forthcoming volume on the theology of land, and co-editor with Peter Dula of the forthcoming Interfaith Parables of the Kingdom: Mennonite Witness in a Religiously Diverse World. Alain also edited Mennonite Theology in Face of Modernity: Essays in Honor of Gordon D. Kaufman and co-edited, with John K. Sheriff, A Drink from the Stream: Essays by Bethel College Faculty and Staff, both Bethel College publications. Sonia is the author of What is Palestine/Israel: Answers to Common Questions, a 2004 MCC publication.

Alain and Sonia are the parents of two children, Samuel, 11, and Katherine, 10.

Newton and Wichita area residents are taking advantage of Alain, Sonia and Terry’s presence to plan several public presentations on various aspects of life and struggle in the Middle East, in addition to the March 27 convocation.

On Sunday, March 26, at 7 p.m. at Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Terry will give a "report on Palestine," looking specifically at refugees, peace and the recent Hamas political victory.

On the evening of March 27, Alain will present a Peace Lecture sponsored by the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) at 7:30 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium. His lecture is titled "Memory against forgetting: The church and the end(s) of Palestinian refugee rights" (see sidebar, following).

Alain and Sonia will speak in another public meeting sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Central States, on Tuesday, March 28, at 7 p.m. at Shalom Mennonite Church, 800 E. First St. in Newton. Their topic will be "The view from Amman: MCC in Jordan and Iraq."

Finally, Terry will be the featured speaker at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church in Wichita on Weds., March 29, where he will reprise his presentation at Bethel College Mennonite Church. He will speak at 6:30 p.m., with a meal beforehand at 5:45.

There is a $3 charge for the meal at LAMC, with reservations required by March 24 at (316) 682-4555. All other events are free.

Alain, Sonia and Terry will also be spending time with groups of Bethel College students, including Patty Shelly’s Judaism, Christianity and Islam class.

Sidebar: The struggles of Palestinian refugees

NORTH NEWTON, KAN. -- When the state of Israel was founded in 1949, did it--as the prevailing Israeli narratives say--mean "redemption"? Or was it, as nearly a million Palestinians violently uprooted from their homes (or their descendants) call it almost 60 years later, a Nakba, a "catastrophe"?

"Where victors seek to erase textual and material traces of the vanquished or to obscure the bloody and violent means by which they gained victory, acts of memory can become political acts that challenge the dominant narratives," says Alain Epp Weaver.

Epp Weaver, who lives in Amman, Jordan, is country co-representative, with his wife, Sonia Weaver, for Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine, Jordan and Iraq. He will give a special peace lecture, "Memory against forgetting: The church and the end(s) of Palestinian refugee rights" on Monday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium on the Bethel College campus.

The lecture is sponsored by the Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR) at Bethel College. It is free and open to the public, although donations will be accepted for Sonia and Alain’s work with MCC.

Alain and Sonia, both 1991 graduates of Bethel College, will be in the Newton area for several days to receive the 2006 Young Alumnus award (along with 1991 graduate Terry Rempel, Bethlehem, West Bank) and to speak in different Bethel College and local Mennonite venues.

Alain and Sonia have spent the bulk of the last 15 years working with MCC in Gaza, the West Bank and now Jordan. Since 1949, MCC’s work in the region has focused largely on the struggles of Palestinian refugees.

"After the horrors of the Shoah [the Jewish Holocaust in Europe], it’s understandable that the idea of Israel as a safe haven with a Jewish majority would be important to many Jews," Alain says. "But does the holiness of the land--important to both traditional and liberal Jews--depend on maintaining and protecting a Jewish majority by any and all means?"

A bi-national future may also be compatible with the land’s holiness and with a future in which both Palestinians and Israelis can "sit securely under their vine and fig tree," as described in Micah 4, he says.

Alain Epp Weaver will elaborate on his experiences and observations, with time for audience response and questions.

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