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by Laura Lehman Amstutz
“The world is hungry for the kinds of things taught in our Mennonite schools,” says Daryl Byler, alumnus of Eastern Mennonite University (’79) and Seminary (’85). Byler and his wife, Cindy, administer programs in Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine and Jordan.
The Bylers, who serve in the Middle East with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), visited EMU on the five-year anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war. They met with EMU faculty and staff to talk about how to combine peacebuilding efforts and development work in the four countries they oversee.
“Working to redeem, restore and resurrect is at the core of our faith in God,” said Daryl, “This is what motivates our work and peacebuilding.”
As peacebuilders and development workers in this conflict-ridden area of the world, the Byler’s face many challenges. “It is difficult to maintain a sense of hope and perspective in a place where there is a lot of conflict with the west,” said Daryl. “But we need to look through the eyes of faith.”
One hopeful sign is the great interest Bylers see in Iran and Iraq around building relationships for peace studies and peacebuilding. “There is a huge opportunity for connection to be made that fits with our Anabaptist theology and their interest in figuring out how this works in their culture,” says Byler.
“Many Middle Easterners are very interested in relationships with Americans and Canadians. They don’t agree with policies of our government but they are interested in friendship,” said Daryl.
Another sign of hope was the Bylers’ recent efforts to bring together Iraqis who have participated in EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI), for a retreat and future planning.
“The people who come to EMU for the Summer Peacebuilding Institite feel like they have experienced ‘a slice of heaven.,’ he reported. “Often the things we take for granted – security, comfort calm, -- are not reality for most of the world.”
Byler, who was named "alumnus of the year" in 1992, feels his years of study at EMU prepared him well for his peacemaking roles. He previously was director of MCC's Washington, D.C., office.
“The professors who taught a theology of peacemaking and understanding of biblical Anabaptist peacemaking have been critical in the work I’ve done in my various roles for MCC, including my current one,” said Daryl. “Having foundation and a theological lens through which to understand these issues is really important.”
Like Daryl, Cindy -- a 1972 graduate of Bluffton ( Ohio) University -- also values her Mennonite education. “Service to the church was strongly emphasized there.”
The Bylers encourage Mennonites and Mennonite institutions to share the light of Christ that leads to work for reconciliation and peacemaking.
The Bylers current work builds on a history of relationships that precedes them in the region. They will continue to build and strengthen partnerships begun years ago by MCC with non-governmental organizations, churches and benevolent societies in each of these countries.