Tampa couple travels to Iraq as part of Christian Peacemaker Team (March 28, 2004)



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Tampa couple travels to Iraq as part of Christian Peacemaker Team

March 18, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140   
mwacht@flumc.org     Orlando  {0043}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

BAGHDAD - Haven Whiteside visits with clerical students at Abu Hanifa Mosque here. Whiteside said he discovered Muslims aren't any different from Americans-they want the best for their families and children. Photo courtesy of Haven Whiteside, Photo #04-0015.

TAMPA - Rose and Haven Whiteside are not your average grandparents.

When most grandparents were celebrating last Christmas with their families, the Whitesides were boarding an airplane for a one-month stint as part of a Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) in Iraq. They returned Jan. 31.

The Tampa couple, in their early 70s, joined the organization after a series of life-changing events.

"In 2001 there were the Sept. 11th attacks, I had a heart attack, and our car was stolen three times," Haven Whiteside said. "It took us a bit of time to regroup, and we decided the thing we wanted to do was devote our volunteer efforts to peacemaking, the way we did in the 1960s. Rose researched some groups on the Internet, and we decided to go with Christian Peacemaker Team."

CPT provides an organized, non-violent alternative to war and other forms of intergroup conflict. It offers organizational support to people committed to faith-based non-violent alternatives in situations where violent conflict is an immediate reality or supported by public policy. CPT participants are Christians. They engage in regular spiritual reflection, and public and private prayer is emphasized.

The Whitesides said they believe in CPT principles and were pleased to be able to use their faith to ease suffering anywhere around the globe. After a one-month training period in 2002 at CPT headquarters in Chicago the couple was sent on a short-term mission to Columbia where they worked alongside full-time teams from the group.

"That first trip I was on the plane thinking, 'What am I doing on this plane?' and for a period of time I was not at all sure about it. Then I began to see how things work," Haven Whiteside said. "When we got there we saw that it was working. The theory is to be there beside people where there is conflict, to be unarmed, not taking sides. It works. Some of the violence was reduced."

The couple returned from Columbia in 2003 and late last year received a call asking them to go to Iraq. After considering it for 48 hours they accepted and made plans to visit their four children and nine grandchildren in New England and Ohio.

"We're not foolhardy people," Whiteside said. "We made a commitment that we would be reservists and the next logical step is for us to go. We never dreamed we'd be going to Iraq, but, lo and behold, that's where we ended up."

The couple left, each with one carry-on bag and the prayers of their Hyde Park United Methodist Church members who prayed for them on a daily basis and followed their progress on the CPT Web site.

"All of our people here were praying for us and with us," Whiteside said. "You feel something when you know people are behind you in that way."

BAGHDAD - Barbed wire surrounds the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Baghdad. It is surrounded by 10-foot high concrete walls and razor wire and is guarded by guns and tanks. The hotel has just one entrance and multiple security check points. Photo by Haven Whiteside, Photo #04-0016.

The prayers were needed when mortar shells would explode in the Baghdad night air or the noise fromwar planes or helicopters flying low to avoid being shot would startle the couple awake. During the day it wasn't unusual to see tanks patrol rubble-filled streets, and a common sight was buildings sectioned off behind barbed wire fences, Whiteside said.

"The violence is sporadic," he said. "Everyday life goes on. I didn't know a lot of Muslim people before I went, and now I know these are wonderful Muslims who are having weddings, making a life for their families and trying to go on with their lives."

It is difficult for many Iraqis to go on with their lives after night raids by authorities, Whiteside said, adding the authorities, who may or may not capture the fugitive they are seeking, also pick up all men in the area for interrogation about what they know. He said the men are held for weeks or even months before they are released.

Rose Whiteside said the Iraqi people live with the constant fear of a knock at the door from authorities. She said Iraqi men have been held as long as four months with no charges against them and no access to their families.

"There are no easy answers," she said during a lecture at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in February. "There have been deaths of innocent Iraqis and deaths of young soldiers. There has got to be a better way."

Many of the CPT workers spent their time meeting with human rights organizations and representatives from coalition forces to gather the status of detained men.

Whiteside said despite the stress of living under occupation the Iraqi people harbored no ill will toward Americans.

"They never expressed any hate. They are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met," she said. "They have great sympathy for soldiers away from their families. They had such gratitude to CPT and asked for more to be sent to their country."

Haven Whiteside was considering staying in Iraq for a few extra weeks to cover a gap in the CPT when he awakened two days before they were to depart with a strong desire to leave. He didn't have to fight that feeling because another team filled the gap, and they were able to leave on time. He said it took them a month to adjust to being back home.

"There are hidden tensions of being in that environment," he said. "Now we are back to our normal lives, giving church talks and talking to reporters."

BAGHDAD - A woman looks down on Karrada Avenue here after a bomb killed two civilians. The bomb was intended for United States soldiers on patrol. The soldiers escaped, and an Iraqi interpreter was cut by broken glass. Photo by Haven Whiteside, Photo #04-0017.

If there's anything they have learned it's that occupation is oppressive, even if the occupiers are as nice as United States soldiers, Whiteside said. He said he doesn't know what's next for them, but is willing to go wherever CPT will send them.

For people who don't think they can spend five weeks in Iraq, Whiteside said everyone can place an emphasis on the peacemaking process and peacemaking is everyone's responsibility. He said parents raising children can place an emphasis on peacemaking activities and all people can work toward economic and social justice, wherever they may be.

"This trip greatly enriched our lives," he said. "I just want people to know if God is calling you, follow Him. It can be a wonderful experience. We had an unusual experience, but I wouldn't trade it for the world."

For more information about CPT visit http://www.cpt.org.

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This article relates to Missions.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.




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