Featured Reviews, VOLUME 1

FEATURED: CPT’s 118 DAYS [Vol. 1, #33]

“Faithful Unto Death

A Review of 118 Days:
Christian Peacemaker Teams
Held Hostage in Iraq
,
edited by Tricia Gates Brown.

By Chris Smith.


118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams
Held Hostage in Iraq.
Tricia Gates Brown, editor.
Paperback. CPT. 2008.
Buy now from: [ CPT $15] [ Amazon ]

118 DAYSFor twenty years now, the Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) have been calling the Church to be more intentional in bearing witness to the peace of Christ in some of the worst conflict situations of the modern world.  In recent years, their work has focused primarily on the conflict regions of Iraq, Palestine and Colombia.  Stories of their work have been recorded in books like Shane Claiborne’s Iraq Journal 2003, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s To Baghdad and Beyond and Getting in the Way, a collection of essays edited by Tricia Gates-Brown.  Since October 2002, CPT has been working in Iraq, befriending the Iraqi people, praying for peace and documenting human rights abuses.  On November 26, 2005, two CPT members (Tom Fox and Jim Loney) and two CPT-associated peace advocates (Norman Kember and Harmeet Sooden) were kidnapped in Baghdad, a story that was thrust into the spotlight of world news for many subsequent weeks.  The story of this kidnapping has now been captured in a new book 118 Days: Christian Peacemaker Teams Held Hostage in Iraq.


118 Days tells the story of the kidnapping, the murder of Tom Fox and ultimately the release of the other three prisoners from a number of perspectives, including friends and family of the prisoners, CPT members and the prisoners themselves.  The reader is immersed in the pain of CPT members in Iraq and around the world as they prayerfully endure day after day of the kidnapping, offering support to the prisoners’ friends and families and grappling with the media deluge.  The fruits of many years of CPT’s work for peace in the middle-east are demonstrated in the support that they were shown by the Muslim community during this crisis, including the Al-Quds conference of Muslim scholars.  The most poignant pieces in this collection, however, are perhaps the final two – Jim’s tribute to Tom and the statement of forgiveness issued by the three surviving prisoners.  Jim’s tribute, “No Greater Love,” tells the story of Tom’s captivity experience and concludes:

“You are a martyr.  Not the passive, doormat, too-good-to-be-true kind whose eyes roll heavenward and leave behind empty white sockets but the kind that though for himself, gnashed against chains, and rolled up his sleeves … You are a martyr because God gave you the grace to stand and bear witness, even to death, to the one truth authorities can’t bear and those in despair forsake, that things do not have to be as they are.  Your life is a witness that a different world is possible” (219).

 

The statement of forgiveness bluntly names the kidnapping as a “wrong,” but extends forgiveness to the captors with a plea that these oppressors would not be put to death, which would only perpetuate a cycle of violence.  This statement, from three men who endured almost four months of captivity in a foreign land, is a powerful witness to the way of Christ that calls us to love our enemies even in the most oppressive of situations.


Another significant contribution of this book is the paradigm of media interaction that CPT set forth during this crisis.  This paradigm is described in the most detail in Tim Nafziger and Simon Barrow’s essay “Writing Peace out of the Script.”  Barrow and Nafziger speak plainly of the “dominant narrative” expressed in the media, namely that CPT’s work in
Iraq was naïve, idealistic and irresponsible, and that the prisoners’ “chance of getting out of this are limited” (139).  The authors identify three primary objectives in their media efforts: 1) to ensure that the highest probability that the prisoners would be released unharmed; 2) to proclaim facets of truth and justice in this story that were obscured by the “dominant narrative” and 3) to offer a “direct challenge” to false information as it arose.  This sort of media interaction, as a distinctively Christian approach deserves the careful reflection of all those Christians who would find themselves in a position of engaging the media.


118 days also reflects a little known facet of this kidnapping story – i.e., Jim’s sexual orientation as a gay man.  This fact was kept concealed during the crisis for fear that it would incite the kidnappers to greater violence against Jim.  CPT is to be commended for resisting the whitewashing of two potential publishers who ultimately objected to the presentation of this side of the story in 118 Days, leading CPT to self-publish this volume.  Although Jim’s sexual orientation is only a small part of a much larger story, it is a part of that story and thus should not be censored.  Rather, let us recognize the wonderful opportunity that is presented for discussing the place of sexuality in the mission of the Church.


The early Christian martyrdom story of Perpetua and Felicitas opens with this probing question:

If ancient illustrations of faith, which both testify to God’s grace and tend to humankind’s edification, are collected in writing so that by the studying of them God may be honored and humanity may be strengthened, why should not new instances also be collected that are equally suitable for both purposes?

Indeed, 118 Days is precisely this sort of modern day story of Christian faithfulness in the face of oppression.  May we be moved by this story to embody more fully Christ’s way of peace and reconciliation!

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C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com


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