Story Magazine

Fourth Quarter, 2004

Ministry at a Flashpoint

by Marc Hequet, special correspondent

Mark Brown, far right, and his family

When a suicide bomber strikes 500 meters from your doorstep, it's a dark day to look on the bright side-- but Rev. Mark Brown, '82, tries.

"It's easier to be a faithful Christian here," he says quietly, "You're prompted every day to wake up and reaffirm that today is the day that the Lord has made."

The Lord makes strange days for Palestinians and Israelis, locked in a struggle for the same Holy Land. The September attack in Jerusalem near Brown's home and office killed the Palestinian woman bomber and two Israeli police officers.

Patient optimism may serve Brown well in his new job. He started in April as Lutheran World Federation's regional representative for Jerusalem and the Middle East.

Rev. Paul Wee, '63, professor at George Washington University, says he and other friends of Brown were "elated" at the appointment. Adds Anna Rhee, a consultant with Churches for Middle East Peace in Washington, D.C.: "Mark was always able to see the hope and the positive. He has this fantastic quality about him to be able to remember the longer term vision, to remember why we're all in it and to keep that hope alive."

Brown inherited a mounting crisis. LWF's Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem mainly serves poor Palestinians, a flickering hope for an angry people. Israel, however, has yanked AVH's tax exemption and is walling out hospital staff.

The hospital had been exempt from taxes under a 1967 deal, but in 2002 an Israeli court terminated the agreement. A hearing on LWF's appeal will be May 17, 2005. A loss in the case would add a potentially crippling tax burden of five percent, or $600,000 per year, to LWF's costs.

Meanwhile, Israel's security wall to keep out terrorists will separate the hospital from the homes of 85 percent of its staff, including 27 of its 30 doctors. Getting to and from work will be harder--impossible, if staff can't get travel permits.

Together, the moves may drive the hospital out of business--making Palestinians' lives still harder and fueling still more violence.

"To this seemingly hopeless situation, Mark Brown brings a rare gift," says Wee. "Trust. He is well known and trusted by the Palestinian leadership as well as by leaders in the Israeli government. Both know that he can listen with empathy but also that he is capable of speaking a very clear and often hard word."

Brown's career issues are peace, justice and poverty. He first visited the Middle East as an undergraduate and returned as a Luther Seminary intern in Egypt. After graduation and ordination in 1982, he joined ELCA's Division for Global Mission, moving to the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs in Washington, D.C., in 1991. He has organized initiatives to combat poverty, fight HIV, get rid of land mines and cancel poor nations' debt.

He has years of experience in the Middle East. In Ramallah, West Bank, he taught ethics and religion at a girls' school and was assistant pastor at Lutheran Church of Hope, a Palestinian Christian congregation. He  also served as director of the Jerusalem office for the Middle East Council of Churches.

With LWF, Brown will go slowly. It may be the only way to go in the anguished Holy Land. Brown's mission is nothing less than peace and justice.

If that makes him a dreamer, he's not alone. "Jesus took sides," says Brown. "He was there for those who were oppressed and those who were suffering."

Getting Involved

Rev. Mark Brown asks Luther Seminary alumni/ae and others to write members of Congress asking them to press Israel to restore Lutheran World Federation's tax exemption.

He also invites congregations to organize Holy Land trips with synagogue and mosque partners to build interfaith support for a just solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Visitors are welcome to contact him about touring LWF programs.

E-mail him at Mark@lwfjerusalem.org for more information.