Story by Laura Lehman Amstutz
“The world is hungry for the kinds of things taught in our Mennonite schools,” said Daryl Byler, a 1979 graduate of Eastern Mennonite University and 1985 graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary. Byler and his wife, Cindy, administer programs in Iraq, Iran, Israel/Palestine and Jordan for Mennonite Central Committee.
The Bylers visited EMU March 11 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 Byler. “This is what motivates our work and peacebuilding efforts.”
Working at peace and development in this conflict-ridden area of the world, the Bylers face many challenges. “It is difficult to maintain a sense of hope and perspective in a place that has a lot of conflict with the West,” Byler said. “But, we need to look through the eyes of faith.”
One hopeful sign is the great interest the couple sees in Iran and Iraq around building relationships for peace studies and peacebuilding. “There is a huge opportunity for connections to be made that fit with our Anabaptist theology and their interest in figuring out how this works in their culture,” Byler noted.
“Many Middle Easterners are very interested in relationships with Americans and Canadians. They don’t agree with our government policies, but they are interested in friendship,” said Byler.
Another hopeful sign was the couple’s recent efforts to bring together Iraqis who have participated in EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute, 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. “Those things we often take for granted – security, comfort, calm – are not realities 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 Byler. “Having a foundation and a theological lens through which to understand these issues is critical.”
Like Daryl, Cindy – a 1972 graduate of Bluffton (Ohio) University – also values her Mennonite education. “Service to the church was strongly emphasized there,” she said.
The Bylers encourage Mennonites and Mennonite institutions to share the light of Christ as paramount to all reconciliation and peacemaking efforts.
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 earlier by MCC with non-governmental organizations, churches and benevolent societies in each country.