Credit: David Wilmot/Wikimedia Commons

by Christina Warner

I once heard a story of an Afghan man who brought tea to an American soldier who was standing in the man’s front yard.

I have never visited Afghanistan. But I have been a guest in enough homes where tea is central to the culture to know that by offering tea, the Afghan host not only helped quench the soldier’s thirst but reached across boundaries of culture and politics.

From a position of vulnerability, the host welcomed the occupying soldier onto his land, perhaps leveling the ground between them and highlighting that the soldier was a guest in his home.

Like Jesus offering his cloak or turning the other cheek, this simple gesture had the potential to remind the two of their mutual humanity, something conflict often breaks down through stereotypes and false images of the “other.”

I wonder how the lesson of this Afghan host and the American soldier can be applied to advocacy and Mennonite Central Committee’s presence in Afghanistan. How can advocates be bearers–or perhaps more importantly, beneficiaries–of tea?

Perhaps in offerings of blankets and relief kits.

Perhaps in lives lived and served alongside the people of Afghanistan.

Perhaps through advocating for the removal of political barriers which distort human relationships. Or by supporting policies which reflect the dignity and wisdom of the Afghan people.

The sustained presence of the U.S. military in Afghanistan has increasingly linked military resources with development. Conversely, this means that development is too often linked to U.S. self-interest in the region.

By advocating for policies which highlight the need, wisdom and resources of the Afghan people, perhaps we can help shape policies which reach across the identities imposed on all involved in and affected by the war.

Like the man who offered the tea and the soldier who accepted it, it is possible to overcome these barriers.

As we share MCC’s work and advocacy in Afghanistan we remember MCC service worker and tea beneficiary Glen Lapp (see here). In early August 2010 Glen was killed along with nine other aid workers in Afghanistan. We remember him well, along with readers for whom these discussions will undoubtedly bring his life and death to memory.

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