It’s been in the works for quite some time, but yesterday we announced my participation in a delegation of 13 religious leaders who will be leaving this coming Saturday, February 17, for a trip to Iran. Our delegation, which is being led by the Mennonites and Quakers, will be meeting with a variety of religious leaders (including Christians and Muslims), civil society leaders, a group of female members of Parliament, former President Khatami, and current President Ahmadinejad. The purpose of the trip is to deepen dialogue between religious and political leaders in the hope of defusing tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
As I have been telling people in the last week about my impending trip, I have been getting a number of interesting responses. Some people are worried about my safety (including my wife), because they have vivid memories of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. Others have offered words of encouragement and support, as they are worried that we may be on a course with Iran similar to the tack we took in Iraq, and they hope our trip might help de-escalate some of the tensions between our two nations.
Last weekend I met an Iranian couple here in Washington, D.C., at an event and mentioned my trip to them. They were, of course, very interested about the purpose of my visit, and shared with me some of the beautiful places and sights I should visit while in Iran. But after this somewhat superficial exchange, our conversation began to deepen, as they expressed to me their sadness that the American people don’t really know and understand the Iranian people – that we only know them through the prism of their president and the media images that are beamed through our televisions.
And then the woman became even more serious, and with deep sadness and concern in her eyes asked, “Do you think the U.S. will attack my country?” Though she phrased it as a question, the look in her eyes revealed the hope she had that the answer would be no, but also the real fear that it just might be possible. And then she said, “I’m so glad you are going, and I hope you are successful. When you return, please tell the American people what you have seen and how different the Iranian people are than what the media portrays.”
While I am sure there will be stories to tell about our meetings with high-level government officials, religious leaders, and members of civil society, I do hope to be able to spend time talking with average Iranian citizens: people who, I suspect, have the same hopes and aspirations for peace, security, and prosperity that we have in this country.
We have met with a number of government officials here in Washington, and everyone has been encouraging about our visit during this highly tense time. We met with Senator Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) yesterday, who has been trying to visit Iran since 1989. He gave us some advice and questions to pose to President Ahmadinejad, wished us well, and said we should always be willing to talk with our enemies. It seemed like a fitting send-off for a group of Christians. After all, we have been called to be peacemakers, and without dialogue it’s hard to achieve reconciliation and peace.
I’ll be blogging here on this site about the trip from February 18-25, while I am in Iran. I hope you will join me on this journey and pray that our delegation will contribute to Words, Not War, with Iran.
Jeff Carr is the Chief Operations Officer for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.