British Baptist leaders asked churches to pray during the Christmas season for a kidnapped British hostage and three fellow captives being held in Iraq.
Norman Kember, 74, a longtime member of Harrow Baptist Church in London, was with two Canadians and an American from the Christian Peacemakers Team abducted at gunpoint Nov. 26 after the group was ambushed at a mosque in a dangerous part of west Baghdad.
A previously unknown group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigades took credit for the kidnappings and threatened to kill the hostages unless all Iraqis detained by U.S. or British forces were released by Dec. 10.
Nothing has been heard from the captors since a video released Dec. 7. Supporters took that as a hopeful sign that the four hostages are likely still alive and the longer the kidnappers continued to weigh their options beyond the original Dec. 10 deadline the better.
David Coffey, general secretary of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, and Graham Sparkes, head of the BUGB faith and unity department, met Dec. 18 with Kember’s wife of 45 years, Pat Kember. They took part in a Sunday service at the church on College Road in the London borough of Harrow. Also attending the service was Pat Took, regional minister team leader for the London Baptist Association.
“I want to encourage all our Baptist churches to stand in solidarity with Norman and Pat and the family this Christmas,” Coffey, who was elected this summer as president of the Baptist World Alliance, said in a statement. “I hope they will be in our prayers as there is as yet no resolution to the situation faced by Norman and his fellow-captives, who were in Iraq on a mission of peace.”
A retired physics professor, father and grandfather, Kember flew to Iraq Nov. 17 for what was supposed to be a two-week Christian Peacemaker Team delegation. While the program of Brethren, Quaker and Mennonite churches in the United States and Canada has 40 full-time and 125 reserve peacemaker corps members, Kember was a volunteer.
A lifelong campaigner for peace and reconciliation, beginning with his working as a hospital porter instead of any form of military service at age 18, Kember is a former secretary of the Baptist Peace Fellowship of the UK, a sister organization to the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, and a trustee of Fellowship for Reconciliation, an international group committed to peace and nonviolence.
The other activists are Canadians James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, and American Tom Fox, 54, a Quaker from Clear Brook, Va.
While the captors believed the four men were spies, CPT says they were there to meet with Iraqis, non-governmental organizations and the military to discuss rights abuses.
“Norman has spent his life promoting peace among any form of aggression,” said a statement by Kember’s family. “His recent trip to visit the people of Iraq serves to highlight his willingness to listen to people from all backgrounds and his determination to promote equality amongst all people.
“He has gone to Iraq to listen not convert; to learn from the Iraqi people not to impose values; to promote peace and understanding.”
The statement went on to say that Kember has given presentations and talks on peace and participated against demonstrations against nuclear weapons. He has worked for fair trade and reducing poverty and for the past 10 years has each Sunday given away food to homeless people in central London.
His pastor, Bob Gardiner, said of Kember that “few people have so assiduously, committedly and imaginatively worked for peace.”
“The church at College Road has been deeply grateful for the hundreds of expressions of support it has received from all over the world, and I know that our Baptist family will want to uphold them too in our prayers,” said Coffey of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.