Family of Ex-Profs Waits In Hopeful Mood

By Leah Nylen, Daily News-Record

Ken and Kathryn Seitz Ken and Kathryn Seitz were expected to be aboard a ship bound for Cyprus this morning. Back home, the Seitz family remained upbeat about the couple who have been on a humanitarian mission to Lebanon.
Courtesy Photo

Sitting together in a room at Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community on Wednesday afternoon, the Seitz family carried on as normal.

Eunice Wenger had come over to give her mother, Grace Seitz, her weekly manicure.

Across the globe, though, Seitz�s son and daughter-in-law, Ken and Kathryn Seitz, are two of the thousands of Americans awaiting evacuation from Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. The Middle Eastern nation has been under siege for a week as Israel continues to fire missiles into Lebanon in an effort to root out the militant Islamic group Hezbollah.

Ken and Kathryn Seitz are humanitarian workers with Akron, Pa.-based Mennonite Central Committee. They also are graduates of Eastern Mennonite High School and former teachers at Eastern Mennonite University, both in Harrisonburg.

As they await the couple�s arrival in Harrisonburg, Ken and Kathryn Seitz�s family is concerned, but upbeat.

‘Trusting in the grace of God’

“We�re hopeful,” said Kenneth Seitz Sr., Ken�s father. “We as a family are less used to transience and not being always sure of just how things will work out. But we�re trusting in the grace of God and trusting that God will take care of us.”

Ken Seitz, 68, and Kathryn, 69, have been working in Lebanon since June 2004. They were scheduled to leave Beirut for the island nation of Cyprus at 1 a.m. EDT today, which is 8 a.m. today in Beirut, the elder Seitz said.

Before the current crisis began, the Seitzes had been scheduled to leave Lebanon at the end of July for a three-month furlough at EMU.

Despite the situation, Wenger, Ken�s sister, said she is not nervous.

“No, I�m not worried. Ken and Kathryn are very capable people,” she said.

Seitz Sr., 89, spoke to his son and daughter-in-law briefly Wednesday afternoon before the couple went to bed.

The couple, who were living in an apartment in Beirut, had moved to a hotel so that a co-worker from southern Lebanon would have a place to stay, Seitz Sr. said.

The couple had hoped to leave for Cyprus on Wednesday morning, but their names were not on the list for the day�s evacuations, Seitz Sr. said.

Once in Cyprus, the couple plans to return to the United States on Saturday, Seitz Sr. said. They hope to be back in Harrisonburg with family by Saturday night.

Before The Evacuation

The couple knows the region and its problems. They have spent time in the Middle East before, Seitz Sr. said.

In 1978, the pair spent a year in Jerusalem. While there, Kathryn taught English at Bethlehem University, Wenger said.

A few years later, the Seitzes returned to Jerusalem for three years while Ken Seitz worked with peace organizations in the region.

“They have a lot of experience in the Middle East,” Seitz Sr. said. “They lived there for a three-year period in Jerusalem during the Intifada. Being in the Middle East is always quite tentative. So this is not surprising, although it came very suddenly and unexpectedly.”

The Intifada was a series of violent uprisings among Palestinians in Israel during the 1980s and 1990s.

While in Lebanon, the Seitzes have supported local humanitarian organizations, Seitz Sr. said. They have worked with Palestinian refugees, Sudanese refugees and an orphanage for troubled youth, among others.

Friends and Acquaintances Praying

Seitz Sr. said many friends and acquaintances have promised to pray for his family and Ken and Kathryn as they are evacuated. While the family appreciates the support, they hope the community does not forget the residents in the war-torn area.

“We don�t want to be overly concerned with our son,” Seitz Sr. said. “We want people to be concerned with the other people who are in danger or suffering or who have lost family members, and the situation in general.”

The younger Seitz is not optimistic about a quick end to the fighting, his father said.

“[Ken] said the situation was not very hopeful right now,” Seitz Sr. said. “There is no immediate end or resolution to the war situation as he sees it now. It�ll probably be quite a while until things settle down.”

Despite the continued fighting, the Seitzes plan to return to the region at the end of their three-month furlough in Harrisonburg, their family says.

“Ken and Kathryn said they will be needed more than ever,” Wenger said.