Daryl Byler, executive director of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, began his "Healing Justice Fast" on Ash Wednesday and continued for 40 days. His daily practice included writing a short, encouraging letter to President Donald J. Trump based on reflections from the Presbyterian Daily Lectionary. Though Trump never responded, Byler's Tweets and posts were followed by more than 1,100 people from 66 countries. (Photo by Andrew Strack)

Byler ends 40-day Healing Justice Fast

The 40th and final day of Daryl Byler’s Healing Justice Fast began as it had started, with a letter written, and tweeted, to President Donald J. Trump.

Neither Trump, nor his advisors, have shown any notice of Byler’s daily efforts, but that was not Byler’s expectation. The executive director of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding had other reasons for fasting and for reflecting, as he has daily since Ash Wednesday, on the passages of the Presbyterian Daily Lectionary.

This final missive, though, shared a soul still restless: “When I would wake at night during this fast, my prayer for you has been that you would have a Damascus Road encounter like the one Saul experienced,” writes Byler. “Saul’s dynamic energies were misfocused until he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. It changed his life. And his considerable gifts became channeled in ways that changed the world for the better.”

The choice is whether to govern by “domination, power politics and strong arming,” or by “collaboration, consensus-building, humility and service,”— the former divisive and conflict-ridden, the latter that modeled by Jesus.

“Mr. President, which road will you choose?”

Byler’s daily reflections during the Healing Justice Fast were followed by more than 1,100 people from 66 countries.

Read the posts here.

From Ash Wednesday until the Sunday before Easter, Byler partook only of juice and water, reading and writing as he sought clarity—through God’s presence and wisdom—in a challenging time both for his own leadership, and that of his country.

“Fasting for me is a way of centering and calling attention to important issues,” Byler said, before beginning the fast. “Typically in the Bible, fasting is used at a time when there does seem to be a lot at stake, as an expression of placing oneself in a posture of deeply listening to God and one’s self and to others.”

The fast spanned 40 days of the president’s first 100 days in office: from the March 6 travel ban to the March 17 “America First” budget, which called for $54 billion increase in military spending and $3 billion for a border wall, to the failure of Congress to take action March 24 on the Affordable Care Act and an April 6 air strike on Syrian air bases in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack.

Byler also mourned the loss of EMU alumnus and UN official M.J. Sharp, kidnapped and killed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo with two others.

The consequences of some of these actions have resonated through CJP faculty, staff and students — not only those currently on campus — but also those waiting on visas to travel to the Summer Peacebuilding Institute. One woman, unafraid to dialogue with violent extremists in her own country, has decided not to come to SPI. She fears a negative reception.

On a daily basis, Byler says he was reminded of the importance of Anabaptist values of peace and nonviolence, and of the extra-ordinary opportunities of the work that he shares with colleagues at EMU and around the world.

Several people joined Byler on his fast, some for days at a time and others for specific days. Another promised to set aside time for daily prayer in his support and for the president.

Byler says he was grateful for the companionship on the journey. Of the hundred emails he received, the majority expressed gratitude for his efforts, for the integration of faith with commitment towards building peace and the healing power of justice.

His words are a daily “challenge and inspiration,” wrote one reader. Another expressed thanks for the clear direction that “we all need to listen and that we are all responsible for repairing the deep divisions in our country and church communities right now.”

In the end, the fast “changed me,” Byler said, “reminding me of just how deeply held and dissimilar the views of those on the left and right are about President Trump. But wrestling with the Daily Lectionary readings each day also made me more hopeful about God’s readiness to transform and redeem even the most hopeless seeming of situations – if we are willing partners.”

Discussion on “Byler ends 40-day Healing Justice Fast

  1. How encouraging that someone would let our nation’s administration know that there is a better way of pursuing justice in the world rather than through military action and threats. Thank you Mr. Byler for your example.

  2. Thank you Daryl, for modeling a listening, loving, and prayerful approach to the deep divides in our human family.

  3. Thank you Daryl for sharing your journey with us. We rarely know whose lives (beyond our own) we have touched or what fruit our efforts will yield but we do know that nothing is lost and no time is wasted when it is given to God.

  4. We hope with you to see more health and good decisions in the world. Thanks for your witness.

  5. Of only EMU administration was fasting for healing and justice concerning how it handles it’s own sexual abuse scandals. I’m glad Daryl is doing this, but let’s not forget about that EMU is a power who has not sought justice and restoration in its relationships with its own constituents who have been abused.

    I would love to see EMU participate in
    “God’s readiness to transform and redeem even the most hopeless seeming of situations – if we are willing partners.” But they have said no to this to protect themselves. EMU, listen to Daryl’s words if you are going to post them

  6. Thank you, Daryl, for expressing your innermost thoughts with conviction and with truth for a torn world that could become more peaceful and just if leaders could model the way of Jesus.

  7. Though this fasting is noble, it is painful to watch EMU continue promote this story, as it fails to address its own abuse of power and complicity in harming people over these past few years. The irony is not lost on us.

  8. Thank you, Daryl, for bearing witness to Jesus in this way, for bravely being on task, for being an example and inspiration to me of what can be accomplished in reliance on the Holy Spirit. Thank you!

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