Editors’ Notes: Today we pause from the normal rhythm of our blog to share the news of Philip Anderson’s death on August 15, 2016. On our first trips to El Salvador the Salvadorans would ask if we knew Phil. As we became more deeply entrenched in giving voice to the people of El Salvador, they would ask Phil if he knew us.
Phil made a call to introduce himself to us and thank us for giving voice to the Salvadoran people. We became part of his ongoing commitment of searching for truth and justice. He appreciated the volume of work in a common cause we share. Phil became a partner in fact checking our stories and helping in any way possible. We visited his Metro D.C. group to share our common ministries on one hazardous, icy January day where we literally slid off the interstate into his parking lot.
Phil’s attitude and work were a blessing. We shall miss him. And now we continue with the words of a dear friend of his, Paul Verduin.
It is with deep sadness that I share with you the fact that the Rev. Philip G. Anderson, a longtime advocate for justice and human rights in Palestine-Israel, Latin America and elsewhere, departed from this life on Monday evening, August 15 at the age of 69, following a two-year struggle with multiple myeloma. Phil died in Minneapolis surrounded by family members, who had taken him there a couple of weeks ago after his disease took a turn for the worse, according to Mavis Anderson, Phil’s spouse of many years.
In addition to the memorial service for Phil that’s taking place in Minneapolis, Mavis told me Wednesday that she hopes a second service honoring Phil can take place here in Washington, DC, Phil’s place of residence for many years while he was not on assignment in Central America or elsewhere. I’ll do my best to keep you informed on this possibility–please let me know if you’d like to attend a service for Phil here in the DC area.
Those of us who were privileged to be acquainted with Phil know that, besides all of his accomplishments (which I attempt to summarize below), Phil Anderson was the soul of gentleness, kindness and patience. In my experience he was the epitome of a dedicated, steadfast Christian minister and disciple of Jesus Christ whose dedication to the cause of justice, and whose compassion for the poor and disadvantaged, were seemingly limitless. I first met Phil at an anti-Iraq-War demonstration in front of the State Department, where with several others he cheerfully lay down on the pavement and got himself arrested and hauled away for his witness against that unjust war. That was the beginning of our longstanding friendship!
Although Phil’s principal focus during his long career as an international development specialist and human rights advocate was on Central America, as many of us know his contributions to the cause of Palestinian rights and self-determination were of considerable significance as well. For several years he served on the board of directors of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace (WIAMEP), and was active in the Middle East Working Group of the Metropolitan Washington, DC Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) as well. Moreover, in 2004 and 2005 he served as interim director of Partners for Peace, a Washington, DC-based NGO advocating peace between Palestinians and Israelis through dialogue and mutual understanding which organized an annual US tour of three Israeli and Palestinian women–one Jewish, one Muslim, and one Christian–during which they spoke to church audiences and other groups in various parts of our nation. In addition, Phil traveled to Palestine and Israel in 1986 and again in 2003-04, visiting Gaza on both occasions. Phil was a great admirer of the Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek and an active supporter of Friends of Sabeel–North America, whose conferences he attended on at least three occasions, he once told me.
But Phil Anderson’s main career focus was on the furtherance of human rights in Central America, to which region he was assigned on numerous occasions. From 1985 to 1990 he was the Lutheran World Federation’s Central America Senior Program Officer, serving in sensitive on-the-ground assignments in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. Among other things, in El Salvador he intervened to protect civilian communities and individuals at risk, and mediated conflict during mass repatriations of Salvadoran refugees from Honduran refugee camps. Phil served with the Lutheran World Federation again in 2008-2010 as its Regional Representative in Central America, directing a 35-person staff and managing a $2 million annual budget. In 1992-93 Phil worked in Guatemala as Ecumenical Representative with the International Consultancy for the Return of Guatemalan Refugees, and successfully mediated a contentious mass repatriation of 4,000 refugees from Mexico to Guatemala. From 2002-2004 he was Executive Director of the Guatemala Human Rights Commission USA, and in 2004 Phil was also a consultant for the Ecumenical Forum for Peace in Guatemala. Then in 2006, as a consultant with US Institute for Peace (USIP), Phil organized and accompanied a three-person delegation to Colombia to assess a potential USIP role in facilitating peace between the insurgent guerrilla movements ELN and FARC. Finally, Phil served with election observer missions in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Mexico, Guatemala, and Haiti during the period 1989-1994.
In the arena of African human rights, Rev. Anderson worked on poverty and hunger issues in the Horn of Africa (and in the US) as a regional organizer with Bread for the World 1990-1994, and as an organizer with the Save Darfur Coalition 2007-2008. Besides all of these internationally focused efforts. Phil also served terms as interim pastor of a Hispanic Lutheran congregation in suburban Virginia and an Ethiopian Oromo congregation in DC.
Rev. Anderson received his B.A. (Social Psychology) from St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota and his M.Div. from Luther Northwestern Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He also studied at the Humphrey Institute for Public Policy at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
We’ll miss you a lot, Phil, but we thank you and we thank God for your friendship, and for all you’ve done for us and for the people of this planet!