Friday, December 22, 2006

 

Post-Trip Reflections

Barbara Hallows, Princeton, NJ

Experience with host family
Linda and I stayed with a Palestinian Christian family, a mother and her two teen-age daughters, living in Beit Sahour outside Bethlehem. It was wonderful to return and relax with that family after our intense experiences during the day. We often met in the evening with sisters, cousins, nieces and nephews in family gatherings at the grandparents’ home and experienced their closeness and comraderie. Family members would laugh and talk together, and the young children would dance to music on the TV. The grandfather showed us his artwork and played his colorful guitar. He gave Linda and me some pictures of the Holy Family and olive wood crèche scenes that he had made.

But we also learned of their difficult experiences negotiating the separation barriers. Our host’s cousin told how he tried to cross into Jerusalem to go to work at a construction site and was detained for several hours by a crossing guard. He said that he needed to return to care for his children, and the guard finally let him go, but said, “Don’t ever come back here again or you will be imprisoned.”

Linda and I especially enjoyed interacting with Andrea, the older teenage daughter in our family. She was interested in everything about us and spent a lot of time with us in her bedroom, where we were staying while there. She showed us her art supplies and was interested in Linda’s artwork. Linda gave her some art supplies and sketched a picture of her and of other members of the family. I made some hanging Origami paper cranes for them and crocheted wrist bands for Andrea and her sister and a cousin. It was a wonderful experience for us to interact so intimately with the family.

How the experience has changed me
Since I have returned I am very tuned in to news of Israel/Palestinian Territories, and I am much saddened to hear about continuing violence there, especially in Gaza. Every day I receive email messages from peacemaking groups that I have connected with, e.g. Israel Palestine Network, and from folks in our own group. I have learned about other people here who are concerned about peace in that area, and I am making connections with them. Also, I am experiencing Christmas in a different way this year. From staying with host families in the Bethlehem area I see beyond the peaceful manger scene with shepherds and wise men visiting the baby Jesus. It makes me sad to know that the area where the Prince of Peace was born is so disrupted now. I want to help in some way to bring peace to this troubled land. But first, I realize that I must go beyond viewing the birth of Jesus as an outside event and bring his birth into my heart, to “prepare him room” there. In this way I may be equipped to be a peacemaker.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

 

A Road Map for Peace


TRENTON: Westminster Presbyterian Church Welcomes Parish Associate to reflect on Israel/Palestine trip. December 10, 2006.

Before I left to go on a mission trip to the Middle East, Pastor Karen Hernandez-Granzen invited me to preach in December. When I returned, I found out that I was scheduled to preach on December 10th, the 2nd Sunday in Advent, when we light the candle of Peace, which is also Human Rights Day. I knew while I was on my trip that I would have the opportunity to preach and share my experience with my worshiping community.

Yesterday was the first time, except for a few intimate friends, that I shared my journey. I tried to state it through the eyes of my host family, a teenager from Berzeit University, two men who are a part of the Parents Circle group and all the children that I could possibly remember. What I didn’t anticipate were the emotions that I would experience during a hectic work week schedule, with not a lot of time to spare.

Thanks to Ted Settle, I was able to make a beautiful bulletin with the City of Jerusalem on the front. I began with the image of Jerusalem and ended with Bill McQuoid’s collage of Palestinian Children.

During Worship in the Arts for the Child in All of Us, I was able to dedicate the olive wood crèche to Westminster. I had fun with the children, asking them if they remembered their birth, which many acknowledged that they did. I showed the congregation the spot where Jesus was born and where the troth might have been, along with contemporary pictures of what Bethlehem looks like today.
PS: There were more children than there were seats! Praise God!

I wrote a sermon, which I began to edit for the blog, but realized that even though I wrote one, I took the liberty of telling stories through 2/3 of it. The stories began with Rafat and Mary. Then I moved to a bit about what we saw, including pictures of the walls. I spoke a bit about the media, and then told the story of Akram from Beirzeit University as a witness to the checkpoints and how people are played with like pawns. I ended my sermon with stories and photographs of the children. I concluded with a message of hope. I realized how desperately I need to do that in the middle of the week! I shared about the 31 peace-making groups, but lifted up the groups and schools that work specifically by teaching and modeling non-violence and reconciliation. Wouldn’t this most likely raise a generation of people who might do something differently?

I capitalized on the metaphor, Road Map to Peace. We learned that this is how each side of the conflict might come to consensus about a solution. I suggested that we each need our own road map.

I have been personally challenged over the last 30 days by a relationship that I struggle with in my own life. This forced me to ask the question, “How do we look at conflict in our own lives?” If we are preparing for the prince of peace, our reconciler, it should not be that difficult to get along with our family member, colleagues and people who believe in Christ? Right?
The reason that I am taking this “blog time” is because my church embraced this message. I felt free to lift my eyes from the text and share the stories that touched my life when I was in the Holy Land.

Yesterday was a busy day, we had a baptism, which affected many people in different ways. We discovered that Inae was meant to be raised by Westminster Presbyterian Church. She had lived in the neighborhood, but only by a mere coincidence--is there such a thing-- her guardians, who are her grandparents, happen to be members of the church. As the newest member of the church, Inae is an example that I was able to use for our road map of peace. We can practice non-violence and love with our commitment to her--to all children in our lives.

I can certainly share stories of pain and hope. I can put images on a multi-media screen to move people, but how do those that didn’t make the trip become motivated toward justice? I think we have to take it personally.

“What this text has forced me to look at is my own way to peace. Sure, I can share the awful plight and state the facts of what I saw, the injustices and the hope. I can show you pictures, so that you will become more engaged. But, what good does it do, if we don’t have our own way of dealing with peace. Where do we stand in our own relationships, when there is conflict? What is our own road map to peace? How do we prepare the way for God to enter our own lives?”

Yesterday many people came up to me afterwards and thanked me. They said things like, “I had no idea that you would have to be careful about how you say things” . . . .or “thank you for telling us about the media, I had no idea that we were not getting the full picture.” I even heard, “I appreciated that you told the truth!” I am not talking about patting me on the back because I did a good job, but I got thanked for bringing the message to my worshipping community, who not only loves and cares for me, but prayed for all of us and continue to do so.

I thank God for Westminster Presbyterian Church. We are a community that tries to be creative and authentic to the worship of God. However, the freedom to express myself, using pictures and liturgy from the Human Rights Liturgy, PCUSA, is something that was a blessing. I know that many churches would not have had the courage.

This service was taped, so we might have a copy for our archives. As we continue to gather, reflect on scripture and pray for the wisdom to speak the truth, I want to say thank you to my church for letting me be who God has called me to be.

Marcia MacKillop, Parish Associate

Saturday, December 09, 2006

 

Trip Newsletter

The following is from a newsletter I wrote for my home church as I reflected upon our trip.

A Journey to the Holy Land

The Bible is filled with different images of the Holy Land: the majesty of God’s creation reflected in the mountains, deserts, and streams; the horrific battles between the Israelites and neighboring armies; the vision of a new Jerusalem where all people will gather in praise of God; Christ’s tears for the people of Jerusalem as they turn away from peace. As Mike and I traveled through Israel and Palestine for two weeks this November, we were greeted with similarly contrasting images. We witnessed violence, oppression, and suffering amidst the beauty of the Biblical landscape.

It was an amazing opportunity for us to deepen our faith as we experienced the land where our Savior walked and as we met Christians whose roots go back to the early church. As we visited the Old City of Jerusalem with its thousands of years of history, our own country’s few centuries of existence paled in comparison. We imagined ourselves living in the Holy Land and worshipping each week at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulcher – the traditional site of Christ’s crucifixion and burial – or visiting the garden tomb at the edge of the city, where some believe Jesus was buried. What would it be like to spend every Christmas in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem where Christ was born? Or to drink from Jacob’s well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman? Or to wade in the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River? We would better appreciate Biblical history if we lived in this land surrounded by ancient archaeological sites: visiting palaces and fortresses built by Herod the Great, touching the remains of the outer wall of the temple, walking on Roman roads still in use today, seeing villages where Old Testament prophets were born, and visiting the tombs of Abraham and Sarah. As we took all this in, we felt amazed, spiritually enriched, full of peace, and deeply connected to the Bible.

Such feelings were in great tension with the reality of life we witnessed as we traveled beyond the tourist sites into the Occupied Palestinian Territories, to towns like Bethlehem, Jericho, Hebron, and Ramallah. We soon found that most of the Biblical sites we had visited are not accessible to the Christians who live in the West Bank. Our sense of the holiness of the land was shattered by the ominous concrete wall surrounding Bethlehem, where we stayed for five nights with Palestinian Christian families. As a security defense for Israel, the wall creates a jagged border between Israel and the West Bank for nearly 100 miles. It encircles some Palestinian communities completely, divides one Palestinian town from another, and separates villagers from their own olive orchards and farmland. When we drove the short distance between Jerusalem to Bethlehem, we passed an Israeli military checkpoint before we reached the wall. This was easy for us as Americans, but most of the Christians we met in Bethlehem have been unable to leave that community for the past six years to work in other towns or go to Jerusalem for Christmas. This was one of the many checkpoints in Palestinian territory that our tour bus passed through with ease.

Only once did we begin to experience what Palestinians endure each day traveling from one town to another. When we arrived at Nablus, a Palestinian city that is the home of Jacob’s well, we had to leave our bus behind and cross through the checkpoint on foot. Although Nablus is located far from the Israeli border and is under Palestinian governance, Israeli soldiers monitored everyone who entered or exited the city. After touring Nablus by taxi, our group was held up as we neared the checkpoint to rejoin our bus. We joined a line of Palestinians waiting to cross the checkpoint on foot. Many of them were university students returning to their own towns at the end of the day. The women in our group made it through the checkpoint after about 20 minutes, but the men’s line was hardly moving, since Palestinian males were subject to lengthy questioning and searching. As I waited for my husband, I imagined myself as a Palestinian woman doing this each day, worrying that my husband might offend the Israeli soldiers. The men finally returned to the bus after an hour, but only because they had been allowed through the women’s line since they were Americans.

This is one example of the restriction of movement that has crippled the Palestinian economy since 2000. We were told that over 50% of Bethlehem residents are unemployed, and in every Palestinian town we found children begging on the streets. Teachers and other civic workers had been unpaid for months because the Palestinian Authority had not received its usual revenues from the international community. This foreign aid has been withheld since the democratic elections in January 2006, which resulted in a Palestinian government led by Hamas, a political party recognized by the US as a terrorist organization. In the midst of this difficult situation, we were saddened that during our trip around 80 people were killed in Gaza by the Israeli military, many of them women and children. In retaliation, a resistance group fired a homemade rocket into a nearby Israeli community, killing one resident. Although the complicated political situation and violent acts committed by both sides raise controversy in the US, we should not overlook the effect the conflict has on the lives of ordinary people. As Christians, we are called to pray for Jewish Israelis who are living in fear, Arab Israelis who are treated as second class citizens, and the many Palestinians who feel imprisoned in their suffering. As Christmas approaches, let us especially remember our fellow Christians who will celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace in a land devastated by war.

Hope in the Midst of Conflict

Many of the Christian leaders we met in Israel and Palestine told us that they no longer call their homeland the Holy Land because of the terrible violence that has taken place there. They prefer to call it the land of the Holy One, and it is this faith in God’s holiness that sustains them as they endure oppression. The Christians living in the land where Jesus was born are Palestinian Arabs. They are a minority community among the larger Jewish and Muslim populations. Some have Israeli citizenship. Many others live in the Occupied Territories, and we found that the Christian population there has been steadily shrinking as more and more families have immigrated to Europe, Canada, or the US. Some fear that the Christian population will disappear completely within a generation unless true is established in the region.

As visitors witnessing the effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we often felt overwhelmed. What kept our spirits alive was our encounter with organizations working for peace and reconciliation, both Israeli and Palestinian, religious and non-religious, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish. What gave me the most hope were the Christians we met who are so committed to the gospel of Christ that they are able to love their enemies and pray for those who persecute them. We drew hope from those who are determined to remain in their land despite the Israeli occupation, to support the Christian community, and to work for reconciliation. As followers of Christ they recognize that peace does not come through the military defeat of one people by another. True peace comes through reconciliation between people, and in this Christians have a great role to play by encouraging non-violence and forgiveness.

One Christian organization, the Middle East Fellowship, which is based in the US, supports Christian churches in the region and organizes tours, like the one we went on, for American Christians (www.middleeastfellowship.org). Another ministry that we encountered, called Jerusalem Evangelistic Outreach, is committed to sharing the gospel of Christ in the midst of the conflict. JEO helps sustain the faith of the Christian community in Israel and Palestine by supporting churches of all denominations, and it also provides food and humanitarian assistance to families that are the hardest hit by the conflict. This ministry is a strong witness to the love of Christ in a land full of injustice and hatred. Mike and I are partnering with JEO to help American churches learn about Christian work in the Holy Land. If you would like to learn more about this ministry, please contact me at deanna.womack@ptsem.edu.

— Deanna Womack

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?