When planning for our family conference this year we focused on recruiting younger family leaders. The younger leaders are generally more open to listening, meeting people from the other side, and rising to the challenge of leading their respective communities in reconciliation initiatives. In the months leading up to the conference, we heard comments from both sides that expressed fear and suspicion toward the other. From August 10-17 eight Israeli families and eight Palestinian families met in Karlsbad, Germany at the Langensteinbacher Hohe. Our German hosts were generous and kind, and we are very grateful for all the time and energy they invested in preparing the facilities and providing the space for our Israeli and Palestinian participants to encounter one another. For many in attendance, it was their first time developing deep relationships with people from the other side, as well as the first time they had the opportunity to worship in both Hebrew and Arabic.
We have been blessed with several projects for the youth department this summer, but at the same time we have struggled with recruitment this year more so than previous years. It was especially felt in the weeks leading up to the camp. Every morning, this would be a subject of prayer during our staff meetings. It was almost a challenge of faith as well. And then it began, two weeks prior to camp, children from all over the country were registering.
Leading up to this summer, we were praying daily for recruitment for three summer camps and three international encounters (Holland for our youth, Norway for our young adults, and Germany for our family leaders). We generally deal with the challenge of recruitment, but this year has proven to be particularly difficult. Some of our staff members became very discouraged as they were investing significant amounts of time and energy to make phone calls, write e-mails, and visit people in order to find participants, but all of this resulted in limited registration. In any line of work, when you become discouraged, the work ahead of you becomes even more daunting.
Every year, between 20-30 new Palestinian and Israeli young adult believers join Musalaha’s desert encounter program. The participants meet each other for the first time, in many cases meeting someone from the other side for the first time, and share a week of challenging and meaningful experiences together. By the end of the trip, the members of the group usually express feeling impacted by their encounter, and the program is summarized on a warm and positive note.
Musalaha’s Spring Youth Desert Encounter completed another year of taking 30 Palestinian and Israelis teenagers and youth leaders to the desert as they embarked on a reconciliation journey. Few, from this equally mixed group of guys and girls were acquainted with each other before boarding the bus, yet by the time we reached Chai Bar resort, where we were staying the first night, this group of youth were carelessly chattering away. It was clear to me that some of the girls regarded the prospect of spending 3 nights under the stars on desert dunes and going 4 days without a shower with apprehension, but that adolescent burst of energy was not lacking. The 8 counselors were also not short on energy as many of them had participated as youths. It was so exciting to see a new generation of leaders coming up through Musalaha’s programs.
In our March women’s conference, I taught a session on remembering rightly. As Passover and Pascha (Easter) approach, I would like to share some thoughts on our conflict and situation. These holidays have shaped the history of the world and our understanding of God’s sovereignty and intervention in our lives. Passover and Pascha teach us many things, including ways to remember well. How can we remember our history, communally and individually, in light of the Exodus and Resurrection? This is something we must all think creatively about as we seek God’s will for our lives. Coming to a proper understanding of what has happened to us and the redemptive plan God has for us will allow us to follow God more wholeheartedly, and serve others with more compassion and understanding.
When visiting Detroit this past January, I had the opportunity to visit the Henry Ford Museum. One particular exhibit was very emotionally moving to me. The museum houses the Rosa Parks bus that she sat in on December 1, 1955 when she refused to give up her seat for a white man. I had the opportunity to sit in the very seat she sat in on the bus that fateful December day in Montgomery, Alabama, and as I sat there, so many thoughts came to mind.
I just returned from speaking in the Detroit area of the US. While there, I heard a pastor share his shock at Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich’s inflammatory comments about the Palestinian people this past December. As someone who has spent quite a bit of time in the Holy Land and who has become closely acquainted with both the Israeli and Palestinian communities, this pastor was dumbfounded that a prominent leader could make such a claim without any significant reaction from his peers.
We often share with you regarding our work between Palestinian Christians and Israeli Messianic Jews. But we have another area of work where we focus on bridge-building initiatives between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. In Romans 12, Paul calls us to live at peace with everyone. Our role as the salt of the earth requires us to reach out to our community and deal with the prejudice, offense, and mending of relationships between us and others. Many times when the relationship between Muslims and Christians is highlighted in the news, we hear about clashes and conflict. In turn, we sometimes react with fear and suspicion of the other. In the face of religious and ethnic conflict, we often turn inward instead of turning outward and making overtures toward the other side.
During the holiday season, we often talk about light and its benefits: warmth, clarity, discernment, and blessing. We talk about Jesus as the light of the world, and we light the candles for Christmas/Hanukkah, remembering these miracles of light. But one of the reasons we value light is because of the surrounding darkness. As the holidays approach, it is easy to look around and see this darkness. In the Middle East today, whenever we read the newspaper, turn on the television, or listen to what people are discussing around us, we hear a back and forth about imminent war, the lost opportunity for peace, and the ever-present Israeli-Palestinian conflict.