During a blazing hot week beneath the Middle Eastern sun, we took a group of 75 kids on a journey “Back to Egypt.” This was the theme for the first of our two summer camps that took place in Bethlehem and included Muslim and Christian children from the city and its surrounding villages.
Musalaha summer camps are in many ways like any other camp with teaching, crafts, games and so forth, but there is an important dimension that is unique to our camps. We deliberately seek to impart principles of reconciliation to our participants who represent communities across the divide. The demographic makeup of our camps includes people from the cities and villages, Christians from a wide spectrum of churches as well as Muslims. This year almost 50 percent of the participants were from Muslim backgrounds, and much of this had to do with the success of the camp the previous year.
Our team decided to impart the principles of reconciliation to the children through the story of Joseph and his brothers. This was the reason for the theme, “Back to Egypt”. The counselors tied in the family dimension of Joseph and his brothers with the enmity, jealousy, and tensions that existed among them. This was something the children and parents who listened to the teaching were able to identify with from their own experiences within their families and community. Their experiences may not have been as severe as Joseph’s, but nevertheless, these human experiences exist in all cultures.
The children learned how jealousy, hatred, favoritism, and discrimination can cause people to do the most horrible things to other family members. Joseph is the hero in the story. He did not allow himself to be confined to the prison of victimization and unforgiveness but decided rise to the challenge instead. He was thrown into a pit, yet chose to take the higher road and forgive. He could have sought revenge but he chose to reestablish his connection with his family at a vulnerable time for him and all of Egypt.
This year we experienced a phenomena where a number of parents attended daily, especially to engage with and learn from the teaching.
One mother from Jenin, a city far from Bethlehem who came with her child said, “Some of the things that impressed me about your camp and made me want to send my child again are the meaningful games, songs, and inclusiveness of everyone. Each child has the chance to express their opinion while at the same learning important principles.”
We are also grateful to our long-time partners and friends from Calvary Community Church in Southern California who came and served this year in Bethlehem. Many of the local counselors were hesitant as to how the team would interact with the children who do not speak the same language. We see how politics affect the perception of the others, even our children. Despite this, the team from the U.S. was able to overcome suspicion, preconceived ideas and prejudice and one leader even expressed how this was a life-changing experience for her.
One of our local leaders who participated in our youth leadership training summarized it this way;
“This was my second year participating in the camp and though I had a good job opportunity, I preferred to do this because it enriches my life and I know that it enriches the lives of others. It is very touching for me to see a group of local leaders and a team from the U.S. come together, serve the Lord, and bring joy to these young people. I saw how the children’s lives were changed and how they were beginning to change their thinking in the short time we spent together. The most beautiful time for me was teaching the kids the songs and lessons during the teaching hour. Looking at these kids’ faces, I saw joy in their eyes.”