Mine was last summer, August 2018. For 5 days heaven met earth as children from all around ‘the Land’ came together for a Youth Summer Camp, with Musalaha. There I saw Messianic Jews and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians, meet, befriend and celebrate holiday life through meals, arts and crafts, hip-hop, water games, football, volleyball, plays, talent shows, and worship in Hebrew, Arabic and English. There I saw the kingdom of God opened in front of me, where indifference and fear were transformed into love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control all dancing with one another. There I saw the roots and the heart of Christ.
From afar, reconciliation between followers of Christ doesn’t seem a big challenge, although we only need to look at the various denominations and traditions within each denomination to know there are challenges. From ‘the Land’, cultural, religious, historical, linguistical economic, political differences have become walls, echoing the physical wall that separates communities. These children grow up in a society, on both sides, where befriending ‘the other side’ is unimaginable… at best. Yet, during one week, children learn to live with, share meals and talk with one another. For one week, they do what Jesus did every time he went on a boat ‘to the other side’, every time he talked to someone who wasn’t a Nazarene, every time he talked to a Roman, a Pharisee, a woman, a child, a person with a disability. For one week, these children come together because of the name of Jesus. Because of the reconciling power of the cross.
And yet, for some of the children and leaders there, the Cross they follow is precisely the source not of their reconciliation but of their rejection. As they follow the cross, some have been rejected by their Palestinian community. Others have suffered and endured dramatic physical persecution that forced them to flee. Others have been rejected from their own church family because they don’t support nationalism but reconciliation as a political agenda. Others are forced to sit on the margin of their community because they converted from Islam.
But this cross, the cross that holds rejection– also holds a promise. Because through the power and victory of the cross, children learn how to speak each other’s language, learn to love each other, learn that the other is simply ‘like them’. And because of their faith in Jesus, and thanks to their parents who courageously send them on holidays to be ‘with that other’, their hearts are ploughed to become fertile soil for radical love and peace.
And because of their faith, their courage, and their witness to the gospel, I am humbled as I realize I don’t endure the cost of the cross in the same way. Because of their faith, I am strengthened in my hope for peace that will come from God’s people. Because of their faith, I am encouraged. If reconciliation can happen there, it can happen anywhere, including in the polarized and divided West. But perhaps for that to happen, we need to pray not that ‘they’ would be more like us, but that we, Europeans or Americans, would be like them, more like these Musalaha children, opened to the other, willing to sit on the fringes, willing to make uncomfortable friendships, willing to see the other as another child of God, willing to take up our cross to follow Him to the other side, reminding ourselves that above all, we are His and in Him, we are one.
Musalaha builds hearts of peace and reconciliation. One at a time. They also built mine.
Author: Rev Carolyne Powell