By the way. We were all Christians in this story. But does that really matter? (see the last paragraph to learn more).
This late Spring and early summer (in fact for 12 weeks), Cari and I camped out in Bethlehem to nurture
some ministry partnerships for the new MENA team of Serve Globally
, and explore new ones focused on peacemaking and ministry to refugees in the region. It was also Cari's first time to Israel & Palestine so she had a chance to meet some of my old friends. We spent a lot of time at Jody's home in Hebron for instance, celebrating both of our birthdays, and subsequently breaking Ramadan
fast for an Iftar in late May with his entire family.
During our time in Israel/Palestine, we sought to listen, learn, and advocate
for a just and lasting peace. We observed (meaning--Andy got in the middle of things with his camera) several protests and other important events as the outside world wondered if the tinder box of several important events would erupt--the US Embassy move, Jerusalem Day, the 70 years of Nakba commemoration, and the Right of return protests in Gaza
. One of the more moving experiences for us was standing with Jewish activists near the Gaza border protesting for the rights of Gaza Palestinians. It was remarkable. Deeply encouraging.
Andy also was part of a leadership team for two different tours (mostly but not entirely US) seeking to understand the complexities of the conflict, "touring" and meeting people on both sides of the wall (separation barrier). He also taught/guided a class of Seminary students (from North Park Seminary) studying peacemaking in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. These students, as part of their class, participated in the important "Christ at the Checkpoint"
conference and toured several conflict zones. Needless to say our reflection and experiences were not your typical graduate seminary class--in the comfort of a classroom. We rubbed shoulders with Palestinians, Israeli soldiers, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other internationals. It was rich and difficult, heart wrenching and important. This is the best way to train future pastors and leaders IMHO. It might also be the best way, for anybody, to understand this conflict and what is required to make peace. Btw, if you're interested, part of my job is to take groups for this kind of experience in the Holy Land. Write me if you're interested. Talk it up with your church.
One day in Hebron, in the southern West Bank, we were on a focused tour with a group of students and leaders from around the world--several from North Park Seminary
with my course, a few from other institutions, all joining a group of Palestinians from Bethlehem Bible College
. As we tried to enter the Ibrahimi mosque
(also known as the Cave of the Patriarchs) the Israeli guards wouldn't allow the Palestinians to enter. Remember we're now in Palestine, or the West Bank. The soldiers proceeded to search several of the young Palestinian men in our group, lifting their shirts and aggressively asking questions. The soldiers said the rest of us could enter but we refused to do so, on the premise that these were our friends and we weren't about to abandon them. We did not want to be treated with special privilege
just because we were internationals--iow NOT
We all experienced the jarring aspects of this event in different ways. One of my Palestinian friends started to experience severe PTSD
and related his story of being apprehended from his home in the dark of night as a 12 year old child, and then held in solitary confinement, fed only bread and water for much of 6 months. He committed no crime but was accused of throwing a stone at a protest. Now at 24, he was experiencing a relapse of this horrible memory
, prompted by his encounter with the soldiers. Several of my African-American students gasped as they witnessed this. It resembled what they've experienced back in the US, identifying quickly with our Palestinian friends. Me?
I mostly just felt the inconvenience of not being allowed into the building. But I couldn't say it triggered any particular traumatic symptoms. I mostly felt anger
as I witnessed the harassment of my friends. It brought back memories of several encounters like this from living in Hebron back in 2011 when I'd stand with a young Palestinian for an hour or so at a checkpoint, detained often times just because a soldier was trying to signal who was in control.
On this particular day, the assignment I required for my students seemed particularly relevant. In a chapter from Reconciling All Things
, by Katongole and Rice, we learned that "lament is not despair. It is not whining. It is a cry of those who see the truth of the world's deep wounds and the cost of seeking peace. It is the prayer of those who are deeply disturbed by the way things are."
(p. 78). And for my African-American students and Palestinian friends it became apparent that this "discipline of lament"
is not an an elective for the advanced placement students. Nope. For these friends its part of the core curriculum. It's part of their daily life. To survive and thrive, they must learn the language, and discipline of lament. For more see several of my blog posts on the theme of lament