Less than a month from right now, I will be in the land that is at the very center of Middle East unrest. I am not being deployed against my will, but voluntarily stepping into the role of peacemaker as Jesus lived and called his followers to emulate. Going to the Middle East wielding the sword of the Spirit isn’t as culturally glamorous as going with an automated weapon, but I believe it is the path Christians must walk.
This is a time of unrest and budding hope in the Middle East. Further, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is at the front of international conversation. My professor, Dr. Glen Stassen, offers some commentary of Obama’s recent speech through the lens of Just Peacemaking. Please join me in advocating for God’s Shalom through prayer and social discernment. Also, partner with me in my travels to Israel/Palestine as I offer frequent updates both leading up to my departure and during my time on the ground.
Here is a video (which will soon be a full length movie) highlighting the often untold story of Christians in Palestine.
Something in me wasn’t settled. Not indigestion, but something that still made my stomach a bit weary.
I first heard about this peacemaking mission to the Middle East over a year ago and have been sensing a calling to be part of it from the beginning. With deadlines coming down to the wire, I was feeling unsettled…maybe it was fear? Maybe it was a premonition that needed to be listened to?
I feel distinctly called to be an advocate for peace in places of conflict and within oppressed populations. Further, I feel that God has called me to identify and faithfully tell the stories (primarily through writing) of those that otherwise wouldn’t have a voice. In telling these stories, I hope to expose and ignite the imagination of those of us in the West that are so often insulated from the realities of contexts outside of our own.
Despite this deep sense of calling and conviction, I was second-guessing my participation in this mission. It is going to take great sacrifice for my family and me. Was it the finances? The idea of exposing myself to the political and violent turmoil that is currently littering the Middle East? Was it the fear of being away from my family for two weeks? Would Ruby forget who I was by the time I got back?
Real questions. Hard questions. Fear.
I asked for prayer.
Two guys that I serve alongside in our missional community sat with me and listened for the Spirit’s guidance. About 30 minutes into our time, one of them said, “Jesus doesn’t want us to live in fear. Being faithful to God’s Mission isn’t comfortable, so if you are uncomfortable or fearful but know this is what God is calling you towards, you need to faithfully step into it.”
In other words, fear doesn’t mean no…it means go.
I think Jesus experienced this before being betrayed by one of his own and taken by the Roman authorities. As did Moses when YHWH told him to go before Pharaoh as an advocate for the oppressed people of God.
When we are faithful to walk to the edge of our comfort zone (or right past it!), we are able to get a more full understanding of God’s vocation for each of our lives. It is an understanding that we may never know if we remain in comfortable complacency.
Complacency has no place in God’s Kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we must continually and actively step into the radical call of discipleship.
I am finding this easy to say, but much harder to do.
Milad is my friend and a modern day hero. He loves Jesus, his family and kids who are broken and in need of healing. He works two jobs to support a non-profit he and his wife run, which promotes peacemaking and reconciliation among the youth in the West Bank. Milad’s family is from Jerusalem, but because of their genes, they were forced to move from their home and into Bethany in the West Bank (Palestine) where the average wage is $1/hour.
I stood with Milad while overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, and often speaking with tears streaming down his cheeks, he shared his story (some are paraphrased):
- “I don’t want to change your mind, I am only one man. I just want you to hear our story.”
- “I am a Christian, I love Jesus, but I am treated like a terrorist.”
- “You can’t oppress a whole nation over the terrorist acts of a few.”
- “The Berlin Wall was 3 meters high, this wall is 8 meters. Our oppression only builds hatred and terror.”
- “I will never leave, but I don’t see how there will ever be peace.”
- “Don’t feel sorry for me. With my wife and child, I am very happy.”
Just days before this conversation, I sat in a street side café in Jerusalem with a friend who moved from California to Israel to study to be a rabbi. I was inspired by his story of devotion and conviction as he has given up everything to pursue a faith and way of life that he believes to be God’s call on his life. We laughed, drank good coffee and shared a hug as we departed.
After these two conversations I found myself thinking, “so these two people are enemies? This is the Israel vs. Palestine conflict I have heard so much about?
These two interactions describe well the tension and fractured state of the Middle East. On each side there are beautiful people who share similar hopes and convictions as many of us from the West, yet their failure to communicate has brought about fatal ends.
There are brilliant pictures and experiences of God’s Kingdom breaking through a long history of violence and hatred, but the relationship is still terribly fractured. The pieces are all there, but they are groaning to be rightly put back together. And while we know that they won’t be completely reassembled until God’s final restoration, there is hope in the here and now. The steps are tangible and progress is a present reality.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine is the key to peace among Middle Eastern nations. For the roughly 50 Arab nations, Israel represents the colonialism of the West and Palestine the oppressed natives. As long as Palestinians are reduced to second-class citizens behind the Separation Wall, the Arab nations will view the West as their enemy. Similarly, as long as Israel experiences the random acts of violence from Palestinians, the West will view the Arabs as their enemy. While this is WAY oversimplified, it is clear that we are ALL watching these two people groups struggle to find common ground. This tension is the heartbeat of future international relations between the West and the Middle East.
There is great hope. Leading Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East have agreed to explore and begin to employ the Just Peacemaking Theory in Israel and Palestine. It is unprecedented for all three religions to agree upon the doctrine of a single theory. Just peacemaking is a middle ground between modern pacifism and modern just war theory and was developed by 23 scholars under the leadership of one of my professors at Fuller Theological Seminary, Glen Stassen. Rooted in example of Jesus, the theory offers tangible steps towards dialog and common action.
I feel called to tell this story, tell it well and be an active participant in informing others of the tensions and potential healing. Having been able to study in Israel/Palestine last summer and have everyday interactions with God’s children on both sides of the conflict, I desire to go back as an advocate for God’s Kingdom. Living as a missionary everyday, I see this as an extension of what God has already called me into…this just happens to be in a region half way across the globe.
Glen Stassen, along with other leading Christian/Jewish/Muslim peacemakers, are leading a Just Peacemaking mission this summer in Israel/Palestine. Focused on learning both the Israeli and Palestinian perspectives, it will involve everything from lectures to dialog with high-ranking Israeli officials to a visit to the PLO headquarters in the West Bank to everyday interactions with both Israeli’s and Palestinians. Not only will I receive credit towards my current master’s degree program, I will be part of the team that has the potential to bridge the vast divide of discourse between Israel and Palestine.
While this does fall within my current seminary study, I need financial partners that believe in this mission and believe in me as a future voice in this tension. If I am able to go, I plan to offer on the ground reports of our time in Israel/Palestine and create a platform for dialog. If you or someone you know (individuals, churches, publications etc…) would be interested in partnering with me in this mission, please click HERE. Also, if you are aware of any grants that may be directed towards a mission like this, please let me know.
May God’s Kingdom come in the Middle East (and all the earth) as it is in heaven. Shalom/Salaam.