peacemaking

My Role as a Kingdom Advocate in the Middle East

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.

 

One of War’s Forgotten Casualties

NOTE: While I wrote this post three years ago, it is more relevant today than ever. I just got off the phone with a national leader who works with refugees and he described how his organization gets waves of new refugees after each international crisis. Currently, Syrians and Iraqi’s are pouring in, each with their own traumas, stories and humanity. The UN recently announced that 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced in 2013.

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When pending or actual war invades the headlines of our news outlets and personal attention, we sometimes forget one of war’s worst casualties; displaced civilians.   In Libya alone, 75,000 people fled the country between February 19th and March 11th. Tens of thousands waited and continue to wait at the border seeking protection from their war torn homeland.

So what happens to them once they escape the war and oppression of their homeland?

Simply put, they become refugees who most likely will never be able to return to the life they once lived.  A migrant is one to leaves their country seeking socio-economic recovery, most often because of their homeland is experiencing oppression is some way.  In contrast, a refugee is fleeing physical persecution, oppression and/or war.  Death is an immediate reality.

When a refugee escapes their oppressive homeland, they most often have to live in a refugee camp awaiting resettlement in a more developed country.  While they keep their physical life, their daily reality is remains in dyer straights.  Sometimes refugees live in these camps for up to 20 years awaiting resettlement.

My wife and I work with a refugee family from Somalia each week.  After fleeing persecution in Somalia, they lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for years waiting for resettlement.  They are now in San Diego (which is a resettlement city) living in a crowded apartment complex alongside refugees from dozens of other countries.  The family we work with has 8 members and lives in a tiny two-bedroom apartment.

While modern day refugees have escaped physical death, they have experienced profound social and relational death.  First, they have been forced from their physical homes and the rich culture/heritage that make them up.   Second, a refugee family is NOT resettled alongside the rest of their extended family.  The family of our Somalian friends are now scattered all over the U.S. and Europe.  With their modest income, seeing the family they grew up with is now close to impossible.

The casualty of war that is often overlooked is that of the refugee’s loss of “home.” Everything they would equate with “home” has been taken (physical home, family relationships, culture, etc…).  It is no wonder that refugee’s often cling to their last symbol of “home” in the form of their inherited religion/tradition.  Without a physical setting or extended family, their identity is now only found in such tradition.

For this reason our friends from Somalia quickly cover their heads when we come to their door, have passages from the Quran on their wall and obey a certain diet.  Their tradition is all they have left and it offers them the security of “home.”

From early in the Story, YHWH commanded his people to make a “home” for the foreigner within their community and tradition.  Jesus always had a special place for the deserted outcast and socio-political refugee.  May those that follow Jesus (and those that don’t) mourn the casualty of the loss of “home” for those fleeing Libya today.  And may we honor their traditions while offering them a “home” within ours.

How can we help?

  • THIS is a good article with some suggestions
  • Follow the International Rescue Commission and/or UN Refugee Agency on Twitter to keep up to date
  • Get connected with local organizations that resettle refugees and help them in their transition to a new “home” -- See the IRC and UN Refugee Agency websites for more info
  • Pray and advocate for the stories of the refugees to be told and considered in time of conflict

 

Life in a Neighborhood Where People Get Shot

Moments after posting my last blog discussing the symptoms of a system that promotes a false ideal, I heard that two men where murdered a few blocks from my house.  Those of us that have intentionally moved to Golden Hill to be the presence of Jesus to this community know its history and the violence that is still active here.  With that said, even we can become insulated from its reality.  We ALL walk these streets everyday, it is our home and the place we are raising our children. One of our NieuCommunities staff, Jon Hall, reflected honestly and beautifully on our role in this neighborhood when he wrote this email to a group of us the day after the shooting:

Some of you may know that last night there were two men, a father and son, shot and killed at 30th and C streets. Last night I saw the police lights flashing up my street as they blocked off the stretch of 30th, between B and C. It’s not uncommon for stuff to happen there, so I wasn’t really alarmed. As I went outside to see what was up, I ended up in a great conversation with my neighbor, Mike. I had no idea the tragedy that had unfolded a block away.

This morning, I read a blog post by Jim Wallis in reference to the shooting the other day of Gabrielle Giffords, a congresswoman out of Arizona. Wallis knew Ms. Giffords personally, and asks his readers, as Christians and members of the same national community, “What is our role in this?”

He goes on…

“A central calling for Christians is to be peacemakers. Peace, we understand, is not simply the absence of current conflict, but the presence of a just community. In the midst of tragedy and violence, I believe this means every Christian must ask themselves: “How am I responsible?” What more can we do to bring peace to this world as the Prince of Peace has called us to do? What are the situations and environments that allow this kind of hate and violence to grow? How can I not only stop conflict, but also be a part of bringing about a just community that displays the positive presence of peace?

Wallis references that, when things like this happen in your own neighborhood, it takes on a different reality. I know what he means. Rob posted today on Facebook a prayer that, in light of this murder in GH, we can make a difference. Good thoughts for us to consider, for sure.

I walk that stretch of 30th often, usually with Rover in tow (or him leading me, more accurately). I know many of you often walk the streets of Golden Hill as well, and the reality that we live in a neighborhood where things like this can happen can be sobering.

While I haven’t seen any media reports that say that this is gang related, I have had a few recent encounters with groups of guys that fit the appearance of gang members, including a bit of a creepy encounter 2 weeks at 30th and C. It’s given me a heightened sense of the reality that we live in a neighborhood that isn’t the picture of safety and comfort, yet is a neighborhood that I belong to, and it to me. And it’s made me wonder, as Wallis asks, “What is our role in this?”

Here’s the Wallis post: http://bit.ly/eQ3PsD

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