by Lydia Yang

We started the day off leaving Jerusalem and driving to Nablus to visit Jacob’s Well. Jacob’s Well is significant in Christianity for the story of the woman at the well where Jesus asks a Samaritan woman for water. The Greek Orthodox church built around Jacob’s Well was a beautiful place surrounded by trees and flowers with cats sleeping in the shade. Although the church was a Holy place to allow for people to mediate and pray, it was also a place full of tension. While the church was Greek Orthodox, there have been several Jewish activists protesting the church and wanting to turn it into a Jewish holy site. As we have traveled around to different Holy sites, we have often found ourselves learning of the many conflicts that occur in churches, synagogues, and mosques between different religious groups. In a place of worship and prayer there are too many stories of violence and death. A significant part of this trip has been realizing that there is still much to be done in the church. A church cannot be a church if it is built upon the backs of those oppressed, discriminated and denied entrance. As Disciples, we are called to push pass the obstacles to let those who are on the outside in. We must push past our differences to create unity and foster peace.

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As we walked into the church the first thing we noticed was the colorful chandeliers and the grand image of Jesus and angels across the ceiling. Walking down a flight of stairs, we found ourselves in a cave-like room with the Well located in the front. I was amazed to learn that the Well was 140 feet deep and we were able to watch our tour guide drop a bucket to draw up fresh water. As we all huddled around the well, a cup full of water from the Well was passed around and we all were able to take turns taking a sip. During the debrief at the end of the day, one of our group members, Yvette, talked about how in that moment she truly felt the bond and community as we passed around a cup for us to share. I completely agree with her. In that instance, our differences and backgrounds did not matter, we were all able to take a minute to stop, reflect, and build a stronger community.

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Leaving Jacob’s Well, we traveled to the outskirts of Nablus to the Askar Refugee Camp. Established in 1950, not only does Askar provide refuge to Palestinians who were forced to flee from the violence of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, but it is also a center for the support and development of children. Askar’s Social Development Center helps children live in the area by organizing activities and workshops such as dance, sports, photography, and drama as well as educational support through language classes in order to provide the children with hope. While the occupation kills hopes and dreams, Askar “gives the children a right to dream and hope”. It is a place that gives hope. It is a place where women are also able to participate and help, a place that works as one community – regardless of gender or age. I thought Askar was truly an inspiring place. In a place where houses are rundown and bullet holes fill the walls, hope can still be found. The children were full of smiles and laughter and it broke my heart to know that these bright children are forced to live in such a dangerous environment. Visiting Askar and meeting all the adults and children living there taught me that even in a time where violence and war plagues the world, hope can still be found.

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We finished our day off by visiting a Palestinian Soap Factory located in the heart of Nablus. Before our trip here, we had heard from the group that came two years ago about how amazing the olive oil soap was and we were all very excited to visit and stock up on bars of olive oil soap. The two soap factories we visited were over 800 years old and family-run. I really enjoyed learning about the different traditional methods used to create the organic bars of soap and how the olive oil from one of the factories used only Palestinian olive oil. Although visiting and learning about the soap factories were incredible, it wouldn’t have been a proper trip to a soap factory if we didn’t buy bars and bars of soap!

As we are going into our last couple of days, I have learned and experienced so much. This trip has truly been a blessing and I am excited to go back home to share all that I have learned!

Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt

by Emmanuel Freeman

For Christians traveling to the Holy Land, today’s religious sites would have been the highlight of their experience. Going to the Old City of Jerusalem, Damascus Gate, The Dome of the Rock, Via Delarosa, Church of the Holy Sepulcher (amongst others)… these are places that are essential to the Christian faith and the very reason that most Christians make the pilgrimage to Israel. We are interested in walking where Jesus walked and making a faith connection to the land. Jerusalem is where Abraham offered up Isaac and where it is believed that Adam was created. Jerusalem is also where Jesus traveled and shed his blood for our sins.

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However, while it is great to be able to trace Jesus’ steps, he never focused on connection to the land. Jesus focused on our connection to each other! Being at the holy sites today reminded me that the importance of Jesus is not in WHERE he lived but HOW he lived. So after visiting these amazing historical sites, my prayer for the remainder of the day was see God’s image in his greatest creation, man. And later in the day, I would get to see Jesus’ values of love and sacrifice on full display.

In the second half of the day, we visited Israeli settlement colonies and a small Bedouin community. Bedouins are Arab shepherds that have roamed the desert living off of the land for thousands of years. The poverty of the Bedouins was in overwhelming contrast to the posh gated community of their Israeli neighbors located a short distance away. Faced with discriminatory housing policies, illegal displacement, and ethnic cleansing, the Bedouin culture is on the brink of collapse.

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However in the midst of the madness, religious and non-religious allies (like Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, our Israeli guide) stood in the gap to fight for the Bedouin community. They not only assisted in building and re-building a school for the Bedouin children, but would stay overnight to use themselves as human shields against Israeli attacks. Allies are tirelessly using their privilege to try to right some of the wrongs that are being forced on this fragile community. Talk about God’s love in action!

The Bible reminds us (in so many ways) that the love of God includes sacrifice and action:
1 John 3:16-19 By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.

Jesus is not to be enshrined in the dust of the Earth but to live in each of our hearts. So I challenge each of us as Disciples of Christ to extend our hearts and our arms to the oppressed and needy, just as Christ did for us.

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Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt

by Abi Hernandez

We started the day visiting Sabeel, a grassroots liberation theology center. Here we learned about the faith crisis that many Palestinians have gone through in the face of one blow after another. They have been the victims of Zionism and people who, in the words of Omar Harami, a staff member, “have a Bible in one hand and a gun in the other.” When Jews are motivated by Zionism to violence and apartheid, Palestinians are easily left to consider themselves as not God’s children, and/or see God as someone who allows, or even wills for, their lot in life.

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Harami further explained that in some cases, Palestinians choose to say, “I am not a child of God, but I still believe.” There are those who have abandoned being Palestinian in order to be “good Christians,” and there are those who have abandoned their faith altogether.

Sabeel chooses to address questions about politics and how they relate to faith, questions that churches have tried to avoid answering. Palestinian Liberation Theology is about asking “how do we remain faithful to God, how to we become better Christians, while under occupation?”, building unity in the community and focusing on similarities rather than differences through interfaith discussions, and asking those in power why they are allowing the situation to be as it is currently.

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Thus far, Sabeel has groups gathering in many villages in Palestine with 30-40 Christians meeting on a weekly basis. They are making faith relevant to Palestinian life and occupation and making a positive impact by fusing faith and politics together. As Harami said, “What is our faith if it doesn’t make us better people and make our communities better?”

Afterwards we went to Vad Yeshem, a Holocaust museum and memorial. Walking through the exhibits and reading the plaques and descriptions of the events, it was difficult to not make parallels between what the Jews went through during the Holocaust, and the way Palestinians are being treated today, and have been treated for a long time now.

The discrimination that the Jews faced mirrors the plight that Palestinians face because there are 56 laws in place that discriminate against them. The ghettos that the Jews were forced into reminded me of the refugee camps that we’ve witnessed. The innocent blood shed by the Palestinians is just as precious as the 6 million Jewish lives that were lost during the Holocaust.

Of course these two situations are distinct, but both are important to discuss and remember. It is not a question of whether one was worse than the other, but of what we are going to do with the knowledge that we have about them.

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Another stop we had was at the Garden of Gethsemane, another Holy Site for the believer on a pilgrimage.

I think a revelation that God in His grace has given me is what Paul said in Acts 17:24-28 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[

Of course people desire to be close to God, but I have found that more often people desire to feel close to God.

I am truly grateful to have been able to walk in the garden with Jesus. He does not live in a temple, but he is there with me in whatever temple I walk into. He is not served by human hands, but He uses mine. He gives me life and breath, and in Him I live and move and exist, as does everything and everyone else.

It is not the site that brings me close to God, because if it was then I’d only feel close to Him when I’m there. But He has taught me what it means to be close to Him. In everything I experience, with all the people I meet and everywhere I walk. From A Palestinian Liberation Theology Center, to a Holocaust museum, to a holy site, Jesus is the same (yesterday, today, and forever!). God is good, all of the time!!!

             

           

 

 

Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt

by Brandan Robertson and Lauren Byun

Today, our group traveled to the ancient city of Hebron in the West Bank. Hebron is a city that is under the military control of the state of Israel. After spending this entire week in the West Bank feeling incredibly safe and secure, for the first time we got a glimpse of some of the fear that many inhabitants of Hebron constantly live under with the strong presence of the Israeli military.

As we entered into the city, we first stopped at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a mosque and synagogue built over the caves in which Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, and Rebekah are said to be buried. It was one of the most holy sites for both Jews and Muslims. As I sat in the mosque praying, I thought about how the Patriarch Abraham is the father of the three faith‘s being represented- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All of our religions trace our lineage back to this one patriarch, and yet today, there is so much division between all three groups. I wondered what Abraham might feel if he were able to see how his inheritance had come to fear each other so profoundly.

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After leaving the tomb, we were invited to walk through the portion of the city of Hebron that is under strict Jewish military control- Palestinians are banned from entering. This is the portion of the city were Jewish settlers live, and each settler is afforded great protection from the Jewish military. As we entered, men and women with large guns stood on many street corners, questioning us about what country we were from, and occasionally asking other random questions as a means of what felt like intimidation. Prior to entering, one of the Israeli military guards came and stood next to our group, being led by our Palestinian tour guide, listening intently to what was being said. As we wandered through the Israeli section of Hebron, there was a palpable sense of fear in the air. For the first time during my travel in the Middle East, I think our entire group felt unsafe. We walked quickly through the Jewish portion of the city, and noticed that on many of the walls, the Jewish narrative of Hebron’s history was painted. The Jewish story was of how the Arabs had slaughtered Jews, and how the Jews had recaptured this portion of their land. The story is not false, but it is also not the whole story. Both sides have their narrative seen from their perspective alone. Until we can both sit at the table, owning the wrong that has been done, and also committing to see our common humanity within one another then we have very few options for a unified future in the Middle East.

As we left the Jewish person of Hebron, we entered back into the lively Palestinian portion of the city center, where we were greeted by our tour guide and made our way back to the bus. The overwhelming reality that I experienced today was how much our fear can provoke us to divide, cling to violence and intimidation, which prevents peace from becoming an option. If we are forced to live in fear of one another we will never be able to see the humanity, we will never be able to acknowledge our common heritage, and the chasm between us will only become greater. Jews, Palestinians, and Christians- we are all Abrahams children, all share a common heritage, and we must learn to abandon our fear, abandon our stereotypes, embracing each other and the pain that we’ve experienced if we will ever find lasting peace.

-Brandan Robertson

 

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After an overwhelming day in Hebron, today, many of us got to experience a peaceful and enlightening morning with host families. These strangers have opened their homes to us and provided food and entertainment. Perhaps the biggest element of surprise was the comfort given by these families. Personally, I have struggled with my faith and the overlaying question: What has brought me to Israel? What is it that I must learn? People had always told me that God works in mysterious ways and that you’ll feel God presence in mysterious places throughout your life. It’s been around four days since our first arrival to this foreign country. We’ve visited many holy sites, spoken with many Palestinians, and walked in places where Jesus might have walked. Yet I lacked that spiritual connection amongst these uncharted waters. But it was this very morning that I felt the presence of God through an embodiment of love and unity with these people I had spent one night with. There is, in fact, beauty in seeing people who have never met each other converse with one another as if they were old friends. Even if we weren’t to discuss religion or God, I feel as if I would have still felt God’s presence there.

Another fascinating encounter with my spirituality occurred on the top of Masada. Seeing the ruins and feeling the weight of the mountains tower over us all, actually made me feel refreshed and renewed. The view and land expanded for miles and all you can see was the desert and the sea. At first glance, I felt so small and my life seemed to have little or no meaning. How can it? With great creations like these, what significance does my life play in this crazy world? But I approached it in another way; The fact that somewhere and sometime in my life, there were factors in play that helped my decision to come to Palestine/Israel. And within that, I was there at that moment thinking the thoughts I was thinking. The fact that, yes, as humans we are small, but yet, we play a huge role in life. Somewhere our actions affect others which affect others, creating a ripple effect that changes the course of our lives and there is beauty behind that. Feeling so small physically had actually made my actions feel monumental and for a glance looking through God’s eyes, my life seemed to have purpose.

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The hectic day closed with a swim in the Dead Sea. It was actually quite a bonding experience to hold one another’s hands as we struggled to stand on the slippery slimy floor. And the satisfaction coming with floating and bobbing our heads in a sea filled with salt. Even though it was a lot of fun and made my skin feel amazing, I will never forget the pain I had experienced when I got a drop of the water in my eyes. 

-Lauren Byun

Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt

by Young Lan Kim

Before we started this trip, we decided to attend this trip for different reasons. Some people wanted to see the knowledge of the Bible that we have known for a long time, and some people wanted to know about unknown lands that they do not know very well. Some people wanted to learn about the new culture, and some people might come because of their friends who asked them to join this trip. And of course, there were those who dream of visiting the Holy Land as Christians.

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Whatever the reason might be, I believe that God has brought us together as a team in this land. God clearly has a purpose for bringing us together.

And my prayer is for each of us to find out the purpose and meaning of this trip through this Holy Land journey. And I hope that this trip will be an important moment of each person’s life journey. 

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Some people may be disappointed with our trip because of what they expected in the States. Some may ask themselves, “Why am I here?”

However, if they believe in God who has a special plan for each of us, I say, “Open your hearts, and listen to what we have to hear and see what we need to see.”

Rev. Young Lan Kim
Associate Regional Minister
Co-Director, NAPAD

Posted
AuthorAlisa Mittelstaedt