Pondering Places and Conflict

What do you do when you’ve fallen in love with a place that you can’t call home? What do you do when this place that taught you a new way to love people has become war-torn in a matter of weeks after you left?

In three days it will have been a month since I have returned from my five week excursion in the Middle East.

And I don’t really know what to do about it. Or even think about it.

I can’t even bring myself to look at the news in the morning because it brings me such sorrow. Yet, I can’t ignore the realities of the situation because I am now cognizant of how our lives are connected. While these people are suffering and dying at each other’s hands, I am suffering.

I want to go back and do something, but I know so little. I can do so little. All I would do is get in the way.

I recently finished reading a book called Building a Culture of Faith and there was a quote from Lila Watson that I cannot get out of my mind: “If you have come here to help, then you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mind, then let us work together.”

It makes me think of short-term missions. Do we go to rekindle our fire for God or to engage with the people because we lose sleep over their (and our collective) oppression–no matter what those oppressive circumstances are, like poverty, tyrannical government, “silent” systemic oppression, etc.

Oh gosh. I have the news on in the background on silent. I see footage of women and men in Israel. I’m not sure if the footage is in Palestinian or Israeli territory, but it hurts to watch. Muslim women are whipping each other with scarves in mobs. Soldiers are binding and dragging away those that are instigating more fighting. I’m glad I can’t read the closed captions from here.

I’m reminded of the time when I was right outside Jaffa Gate by the Old City in Jerusalem waiting for the Pope to drive by. Many fights broke out in anticipation and protest–mostly those bearing Palestinian flags. At the time, it almost seemed funny that an individual would charge ten soldiers with machine guns. I just didn’t get it; it seemed illogical.

We got used to seeing soldiers everywhere. I got used to seeing those my age or a few years younger holding machine guns in one hand and iPhones in the other. Part of the military training is to learn Israel’s history, so there were many times we were at historical sites alongside draftees who were learning the same content we were–or at least I think the same content…I can’t understand Hebrew.

During the chaos of the Pope in town, I felt safe by expanded military presence. Nothing was going to happen to me while they’re around.

How could I be so selfish? Military presence isn’t a sign of peace and safety; it’s an attempt to stop any possible attacks.

Having been there and learned just a tiny bit about the history of the whole Israel-Palestine debacle, I realize that there is no way I am going to really understand this issue. I am a young, white, American woman raised in the suburbs. How could I possibly understand the political and personal complexities of a conflict like this in a culture I just barely encountered let alone understood?

Maybe I will never fully understand it, but I feel for it. I  don’t know how to define those feelings right now, but they are not joyful ones. They are ones that mourn every act of injustice and yearn for effective and swift reconciliation.

I pray for Jesus to come down as the Prince of Peace and have the Holy Spirit intervene on behalf of justice.

Because I don’t know what else to do.

The Seven

Looking back at Jordan now a few weeks out is odd. While I was there, I was counting down the days until I could go home. After coming off a few intense weeks in Israel which was off the tail-end of an insane semester (and let’s be honest, what semester isn’t insane?), it felt like the end of what I could handle physically and emotionally. I kept getting sick, and I didn’t really have any reserves left since my body had been feeding off of the reserves for weeks.

Being in this intensely physical program with a high intellectual demand brought out the realities of living with an auto-immune disease. Having celiac isn’t only dealing with the prospect of getting sick all the time; it’s dealing with getting other kinds of illnesses much more easily. It means I feel pain more quickly and intensely.

What does that mean in the context of this trip? It means that it takes me longer to recover from things. It means I’m almost always in some kind of pain. But it doesn’t mean it has to rule my life. I could surrender to the pain. I could wallow in my misery.

But here’s the thing: I paid so much money to be here, and more than that, God orchestrated so many details for me to be able to be on this trip. The experience was not going to be this idyllic fantasy realized. The experience was a culmination of my failures, shortcomings, and hardships thrust into my face leaving me with a choice: depend on God or wallow in a depressive state.

I wish I could say I depended on God and I saw His goodness in everything, but the difficulties overcame me many times.

However, through all the difficult circumstances, God provided. There was only a group of seven Gordon students (including myself) that went on the Jordan extension. These six people embodied the love and strength of Christ for me daily. They understood my dietary needs and stood up on my behalf time and time again when I had no more strength to stand up for myself. These six individuals showed me the power of intentional community.

We are all incredibly different people who probably wouldn’t have been friends if we hadn’t been placed together purely because we are all following such different educational paths, yet we bonded, becoming known as “The Seven.”

The Guardian + Sting + Yeti + Bookworm + Goat + Ibex + Sunshine = The Seven.

Love you guys!

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The Last Bit in Israel

The last field day was my third sick day in Israel. On one hand, I’m sad to have missed the last day. On the other, my body could not be willed out of bed. I spent the day sleeping, reading The Eye of the World, talking with my sister, and sleeping some more. There was a brief respite from sleep when I could hear demonstrations passing through the Jaffa Gate. I later found out this was the anniversary of the first day of the Six Day War. Had I more energy, I would have gone out to see who it was and why they were marching on the city.

The next day brought on the final exam of the Israel course. We were given a review of the Tel Aviv airport so we can get back to the States as easily as possible. Afterward, graduation time! Dr. Phillips gave us our certificates that proved our completion of the course one at a time. One of the Canadian pastors of the group gave us little pins of the Canadian flag as a good-bye present. The rest of the day was filled with jovial activities, lovely conversation, delicious food (courtesy of the Gloria Hotel), followed by a rousing game of spoons on the terrace of the hotel.

Saturday was filled with Jordan prep (aka laundry) and more rest. A few of us went into the Old City for some shopping. I assumed the role of personal shopping assistant as we went through shop after shop in the Christian Quarter.

The rest of the nigh was filled with last minute hugs and story-swapping with the folks that would not be joining us for the leg in Jordan…which was all but seven of us. Of course there were some more games to be played on the terrace—spoons and backgammon galore!

Unfortunately, Sunday greeted us with an early farewell from our friends heading back to North America. We all finished packing for Jordan and hung out over at JUC for a bit. After lunch, a few of us made our way to Shorashim Shop in the Jewish Quarter.

This shop is a unique fixture in the corner of the Jewish Square. Two brothers from Canada who happened to be Othodox Jews opened up this shop over twenty years ago to learn about commerce and small business in Israel; however, the mission of the shop quickly shifted to be a safe space for dialogue. The brothers welcome any questions about Judaism that you could have. One of the brothers showed us the “JUC Shuffle”–looking around at the painting for about five minutes but not really that interested until they muster up the courage to ask the shop owners the question that brought them there. Even though we were only there for about an hour, I learned how much I have yet to learn about Jews. We discussed the distribution of space to each gender along the Western Wall to how Jews and Christians look at Atonement Theory differently. The main thing I walked away with is that I don’t even have a basic understanding of what Jews belief let alone what they are looking for in a Messiah. I’m glad I’m taking Dr. Wilson’s Modern Jewish Culture class in the Fall!

Since it was our last night in Israel before Jordan, some that had not left for home yet had dinner with us at the Gloria. I’m going to miss Jerusalem!