Actually, Sharon and I are in Nazareth, Israel, but most of our time this past week was spent in Bethlehem in Palestine. We have been teaching at the Bethlehem Bible College. It is a partner institution with the Nazareth Evangelical School where we were the previous week.
I first came to Bethlehem Bible College back in 1991. It was a hot time, during the First Intifada. I spoke at the chapel at BBC and made a special connection with the Dean, Salim Munayir. Salim founded and heads Musalaha, which means “reconciliation” in Arabic. Sharon and I led trainings for groups of Musalaha women in both Nazareth and Bethlehem. What great women–both evangelical Arab Palestinian Christians and Messianic Israeli Jews working together for their reconciliation in Christ.
We also led extensive workshops on conflict transformation for the students and for the staff at BBC. The time with the staff was particularly effective and profound. The president of BBC, Jack Sara, participated in the entire training with a delightful grace–we had everyone from him to the cleaning staff together for the 4 hour workshop. Then on Saturday Jack took us to the Alliance Church in the Old City of Jerusalem which Jack used to pastor. We led a training on church conflict for the pastors and church leaders of Alliance congregations. Jack grew up in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, so he took us around all the back alleys and rooftop passages, then down into a cistern from the 4th Century and through the Ethiopian Coptic section of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre–definitely a tour you don’t get regularly! Jack seemed related to half the shop-keepers.
We did a variety of other small trainings with groups–Christian and Muslim couples in a couples club on Valentines Day, pastors back up in Nazareth where we returned late Saturday night. We visited the extended families of our hosts Rula and Bader Mansour, having a great experience of Arab hospitality. We also consulted with Rula and Bishara Awad from BBC about their plans to develop a peace studies program at BBC and Nazareth Evangelical College.
There is so much to be said about the political and social challenges for peace here. Looking at the situation pragmatically it feels that a solution is getting further and further from ever coming into reality. Continued aggressive building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is making a two-state solution harder to imagine than ever. The Separation Barrier has created harsh divisions and supported the seizure of yet more land. The wall has stopped Palestinian terrorist bombings, but the hopelessness and despair that creates such hostility has been worsened.
But what I take away from this is the hope and determination of peacemakers on the ground. From Palestinian Baptists who sing songs of hope through tears to Musalaha women who meet together for years through thick and thin; from a former Israeli tank commander educating people on the grim and cynical realities of the Separation Barrier to the former Palestinian freedom-fighter who co-founded Combatants for Peace with Israeli IDF vets; from the Palestinian and Israeli parents who have joined together for peace over their common bond of having lost children to the conflict to the Ghetto Fighters Memorial in Israel that teaches Arab and Jewish youth about the Holocaust and the Nakbah (“The Catastrophe” in the Palestinian terms for the establishment of the State of Israel) and then get the youths to talk about it–hope continues to grow stubbornly in difficult soil. I love these peacemakers and prophets of hope. Sharon and I have been blessed to walk with them, equip them, encourage them, and sometimes weep with them.