by Elli Atchison, World Vision
Two weeks ago I was privileged to be part of a World Vision delegation in the Holy Land. Twenty women gathered from all corners of the United States to visit people living and working in Israel and the West Bank. Most of the ladies had never been to the region before. Those of us who were returning yearned to understand the issues better.
Together we journeyed throughout the land, seeking perspectives from Israelis and Palestinians. We were also seeking spiritual insights and the wisdom of Jesus that could help us make sense of this tragic conflict.
We met so many amazing people who told the stories of their very different lives. Our days were full of listening, learning, and asking questions. And continually I challenged my companions and myself: ”You hear stories of pain on both sides of this conflict. You see the hardships of life under occupation. But, where do you see Jesus?”
I found Jesus in a young Israeli woman who is labeled a “refusnik.” This is a term for someone who refuses to serve as a member of Israel’s mandatory military because they disagree with the occupation. This brave woman’s penalty for taking a stand for justice was to serve time in prison. Her actions of self-sacrifice and passive resistance remind me of Christ’s call to put others before ourselves.
I found Jesus on a family farm outside of Bethlehem, called the Tent of Nations. For decades, the Palestinian landowners have sought to protect their property from unjust confiscation for settlements, which are literally encroaching in the hills surrounding them. Despite constant pressure from the Israeli government, the family is resilient in their efforts to defend their legal rights and remain on their land. When their water and electricity were cut off, they built cisterns and solar panels. When hundreds of their olive and fruit trees were destroyed by the military, they replanted twice as many. But they also work to build bridges between people, hosting international peace groups and local summer camps for kids. All are welcome on the farm, ironically even the settlers that have become their neighbors. Their motto, “We refuse to be enemies” echoes the heart of Christ.
I found Jesus in the voice of a former IDF Major. He loves Israel and believes in its right to exist. However, he also recognizes that Palestinians also have equal rights to live on the land with freedom and self-governance. For this reason he worked on the Oslo Peace Accords and became a human rights activist that documented injustices against Palestinians. He boldly speaks about his desire to see a two state solution where Israelis and Palestinians will live side by side in peace. He believes this dream is possible when all people are treated fairly.
I found Jesus in the bright eyes and smiling faces of Palestinian children. Education is highly valued in this culture. The students’ desire to excel in school speaks to the spirit of hope that is alive their hearts. Despite daily obstacles and hardships of life in the West Bank, their childlike faith in God’s goodness prevails. It is this faith that inspires them to go to school every day and study hard in order to prepare for a better future that they believe will one day be theirs.
I found Jesus while sharing a meal with a group of women on a beautiful patio overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a gathering of multigenerational Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians, separated by nationality, but united as sisters in Christ. Their group is called “Musalaha”, which means reconciliation in Arabic. They meet as often as circumstances permit, with a desire to build authentic relationships with each other. They seek the commonalities that all the women share… husbands, children, homemaking, and a love of Jesus. They also discuss the tough political issues that make their lives so different. Answering Jesus‘ mandate to love your neighbor as yourself, these amazing women know that you cannot truly love a person you do not know. So, with open hearts, they put their differences aside and choose to love for the sake of peace and reconciliation.
The final place I hope to find Jesus is within myself. I am still processing all that I learned on my latest trip to the Holy Land. I have more questions than answers. But I have a better love and appreciation for the perspectives of both groups of people separated in this tragic conflict. It is not my place to pick sides or compare pain. Instead, I am called to love everyone—Israelis and Palestinians, enemies and neighbors. I am called to be brave in confronting injustice and speaking up for those whose voices are overlooked. I am asked to live each day with a childlike faith and trust that God’s goodness will ultimately prevail for all people. I am empowered to pray that peace and reconciliation will soon come to the Holy Land. When I do these things, it is my hope that the world will also find Jesus in me.
Thank You for the ways You reveal yourself to a hurting world. Your message of love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness are alive in the Holy Land. Your heart for justice and freedom from oppression will not be ignored. Please bless the lives and multiply the efforts of all people who are working for the sake of Your kingdom in the Holy Land. Please give us the wisdom to pursue Your path to peace.
Praying Hands Photo Credit: Red Thread Images. Used with Permission.