Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
During the 40 days of Lent, my thoughts are often consumed by the radical grace shown to us and the sacrifice of God’s son on the cross that we celebrate on Easter Sunday. It is a struggle to be graceful in my day-to-day life and, by my own admission, I live an extremely blessed and privileged life. Yet in 2017, I spent an entire trip learning from Israelis and Palestinians what it means to live a life full of grace, even in the midst of unimaginable struggle.
I was introduced to Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) through a trip my church took with CMEP several years ago. I spent eight days with the group learning from our Israeli guide, Eldad, and from our Palestinian guide, Hussam. For many of the group, it was their first trip to the Holy Land. It might as well have been mine for all I realized I did not know or was blind to the last time I traveled there.
Our trip was unique. We did not go to walk in Jesus’ footsteps, but rather to engage with the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative at a personal level. As part of this experience, we had daily opportunities to meet with Israelis and Palestinians who have various perspectives on the land and the future of a state in the region. We shared lunch and dinner with people who opened their homes and hearts to us.
In these situations, God’s grace at work was so apparent. When I consider the living conditions I saw, the uncertainty of where the money would come from to turn on the heat, the heartache on both sides due to the ongoing conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, and I match that to the hope, determination, and steady optimism I encountered, I know there can only be one thing allowing that: grace.
One family, we met lived near Bethlehem in the West Bank. CMEP worked very closely with the Nassar family and their organization, Tent of Nations, for years. They have been fighting the Israeli courts for more than 27 years to keep their land. At the high point on their land, you can look in three directions and see a triangulation of ever-expanding Israeli settlements, reminding the family of the constant threat of losing their land. Yet when we met with them, their primary objective was to glorify God through their work, which includes inviting Christians, Muslims, and Jews to their land to volunteer on their farm. There was no hatred, just an understanding that their call is to love their neighbor as Christ would love his neighbor.
Also in the West Bank, in Beit-Sahour, a Palestinian Christian named Father Momduah AbuSada created the Joy School. The Joy School takes in students who have learning or physical disabilities and would not be allowed in the school system run by the Palestinian Authority. These disabilities – ranging from ADHD to Down Syndrome – mark these children as the lowest of the low. Their families might throw them out rather than taking care of them, as disability is such a shameful issue. But when we met with Father AbuSada and his wife, God’s call was so clear to us. The school is a living representation of the grace that God shows us, that God views us equally regardless of our situation.
Perhaps the most heart-wrenching encounter for me happened on the first night of the trip. Two men, an Israeli and a Palestinian, both fathers, spoke to our group. Both men lost young daughters to the conflict. These men have every reason to hate the other side, yet they call each other “best friend.” The anger was palpable as their stories were shared, but they have focused their lives on helping others move past revenge and on to life. Their incredible story is told in a new book, helping people around the world see beyond the conflict to the people impacted.
Just as many on the Israeli side have suffered incredibly tragic personal losses, there are many Palestinians who have experienced the same. There is no monopoly on pain. No monopoly on bitterness. In the same situation, I’m not sure my instincts would be to trust God to be my strength and grace in hardship. Yet over and over again, I saw how God uses impossible circumstances to teach us his grace, his love, and his justice, which is often so different from our understanding.
I love this thought from Andy Griffith about God’s grace: “I firmly believe that in every situation, no matter how difficult, God extends grace greater than the hardship, and strength, and peace of mind that can lead us to a place higher than where we were before.” I see God’s grace extending through these families and individuals, and I pray that I will have the same strength in my challenges.
Your grace, your justice, and your love for each and every one of us offers us a clear example of what it means to treat each other how Christ would treat us. This Lent, help us take this example and apply it to the challenging moments and individuals in our lives. Open our hearts to look beyond differences or historical wrongs, to move towards a different and better perspective.
Katie McRoberts is CMEP’s Director of Communications.