by Elli Atchison, World Vision
While the Holy Land was again experiencing acts of violence and terror, a varied group of people gathered in a church in Orlando, Florida.
- men and women,
- people of color and whites,
- Christians, Muslims, and Jews,
- Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians,
- Pastors and an Imam,
- a CEO and unemployed,
- children and elderly,
- people from all walks of life,
- most of them strangers with only one thing in common
They were all seeking a word of HOPE for a land that is often characterized as hopeless.
This gathering was one of the final stops on a two-week “Hope for the Holy Land” tour that traveled across the United States, discussing what it means to be Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Peace, Pro-Justice, and Pro-Jesus. The diverse group in Orlando all joined together in prayer before listening to the perspectives shared by the three keynote speakers.
Mae Cannon, an American pastor, who leads World Vision’s advocacy work, told the history of the land. She helped participants understand that the present-day conflict has not always been the case. Not so long ago the Holy Land was a place where Arabs and Jews were neighbors and friends.
Danny Sherman gave an Israeli perspective. He is a former major in the Israeli Defense Forces and has worked for the Israeli Human Rights Organization B’Tselem. Sherman spoke about the building of the massive separation barrier that divides the land and its people. When the wall was built, it gave the Jewish people a false sense of security that they did not have to deal with the problem on the other side. Now, he believes Israeli society is waking up to the sense of reality that things cannot continue as they are.
Finally, Sami Awad spoke. He is the director of Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian organization that promotes a non-violent end to the occupation and peaceful coexistence with Israelis. As a Christian, he is challenged on a daily basis by the difficult directive that Jesus gave to “love your enemies.” Every day, he asks himself the question: “What would Jesus do?”
Three people, three realities, three lives engaged in working for peace.
The diverse group attending asked tough questions, some that were even potentially offensive to others in the room. There was debate and heated discussion. But as the dialogue progressed, listening ears began to open minds to another point of view. Opinions began to soften, and the labels that defined the individuals at the beginning of the evening, began to fall to the floor.
What remained was a realization that all people gathered in the church had far more in common than what divided them. All have the same basic needs, desires, and a personal faith in God. When a little time was taken to listen and talk, it wasn’t so hard to see the image of God in the person that looked so different on the other side of the aisle. When this image was appreciated, that was the moment when HOPE began to sprout in the hearts of all.
It is this kind of HOPE that tears down walls, and builds bridges. It is this kind of HOPE that was filling the hearts of that group of people in Orlando. With time and people truly seeking peace and the help of God, it is this kind of HOPE that might be possible for the Holy Land.
It is only through knowing You and recognizing Your presence in this world that Your people can find HOPE. You created us all in Your image and out of Your unconditional love. In the Old Testament, we are reminded that You are a God who loves justice and mercy and calls us to walk humbly with You. In the New Testament we see how Jesus looked beyond stereotypes and social classes to seek out a Samaritan woman at the well and give her HOPE that life could be better in You. It is through Your Holy Spirit that we, too, can be empowered to follow these examples and seek out peace in our lives, with HOPE in our hearts.
Help us remember that peace will only come when we are truly seeking Your will and Your ways. Open our hearts and minds to reach out to those who think differently than we do. Strengthen our faith to believe that there is HOPE for the Holy Land when we pursue You and recognize Your image in all those that we meet.