by Rev. Su McClellan, Senior Church Engagement Manager at Embrace the Middle East
The day I first set eyes on the separation barrier is one that I will never forget. Back in 2004, the village of Abu Dis near Jerusalem had been sliced in half by 30 feet of vertical concrete, stretching as far as the eye could see. The local grocery store had been cut off from the houses it served. Families and neighbours had been forced apart and looking at its wounding presence broke my heart.
My next stop was the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was such an appropriate place to reflect on what I’d just experienced. In that garden, Jesus faced the consequences of human sin, but it was also the place where he chose to go to the cross and transform it. Jesus took the worst possible human violence and transformed it into a bridge, reconnecting humanity with God. Sitting in the church reminded me that walls, rockets, bullets, and checkpoints are not paragraphs in the final chapter. The resurrection tells the story of healing, forgiveness, new life, and therefore new possibilities and we are all invited to write ourselves into its narrative.
Embrace the Middle East has been part of the story since 1854. Originally founded as The Turkish Missions Aid Society in 1854, an evangelical charity supporting missionary work among Armenian Christians in Turkey, the name was eventually changed to Embrace the Middle East in 2012. Its vision is to tackle poverty and injustice in the Middle East through education, community, and healthcare. It forms partnerships with churches and Christian organisations that offer their services to all in need in their communities, regardless of their national identity or beliefs. Their work changes lives.
The challenges faced by Embrace’s partners, in what is known to many as the Holy Land, are many and complex. Yet, despite these challenges, they continue to show and tell the story of God’s love. Since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967 over a million olive trees have been destroyed as a result of settlement expansion, military zoning, and settler violence. Embrace’s partners have responded to this destruction by planting thousands of replacement trees, supporting Palestinian farmers, and standing up for human and equal rights. Something violent and brutal has been transformed into something beautiful and fruitful.
We have supported partners in Gaza, who when faced with the destruction of last year’s war, responded by providing counseling and therapy, often through the medium of the arts, for children and young adults. In Jericho, our partners are providing leadership training for young people. The programme includes taking them on trips to discover and understand their rich Palestinian heritage – giving them reasons to stay and work for peace with justice. Hopelessness and despondency are transformed into tenacity and the courage to dream.
For many children, growing up in the shadow of the occupation leaves terrible scars both physical and emotional. Embrace’s partner Musalaha reflects the reconciling love of God by training both Palestinian and Israeli young women in the Stages of Reconciliation, Conflict Transformation, and Listening. The project won’t change government policy, but it does offer the possibility of the transformation of relationships at a grassroots level.
After his resurrection, Jesus’ body still carried the scars
of the violence inflicted upon him.
Transformation does not hide from what has been and
the Holy Land and all those who call it home
will carry the scars of its history into the future,
just as Christ carried his into eternity.
But scar tissue is also a sign of healing,
and it is for healing and hope that our partners work so diligently.
Of course, we pray for the day when justice will flow like rivers through Israel and Palestine. But until that day comes, please pray for the partners and friends of Embrace the Middle East who, in following Christ, make transformation possible.
Rev. Su McClellan, Senior Church Engagement Manager, has been at Embrace the Middle East for 15 years and works in the Church Engagement Team. She regularly leads Encounter Tours to Israel and Palestine, giving Christians the opportunity to see for themselves the impact of the ongoing conflict on the people who call the land home. Su is also curate at Coventry Cathedral, home to the Community of the Cross of Nails, an international network of peacebuilders.
Any views or opinions contained herein are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).