I’m writing my first actual update sitting in the airport at the end of my first leg.
This is intentional. Because I wanted to focus on being here, and because I always need time to process what I’m seeing and learning. When people travel to this part of the world, I always suggest an ‘unwind period’. It sounds harder than it is because we are armed with an hot passion like holy fire and brand new information, tasked with telling the world what we have seen.
But if we dont process all we have learnt we will be eaten by grief and anger, rendering us ineffective at sharing what we have seen.
This place changes people. There are questions, about the Bible, about history, about accuracy, about people, about walls, about why. It’s my fourth time here and I found myself a qausi-tour guide to many people. I love showing people around the place that set my life in its trajectory. It can also be exhausting. I have a new-found respect for my local friends. The situation is so frustrating, so illogical at times and often heartbreaking.
Like every other time, I have been changed and challenged by my visit here. I have made it no secret that I both struggle and love the church as an institution. I have come to accept that this is the way it is, there is no use fighting it or trying to land somewhere. It is my foundation and somewhere I feel ‘at home’, but in recent years I have struggled to identify with and love the evangelical church. Every time I am tempted to leave it all I find some points of connection and inspiration.
Christ at the Checkpoint is one of these points of inspiration. Attending the conference has been a bit of a dream come true as I have managed to miss it by a few months the last two times I came, so I made a point of coming specifically to the conference. The conference addresses what it means for Palestinian Christians who live under occupation while loving their neighbours, both Muslim and Jewish. This is no simple task.
I loved the conference, and feel like I need to rewatch many of the talks as they were full of so much goodness. The conference and the local Evangelical christians and leaders keeps me hanging on to the Evangelical title. Even if it’s just hanging by it.One of my favourite authors and preachers, Brian Zahnd was a guest speaker and spoke on the ‘Vilified Other’. I learnt of him and read his book A Farewell from Mars in 2014 in Bethlehem as I could hear anti-missiles and rubber bullets around me. The book shaped the way I understand at war and violence.
The week included some field trips to a small village, Hebron and the Tent Of Nations. These were eye-opening visits and a great way to hear of and see the conflict first hand. I have been meaning to visit the tent of nations since my first stint in Bethlehem and it was great to see non-violent resistance first hand. I might do a whole blog on them soon.
After the conference I gave myself a generous amount of time to see friends and enjoy the city. It’s always interesting to see what changes and what stays the same over 6 years. Ever the optimist, I desperately wanted things, even small things, to be better than last time. Last time I left in the middle of the last Gaza war, where the final body count was well over 2000, there were demonstrations every night in Bethlehem, and regular missile warnings in Jerusalem. The airport was full of signs pointing to bomb shelters. This time there are no demonstrations(probably because it’s Ramadan) and the only teargas is the weeks-old canisters scattered near the road(a reminder that frustrations can rise at any moment). There is ongoing problems in Gaza, but the Bethlem has a sense of calm.
At least on the surface. After sitting with my friends and walking through the neighbourhood the tension is clear. It grieves me to say that things are not better. Things are worse. My friends tell me that restrictions are tighter, there are more raids, less resources, more demonstrations. Gaza weighs heavy on everyone’s heart. Almost everyone has spoken of dear Razan.
No one can believe Trump moving the embassy, hopefully when he falls the world will see how how rediculous this move was, and there is some international pressure. One can only hope.
Throughout the conference and when talking to people it was clear that change needs to come from the ground up, and it needs to come when we all see the ‘other’ as our neighbour. Someone like us, as we listen to each other’s narratives and strive for justice together.
I have a renewed passion and fire for this, and to share with my local communities. For all my Australians friends who desire justice and peace. Watch this space.
I have loved my time in the Holy Land, but I am ready to DO something, and am excited for my next stint in Athens.