In Search Of Living Stones

Month: June, 2012

Life Goes On

I’ll start with what I’ve been doing this week before sharing some thoughts.

On Monday we went to Taybeh for dinner to say goodbye to 2 of our staff. It was lovely. Taybeh has a way of capturing you, in fact, most places here do. It was a great night full of laughter, conversation and amazing food. I also met Sam Munayer, at 14 he is the youngest of the Munayer clan. I told him I was from New Zealand, he brought up the Haka, and that was it, now we are friends! He is hilarious and is every bit a Munayer when it comes to teasing me. Instead of going all the way back to Bethlehem that night I stayed in Old Jerusalem with Shadia. So amazing.

Tuesday we had a BBQ at Shadia’s house on the roof. Where I met Elenor(3) and Tsofia(1). SO CUTE! The view from the roof is breathtaking and as the sun started to go down I remembered why it was that I fell in love with this place 2 years ago.

Wednesday, I had my first Arabic Lesson and ended up doing 2 units instead of 1. My teacher thinks I learn fast. I felt like my head was going to explode. Michelle, a volunteer at Musalaha who has been studying at Hebrew U for 10 months came to stay, we ate Tajin, walked Old Bethlehem, scavenged for wood and watched football at the wall. After the football we decided to walk off the fact that Portugal lost and went to Cremisan, a beautiful valley with a vineyard and an amazing view.

Thursday hit me hard. I was frustrated, annoyed with myself and confused. I got out of the offices and walked to the craft store, even in the heat this was a nice break. It gave me a chance to pray and clear my head. I am still trying to figure out where I stand and what I believe. When I got back to the office I listened to some talks from Christ At The Checkpoint and prayed my most feared prayer, ‘God, break my heart for what breaks Yours’. I’m scared of this prayer for good reason, every time I’ve uttered those words sincerely, God has answered. I got home to find that With God On Our Side was screening at The Wall Lounge. What a way to bring the story home, screen a film about the wall ON the wall.

Today(Friday) we had a training for the helpers for the Baptist Village camp. Shadia came with a bus from Nazareth, and I came from Bethlehem with 2 girls. Because they are under 16, legally they are allowed to come into Jerusalem with out a permit. We met at the Bible College, jumped into the taxi and set off. We headed for the main checkpoint in Bethlehem, 300. There was a problem and it became real for me, this freedom I so lightly take for granted, they don’t have. Then we went to another checkpoint near a settlement, we drove straight through. When we had passed through and got onto the main road, the driver, a Greek Orthodox, next to me crossed himself. I choked up. I’ve seen people do this many a time and have often thought it silly. But this time, to this man, it meant something. He was thanking and praising God that we were able to cross through safely.

We got to the Offices and hung out, I planned the games and realized once again what a hindrance my accent is. The games went well and everyone laughed and talked. We discussed what it meant to help out at camp, what was expected of them and how everything would go. At the end we prayed, each in his or her language, again this was a moment I want to cherish forever. These young people are 13-15, some prayed in English, some prayed in Hebrew and some in Arabic. For the same thing, desiring the same outcome, longing after the same Father. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.

Now about some thoughts(I’ll try to keep it short) Life Goes On

Sometimes people ask me what its like to live in Bethlehem. The Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born. And the answer is, ‘overwhelming’. I get to say that I am living in the city where the divine became human, God became man, where the course of history changed forever. Its overwhelming at times. At the same time though, Life Goes On. This is a real city with real people living their real lives. They work, they study, they eat, they play, they laugh, they cook, they live. They are people like me, like you and they live here. Bethlehem is more than just what happened 2000 years ago. The Church of the Nativity is an amazing historical building, its also a living church, one that my friends attend. Something that first struck me as strange recently was when talking to people about the summer, a lot of them told me they were going on vacation. Vacation? But you’re Palestinian? As if that changed the fact that it was summer, and they are people, and people go on vacation in summer. Its easier for us to see Bethlehem as simply just a historic town, because that way we don’t have to think of it as a city where people live their active lives. But it is, it is a city, a university city at that with a bustling street life. When you think of it like that, its not so easy to write it off, to justify the wrongs done, to ignore the cries of the real people living their lives. Its not backwards, its not full of terrorists, its not stuck in the past. Its alive and full of life happening now.

PS, in-case you don’t believe me, here is a photo of a hummer I saw in Bethlehem last week with Palestinian plates…


Oh Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

I have a million things running through my mind right now, but maybe my story would be the best thing. They seem to be the most powerful.

Most of you know my upbringing was far from average, but for those who don’t know: I am the Oldest of 6, was raised in a Christian home and have never been to school. My family was even part of a slightly(actually more than slightly) out there church. My Grandfather has always been interested in Judaism, and because of our slightly strange upbringing we celebrated Hanukkah and Passover instead of Christmas and Easter. When he found out that he was Jewish he was so happy and got involved with organizations like Jew For Jesus.

My parents travelled to Israel when I was 5 and promised to take me one day( it only took 14 years to make good on that promise!), this is probably when my family started to love Israel and all things Jewish. At some point we also became interested in other Middle Eastern and Arabic cultures. This was most likely when we moved to Auckland and our neighbours were Muslims.

In 2010 we travelled to Israel for 4 weeks and I fell in love. But something was missing, I didn’t get to be with people. And when I came back I realized that it never even really crossed my mind to go to the West Bank. Why? I don’t know.

When we moved to Australia we became part of a network that hosted Israeli’s for free while the travelled(think Couch Surfing but just for Israeli’s). We made so many friends this way. We also made friends with a lot of people from the Arabian Peninsular, my mum played soccer with them, they came to our house to have dinner, we were friends. I taught my brother Social Studies and so we put a large map of the Middle East on our wall, right under the large map of Israel.

All in all, my family is one that loves the Middle East, the food, the culture, the place and most importantly the people. But ultimately, my family love Israel. Not to say that they/we hate Palestinians, but that Israel was our focus and we stayed in purposeful ignorance of what went on in Palestine. We sought out one side of the story.

And some how I ended up here, in Bethlehem, volunteering with Musalaha. God has a funny sense of humour.

Shadia commented the other day that it seems like everything in my upbringing was against this. And some days it does feel like that, but that just proves to me more that this is where God wants me.

And while my family love that I’m here and totally support it, they still kinda don’t get it. (In saying that, my grandparents actually wish that I didn’t stay in Bethlehem, when they come to Israel they don’t enter the Old City in Jerusalem because they don’t like the Arabs…)So I’m here. And for a while its felt a bit like a honeymoon, I’m so giddy and happy that I’m here. But I can feel that wearing off, in a good way. I want to see the really real, I want my heart to break for what breaks Gods. And what better timing then a few weeks before camps start.

Oh Love that Wilt Not Let Me Go

My mindset and my position is challenged on a daily basis, some of my friends went to a non-violent demonstration at a village yesterday and asked if I would ever go, I had to think about it, all of my Israeli friends have served in the army. I’m not sure I would feel comfortable doing that.

And on the other hand, I get wake up calls like when I ask a Palestinian friend what time the buses to Jerusalem finish and they tell me they don’t know, they’re only allowed to go through the check point during Easter and Christmas. At times I feel guilty, who am I that can go where ever I like? In fact I cross that wall every day, twice on Fridays.  Just because I was born in New Zealand means that I am allowed to travel the 15 minutes by bus to Jerusalem, my Palestinians friends are not. Anger follows that thought. 

I had a conversation the other day with a woman who was asking about what I’m doing here that rocked me a bit. She told me that she appreciated what I’m doing but that she thinks nothing is ever going to change. To hear people honestly say that they don’t see any hope, that this is the way it is, hurts. My background and nationality means that I involuntarily leant my hand to the building of that wall. The hope stealer. The wall that cuts streets and properties in half and means that my friends can’t do the simple things I do everyday.

On the subject of my heart being broken I want to share with you a story/prayer request. When I was first in Israel 2 years ago I spent my first few nights at a hostel called The Shelter . It was amazing I got to share a Shabbat service with the community including some Sudanese refugees. Two weeks ago I rang them to ask if they wanted to send some kids to camp this year, like other years. They informed me they had just had raids and all the kids were gone, either sent home or arrested. See, the Israeli Government has decided to either arrest them or send the refugees home. They are scared to leave their houses, they are simply arresting people on the street. I heard one story of a family connected to our church who have decided ‘voluntarily’ to go home. Their children only speak English, they have travelled all this way and nobody wants them, they have nothing to go back to. Pray for these families to find the peace they are so desperately searching for.

So here I am, trying to0 find where I stand and what this all means. Prayers would be appreciated.

We are all lemons

Do you remember how in my last post I told you that we were all lemons? Good, because here I’m going to explain it.


For the past three weeks I’ve had the chance to follow Shadia around and attend 3 different youth leader trainings.

The first week we met in Beit Jala and I joined a group of youth pastors and leaders from all over to discuss a Youth Leaders Curriculum. The curriculum will be the first of its kind, dealing with different issues and created purely for Messianic congregations and Palestinian churches with the purpose of reconciliation. The concerns and issues they raised dealt with how to connect young people to the church and how to engage todays young people.

For the second week we met in Ramallah with a group of young Youth Leaders from East Jeruslaem. A majority of these youth leaders were what is called M.B.B’s, that Muslim Believers Background. Some of them are more open and willing to talk about it and their stories are phenomenal. The issues raised by this group dealt with the recent revolution and moral grounds, ‘How do we deal with this situation? What is our role as Youth Leaders in this situation?’. The young people are passionate about their communities and families(some of which have no idea that they are believers).

For the third and final week we met in Jericho with a group from Nablus. While I got on the best with the East Jerusalem group, this is the meeting I learnt the most from. This was the only meeting that was entirely in Arabic without the help of a translator. No worries, it was a crash course in Arabic!

Shadia opened the meeting with an ice breaker that required everyone to take a lemon and become familiar with it.We were to describe it and explain what was unique about it. Then we put them all in a bag and mixed them up and had to pick them out again. We could recognize our own lemons, they all had their own distinct qualities but in the end they were all lemons.

Afterwards, Shadia taught on the Introduction to Reconciliation and that morning Salim had taught The Theology of the Land, this group has previously had nothing to do with Musalaha and these were completely new to them, naturally they had a lot of questions and a lot to say on the issues. While there are many settlements around Nablus the occupation is not as visible as it is in other places like Bethlehem, where there is a massive concrete wall to remind you, just in case you forget. Consequently the forefront of their mind when thinking about reconciliation is conflict with Muslims.

This came as quite a shock to me, as fear of Islam and Muslims is common in New Zealand/Australia but never had I thought I would encounter that mindset HERE among Palestinians. Palestinians afraid of Palestinians. They had such strong feelings about them, they shouldn’t be friends, they shouldn’t trade with each other. Keep to your own. Protect what you have. Shadia then brought the topic back to the lemons. The lemons were different, they all had their own characteristics and qualities, but ultimately they were all lemons.

WE are all lemons.

Just because you believe differently to me or look differently to me or have a different way of doing things to how I may do them makes you in no way a orange while I’m still a lemon.

That phrase, ‘we are all lemons’ has been playing over and over in my head this week. Its easy for me to come in to this culture as a foreigner and think about how much better I am then everyone else. But I am learning more and more that we are all lemons. We are the same. Instead of constantly trying to find ways to see how much better I think my culture may be I’m learning instead to find the commonalities.

A song by a band called mewithoutYou has caught my attention recently, one of the verses goes like this:

In everyone we meet,In everyone we meet
In everyone we meet,In everyone we meet
In everyone we meet,In everyone we meet
Allah, Allah, Allah!
In everyone we meet

I find that so beautiful. Allah in everyone we meet. Everyone carries the image of God.

We are all lemons

PS, I have not been brainwashed, Allah simply means ‘the God’ and when I go to a Arabic church, this is the word they use.

One month

31 days

4 weeks

I have been here one whole month. I actually find that fact so hard to believe. Some days I feel like I’ve been here for ages while some days I feel like I’ve only just arrived.

This is what I’ve learnt in my day-to-day life so far;

To smile. A lot. It breaks so many barriers and people are much more likely to talk to you. This isn’t hard for me at the moment, because every time think about where I am I get all giddy and heart glad. Like I’m 12 years old and the boy I like just walked into the room..

To always make time for tea. If someone invites you for tea, accept. Unless you geniunely don’t have time, declining a shay invitation can be seen as rude. Hospitality is a way of life here. (the only exception here is the creepy guy who lives next door. DON’T accept his invitation)

Be careful what you compliment others on. You might just end up being given roses every 3rd day and even a fig.

That life goes on. The world does not end because there are hard times. People work, study, have fun, travel and live life.

When you have water, save it! The threat of water cuts are always around the corner, so keep water in bottles in the fridge. Just in case.

Soccer is king. I think this is pretty self explanatory.

Being by myself is okay. This was one of my GREATEST fears coming here. Which is weird because I’m living somewhere my government says I shouldn’t. But I seriously thought I wouldn’t cope being by myself in my downtimes. But I am actually enjoying it. I walk, I cook, I read. Its okay. I enjoy it.

Youth Ministry is essentially the same the world over. Its times like these that I am so thankful for all the experience I’ve had with internships and leadership.

To eat ice cream and walk slowly. Seriously, walk slowly and enjoy the sights and smells. OH THE SMELLS. I think I must travel with my nose. And eat ice cream, who cares about the calories. It tastes good. Don’t eat it slowly though, especially when its 37 degrees.

That we are all lemons. More on this later.

I feel like people have questions, that I don’t think of. So PLEASE don’t hesitate to ask, no matter how stupid it sounds.

Anyways, I am supposed to be enjoying my weekend and its already 2:30. So I’m going to go brave the heat and do some shopping!


Ramallah Nights

I’ve just come home from spending the weekend in Ramallah, is this real life?

This is one of those moments that I’m constantly pinching myself. How on earth did I get to do this?

This weekend I had the huge privilege to be hanging out with a bunch of Youth Leaders from East Jerusalem for their Youth Leaders Training. The first session was in English, so that was fine, the other sessions were in Arabic so had to be translated for me, one of the guys was kind enough to translate for me for the first two sessions but I sat outside after that. Being the only person who doesn’t speak Arabic can get exhausting some days. Its a great way to learn but to keep up is tiring. If I want to know whats going on(and lets face it, I ALWAYS want to know what’s going on) I don’t have a choice, I have to learn the language. Occasionally, I can almost follow the flow of a conversation, as long as I know the subject. It helps that they use a lot of gestures haha.

I had so much fun this weekend! The people are all my age and I got on really well with them, we were silly and we sang at the top of our voices and talk over each other, in different languages, and everything. They are so fun. I wish I could explain it to you. On Friday night we went to eat Bouzat Haleeb(Arabic Ice Cream), a desert that I am particularly in love with and we took a lot of photos of ourselves.

A couple of facinating points about these believers, first(1), they all live in Old Jerusalem. Just one of the oldest places in the world. Casually.
And secondly(2), most of them are M.B.B‘s, Muslim Background Believers. Yep.

That means that they, or their families used to be Muslims and have since become Christians. I love talking to them,their stories are real, challenging and I find them so fascinating. They way they see the world now, in freedom, in Christ is so beautiful. I was able to talk to one of the girls and learn a little of her story, she became a believer at the age of 15, but kept it a secret from her family, eventually her mother found out, but her brother and father still have no idea. Since her encounter with God, two of her young siblings have also become believers and she is passionate about the rest of her family. When she finished school she decided that she wanted to go to Bible College in Bethlehem to study theology but knowing her parents wouldn’t agree, told them that she was studying psychology. I came in search of Living Stones, I found some. They are people with stories to tell, ones that we need to hear.

Saturday night I went to a comedy show with some of  my friends in Ramallah, half English, half Arabic. The comedienne was Maysoon Zayid. She’s a Palestinian American, very funny and also the salon receptionist in Don’t Mess With The Zohan. Afterwards a group of us went to to find somewhere for dinner and where we could also watch the Football game(because football is king here. After dinner and the game(Germany won, a sad day) we went off in search of a bar, all results were futile. Saturday night is the end of the weekend here so nothing was open and everyone we talked to also said something about High School exams. Our group slowly dwindled and the faithful decided to make our own fun, it started with two of the guys trying to have a conversation with me in Hebrew, I think they were trying to convince me of something, I peppered the endless line of words with, ‘lama?‘(why?) and ‘ma?!‘(what?!). I finally concluded that they were trying to sell me off, they replied by laughing so hard they cried. That either means I was so close, or totally off haha. Our night ended in us playing games until the early hours and crashing(3 to a bed) in someones a hotel room. This morning was mostly filled with complaints about having to get up and laughing when remembering our antics the night before.

I caught a Serveece(shared taxi) with two of my guy friends from Bethlehem(let me tell you, local male friends are worth their weight in GOLD) home, the trip is about an hour and cost me 20 sheckles($5.20 AUD). I arrived home to a barrage of water coming down the steps, almost like a wall. I was really worried that a water tank had burst or someone left the tap running, but no never mind, when I reached our level, which happened to be the top, I discovered our neighbor watering her potplants with a hose. Because y’know, our last water cut was over a week ago, so we have water to spare!

Now, I seriously need to sleep.

Of Playdates, Eccentric Fathers and Beer

So much(blogable) stuff has happened in the last few days and I think you all deserve to know about it!

On Saturday night I went out with my flatmate and two of her (Palestinian) friends for a few drinks and had a bit of a dance. Definitely a lot of fun and ended up coming home in the early hours of the morning….

Sunday I went to the Evangelical church here in Bethlehem which was such an experience! Think of a charismatic, protestant church, and then have the whole service in Arabic, and you have Immanuel Church Bethlehem. They had a tour group there from Pakistan on Sunday and are well set up for tourists, providing wireless headphones with a translation. The songs weren’t translated but I still recognized some of the tunes that they had given Arabic words to. After the service I spotted a girl applying Lucas’ Pawpaw ointment and struck up a conversation with her,she’s a Sydneysider and is staying in Jericho for the next 3 months and travels and hour each way every Sunday to attend church. So nice talking to someone with a (sorta) similar accent.

On Saturday I had met the lady running the Hebron camp who mentioned that she had a 2 year old son and invited me over for a playdate! I think what I’m missing the most, if anything, is little kids. Up until then all my interaction with someone under the age of 8 was playing hide’n’seek on the bus with a 1 year old and I’m pretty sure that didn’t end well as she started crying.

On Sunday I met Safa and her son and we set off for her parents property in Beit Sahour, she called it a farm but its more like 3 houses and some land on the side of the hill. Still its more than most people have and they did own a farm in far off memory before land became precious and all the trouble started. I had such a good time, picked apples, apricots and berries. Then Adam(3) introduced me to Selma, the horse, the 2 ducks and the 30 or so chickens. He speaks some English and is great at teaching me Arabic, he speaks slowly in simple sentences with lots of actions! We had tons of fun, talking to the animals and me pushing him around on a toy car. Until his cousin Razin turned up, THEN it was a party. Razin is 4 and attends the American school so is quite good at English and also a great teacher. We ran around pretending to be scared of things and generally being silly. We played some more and they sang me the ABC’s and the ‘A- is for Apple, A-A-Apple’ song, until they got to J and they couldn’t think of the word so replaced it with ‘Jema'(what they called me). At one point I was sitting on a chair and I asked if I was the queen, which came with the replay ‘Inti Queen?’ (you are queen?), I quite happily replied with ‘Shu? Ahh Ana Queen.’ (what? Ah I am Queen). Then they had to do everything I said because I was the queen! After we went for a dinner of felafel(of course) where we met/bumped into a friend of Safa’s with a son who sported the most gorgeous orange ringlet afro I have ever seen. I came home with very happy heart and promising to babysit VERY soon.

Last week while walking to the bus station an older gentleman greeted me with a ‘Marhaba, welcome’ I returned the gesture by wishing him ‘Good Morning’ and seeing the bunch of roses he was holding complimented him on them. I instantly knew my mistake(when you compliment an Arab on anything not bolted down, their cultural hospitality is such that they have to give it to you) and tried to correct it by saying ‘ohhh laaa shukran’ which didn’t work and I walked around the rest of the day with roses in my bag. On Monday I saw my friend again where he took great pleasure in giving me yet another rose. I’ve decided to dry them on my windowsill.

Today I went to Taybeh, the last all-Christian community in the West Bank and home the Palestine’s only brewery. We’re running a summer camp this year so we met with the Father in charge of the church/school/old peoples home/the whole village. We were briefed that he is an eccentric genius with ADHD. It is true, he’s a Palestinian native who worked in the Vatican for a while and then for the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem. When the Vatican heard about Taybeh on the brink of extinction they sent him to be the Catholic presence in the village. He has made such a change in this village its insane when he arrived families were paying for the children’s education with olive as they were too poor to pay. He has since created jobs by creating industries and bringing tourist to this out-of-the-way village, he has started an initiative called ‘Keep Taybeh Clean'(most towns in the West Bank and even Israel to an extent quite often have rubbish kicking around on the sidewalks/any spare land), built a top class rest home and top of the line medical centre that would look more in place in NZ or OZ than here. Taybeh is now a glimmer of economic hope in the West Bank. In the 10 minutes we met with him his iPhone rang twice and 5 different people came to see him, needless to say he is one busy Father.

On the way home we stopped at the Taybeh Brewery to pick up some local produce. Taybeh holds an oktoberfest every year with two days filled with Palestinian music, culture, and of course, beer. There was no way I was going to visit Taybeh and not pick up some beer, so 140 sheckles later($36AUD), 24 bottles of Golden Taybeh were in my possession. Bet’cha didn’t think of that when you thought of the West Bank did’ya?

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Taybeh Oktoberfest

Taybeh Oktoberfest

Water cuts, food, coffee, more food and trains

This week has been rather busy. 

Tuesday we discovered that something had happened with the water. That something being the fact that we didn’t have any. Could we turn on the tap? No(not if you expected for water to come out). Could we take a shower? No. Could we flush the toilet? No. We went to talk to our landlord about it, he said he’d get on to it and gave us some plums. Yum. 

On Wednesday I went to Beit Sahour to visit a Christian  family with a son who wanted to come to Holland. I was pre-warned that they would want to feed us and that if I didn’t want any more I should just leave some food on my plate. That ended up being helpful advice(not that it worked!) as we were fed snacks, coke, cake and tea AND they invited us for lunch next time. Far out. 

They go to an evangelical church in Bethlehem called Emmanuel church, their son plays drums and invited me to go along. They have the service in Arabic but have a translation in English with headphones. On Thursday I went to a Young Adults event in Jerusalem, they had worship in English  and Hebrew. So cool. Apparently the Worship leader is THE Messianic worship leader in Israel. I caught a bus and a train there bused and walked home. at 10:30pm. This shows you a) how much I like public transport in Israel, I hate it anywhere else and b) how safe I feel here. The trainline was still being built when I was here last time, so it was exciting to finally ride it! I also ate my weight in pastries on the way home.

On Friday we had a meeting about camp (with more pastries, of course) and went to Talitha Kumi(guest house) where we promptly napped(pastries really take it out of you!) before going out for dinner and eating AMAZING food and basked in the smell of Apple Argileh. Bliss. After dinner we went to Little Italy to eat bouzat haleeb(Arabic Ice Cream) and drink coffee before yet more camp planning.

Today we had a meeting with youth leaders from Nazareth and Jerusalem to discuss the content of a Youth Leaders curriculum they are currently trying to write. Its an exciting endeavour!
Now I am hanging out at home and cooking. Enjoying my Saturday night. 

PS if you want to see any photos from my trip, click here