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3 Months on and how I’m changing

On Wednesday it will be my 3 month aniversary of being here. Tomorrow will be 3 months since I left everything, and everyone I know.

I’ll be honest, I never thought I’d make it this far, but now, faced with the idea of going home, I know I’m not ready. As much as I miss my family(And boy do I miss them!), I still have things to do and people to see here. And I know I  have a lot more growing to do.

Already I have grown and learnt so much. In fact, when I look at this photo I literally don’t recognize myself.

This month my flatmate went back to the UK for 3 weeks, which left me at home in Bethlehem by myself. Surprisingly I really enjoyed this time.

I have always been independent, and even though I moved out of home almost two years ago, I am amazed at HOW independent I am here. The small things like catching taxi’s by myself, paying rent, and doing almost everything by myself. Remember that I do all of this in another language.

I also have become more laid back, taking on the spirit of Arabic time(the time you’re given +25-30 minutes) and ‘Inshallah'(God willing). Here, if you are asked a question you don’t want to answer or don’t know, simply reply ‘inshallah’. This effectively leaves everything up to God and clears you of all responsibility. Usually, at home I get stressed about things like plans, and how things are going to work out. Here, I’ve accepted the spirit of inshallah. If I didn’t I think I probably would go crazy.

On Monday I went swimming in the ocean with a woman from the office and her daughter. I have missed the ocean. We ended up missing the last bus and staying at her friends house.

Wednesday I went to Safa’s house for lunch. Safa’ is a friend come family, on the way to her house she made sure I was free for the day. Just as well I was, because she then informed that she had already told her mother that I would be attending her parents wedding anniversary dinner. I spent the day at her house eating amazing food, baking cupcakes and playing card games. It was like therapy for my homesick soul. Then we went to her parents house where I ate my weight in sweets.

Friday I caught up with my Israeli friend, Bat’el. Bat’el is one of the many people who has stayed with us in Australia and seeing her for a few hours was really nice. This was the first time since being here that I have seen any of my Jewish friends and I was quite apprehensive about some of her reactions to me living in Bethlehem. After her initial shock and usual questions, ‘is it safe?’, ‘Are there nice people there?’ she seemed to be okay. This was so nice to hear, and I love being able show people from both sides that the other is not a monster.

After that I had a few hours to kill in Jerusalem before church, so made the brave decision to go into the Old City. It was worth it. I sat at the wailing wall as the sun went down watching the Jews mark the beginning of Shabbat. I then fought my way(going the ‘wrong way’) through the thousands of Muslims making their way to Al-Asqa mosque to break their fast and have Iftar(the evening meal). It was such a contrast to the peacefulness at the Wailing Wall, but just as beautiful.

Saturday morning I woke early and walked to Manger Square to catch my bus to the Jordanian border. I still can’t get my head around it, I just drove to a different country! Because its Ramadan everything is closed during the day, but evenings becomes like a party! But this also means that if I want to drink or eat anything I have to hide away in my hotel room or go to the one cafe that is open, it is so hot here that not being able to openly drink water is difficult. I also am doing touristy things, but doing them alone just feels different. I like having my dad around to explain things and be amazed at things with me.

I am learning to enjoy being by myself and discovering things by myself.

I am learning to listen to other people and their stories.

I am learning to walk slowly and enjoy the journey.

I am learning to smile(but not too much, boys here will take ANYTHING as a hint).

I am learning that saying one word in Arabic will have everyone convinced(or at least telling you they are convinced) that you are now fluent.

I hope you have a fantastic week and see God’s hand in everything.

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Camels, Little Girls and Ramadan

This week my social life has been rather low-key in comparison to the last few weeks. Which is nice considering how crazy its been.

Tuesday I had dinner with some friends who are about to leave. Its been such a privilege to get to know them. On Wednesday my mum called the office and we talked for 45 minutes, it was nice to have an uninterrupted call and just be able to talk about everything and nothing. It felt like I was just down the road catching up on things, we hadn’t talked in a while because of camps/skype playing up and I didn’t realize how much I missed it. It was really nice.

On Tuesday I watched the Olympics, the swimming was on. A New Zealander was competing, he came second to last. The commentator was also Australian, so I spent most of my time mimicking their accent and my Palestinian friends joined in. Wednesday night, while walking home my friend pulled over to give me a lift. We ended up going to the desert to chill with some camels and Bedouin kids. After we went for dinner to a really nice new organic restaurant with lights strung up in trees, hammocks and a bonfire.

Thursday my co-worker invited me over to her house for dinner and meet her daughter. Ambreen is Pakistani/Iranian who was raised in America and is Jewish. She’s married to an American Jew. Dinner was delicious.It was so nice to get out of the West Bank, just for a night to hang with some Jews. Living in the West Bank plays on your mind, crossing checkpoints can get depressing and its easy to create an image of all Israeli’s in your mind.

Shiraz is 2 and one of the cutest girls I’ve ever met, and I spent a lot of my time playing with her. She speaks a mixture of Hebrew and English, her mum mostly speaks English with her while her dad mostly speaks Hebrew with her. Ambreen and I played an alphabet game with her putting letters together, and when her dad came home they played an Aleph Bet game naming the characters. So cool to watch and over all a refreshing night.

Because it was after sundown(when the Arab buses stop), I caught an Israeli bus to the closest stop and walked to the checkpoint . A women got off the bus with me and started walking, after a while I notices that she didn’t try talking to me, so I knew she couldn’t speak English(people are usually quick to show-off/practice their English, much like I am with Arabic). So I started the conversation in Arabic, it was great practice for me and she was interesting to talk to. When I got home, I realized that I needed food and the next day was Friday, not many shops would be open. So, because its Ramadan and everything is open late, I did my grocery shopping at 11pm.

Traffic jam in Bethlehem.

Friday, after cleaning my house, I headed out to church. At the moment its Ramadan(remembered this the hard way while eating fruit in the street on Monday), and Bethlehem has actually moved the time back one hour so that they didn’t have to fast for so long. Friday is already the holy day for Muslims, Friday during Ramadan is when they all go to pray at Al-Asqa  Mosque(Islam’s third most holy site). When I left my house at 5:45 the traffic was unbelievable, and as I walked to the checkpoint I noticed that I was going against the traffic as hundreds and hundreds returned back to Bethlehem. In fact they even opened the special driving gate(usually reserved for presidential convoys) for everyone to come back in. Usually I catch the bus to Damascus gate, but they traffic was so crazy that we had to do a couple of U-turns and actually be dropped off down the road. Damascus Gate was a hive of activity and it was nice just to watch.

Church was great, afterwards we went out for dinner and were served Ramadan treats, a piklet filled with cheese. So good.

Until next time x

Alef Vetaf(Begining and End)

I’ve named this blog because it was the begining of an experience, and the end of camps, and in a way the end of my time with Musalaha. This whole summer has been leading up to this month of camps, and now its finished. Its also the last words of a beautiful song we sung in Hebrew at camp.

On Saturday I lugged my luggage and bag of camp shirts up my ridiculously steep driveway in 30 degree heat. By the time I got to the bus I was drenched in sweet. Such a nice feeling… Saturday and Sunday counsellors and helpers hung out and went through the program for the week. At one point someone put on a Hillsong CD, which made me feel a little homesick. I met all the local leaders, many of whom having been doing this for years, they are a lot of fun. Monday we had campers arrive and we met our cabins.

I had a room of amazing girls, both campers and councelors, and now my Arabic is almost good enough to understand simple statements when said slowly, and almost have a conversation. I am back to being frustrated though when the Israeli girls talk to me, as I understood almost nothing of what they said(WHAT HAPPENED TO ALL MY LESSONS?). We had 5 Palestinian girls, 2 Israeli girls, 1 Eritrean girl and one Sudanese girl. Within 10 minutes of getting to our room, Anastasia, a Jewish girl, told one of the Palestinian girls (through a counsellor) that she wanted to be friends but couldn’t speak Arabic or much English. The Palestinian girl said that she wanted to be friends also but can’t speak Hebrew and little English. So they started talking, through one of the girls here who is multi-lingual(I AM SO JEALOUS!), but she soon got bored so they were left alone. From the time they arrived, around 4, to bedtime, around 10 the two were inseparable. By the end of camp they were showing off that they could count in each others languages. It was amazing to witness, it wasn’t forced, it wasn’t an idea from an adult or a leader, it was simply one girl wanting to be friends with another. I couldn’t get over it, it was Musalaha in action. As camp went on, kids got to know each other more and we saw friendships forming, inspiring.

Every morning we had Bible Studies which included songs, a Bible Quiz and a Bible Story/teaching. It gave me goose bumps to hear everything translated into the different languages, the Bible stories were all in Hebrew and Arabic(I didn’t mind that it wasn’t in English, I helped write them so I tried to follow along with my extremely limited Arabic).  After that, we had Track Time where the kids could choose what workshop they wanted to do, art, map reading, filming, first aid, scrapbooking and Noura and I did the sweets. In the afternoon we went swimming, played water games and had a session on bullying and had team competitions. Because this camp was held in Petah Tikva in Israel we didn’t really have water restrictions(and I could wear shorts!), so there were many a waterfight between both campers and counsellors. In the evenings we had different things like bouncy castles, cabin challenges and a talent show(ours was pretty good!).

I’m just going to take a second to brag about our cabin. The camp had a few dramas with kids getting homesick or getting into fights, I can proudly say that our cabin was drama free. My worry when I saw that we only had two Israeli girls is that they would be excluded and be left on their own most of the time. This wasn’t the case, with almost no encouragement from the counsellors the girls all made efforts to have everyone included and enjoying themselves. The girls who spoke both languages fluently gladly translated for them and explained what was going on

I am in love with all of our girls, they are so beautiful, so funny and so loving. Two of the girls I quickly made a connection with were the two African girls, are Lulia and Fufu. They are hilarious, cheeky and incredibly beautiful, their skin next to mine is so dark. They were always quick to sit on my lap and give me hugs. On Monday I was talking to Naka, Fufu’s sister and a helper in our room and she told me that next week they are going back to Sudan, they have been served deportation papers. We were briefed about this on Saturday, warned that there is a small possibility that the Police may come but they were not to leave. News, and world stories have become real. They have faces, and names. They are people I love. Tuesday night once all the campers were in bed Naka came to talk to me, she was having a bit of a hard time. Her family has been here for six years and fled because of persecution. They have strived hard to make a life here, they speak fluent colloquial Arabic and Hebrew, they have friends and schools here. They work here. Their life is here, and now they are being told that they are not wanted. Naka and I sat for 45 minutes as she cried and knew that someone was there for her. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what its like to be in that situation. This morning during Bible Study after singing all our songs in Hebrew and Arabic(Ohev Bananot[I like Bananas, I know that Mangos are sweet..] and Ya Yasu’ Yasu’) we sung How Great is Our God. I love this song and I was really getting into it, right as the chorus started I open my eyes to see that I am being embraced by Fufu (not unusual). I couldn’t hold it together at that point. How can I truthfully sing How Great Is Our God when I have 7 year old in my arms who is being kicked out of the only country she knows? They are two ideas that I can’t marry right now. Shadia was leading worship and saw me crying, I was supposed to be on stage straight after for a game, but Shadia took over for me and let me sit with the girls. 

Thursday night the counsellors stayed up most of the night talking, playing music and playing ridiculously competitive games of spoons(I leaped across the table a few times). At 4am, as per camp tradition, we launched our attack. Armed with permanent markers and face paint,  faces, legs and arms became our canvas. No one was exempt, campers, helpers and the foolish counsellors who’d fallen asleep.  Friday morning came, we packed up, played some games, danced a little and said our goodbyes. I’m not great at goodbyes at the best of times, saying goodbye to people I know I may never see again is hard. Knowing that I don’t have to leave the country yet made it easier. Saying goodbye to Naka and Fufu was heartbreaking, God be with them. Amazing how in a week strangers can become close friends.

This month has been amazing. I have laughed, I have cried, I have met so many people, I have been stretched and I have learnt so much. July 2012 will go down as a month that has changed my life. Does it have to end?

Taybeh, oh, Taybeh

Camp number 2!

After 3 days break I found myself in Taybeh at my second camp. If I had to choose, Taybeh would be my second favourite place in the West Bank(after Bethlehem). There is something beautiful and serene about Taybeh, so I was excited to be there for the week for camp.

I wasn’t too sure what I would be doing at this camp, for the other two my roles are very defined and because I wasn’t so involved in the preparations. When I turned up I was told that I could choose a class and just join in, as well as make sure that the kids are all in the right classes and blowing the whistle for breaks/to swap classes. I choose the Games and Circus room as it looked the like more fun than the crafts, and I didn’t really have a desire to do sports in 40 degree heat. What I’m learning is that the kids love it when you get involved instead of just watching or giving directions(Secretly, I enjoy it more when I get to play also). So with every game I joined in, Duck, Duck, Goose, Freeze and Juggling. Tuesday night we took a tour of Taybeh, visiting to El Khader(St Georges) Church, which is an old Crusaders Church. While we were there 3 girls came to light candles and pray, even though the church is in ruins. So beautiful. After we had a tour of the House of Parables by Father Raed.

On Wednesday we planned to have water games, it just so happened that we also had a heat wave that day with the temperature soaring to 41(!!) degrees. The day started with all the leaders filling up the water balloons, which turned into the leaders ganging up on each other. The day was more like a carnival, with bouncy castles, trains, paddles boats and water balloons, it felt like a party. On this day 180 children turned up to camp(usually the numbers varied from 120-180) and it felt like a big party. In the few minutes of free time I always found myself in the middle of a water balloon war, and somehow I received most of the ammunition.  Wednesday night we went to Ramallah to take a tour, but mostly to eat Rukabs ice cream(my favourite). On the drive back we could see all the Ramadan Lights up, ready for the Muslim month of fasting.

It was so nice to be able to talk and sing openly about Jesus in this camp. At Hebron, even though it was held at a Christian school, all the children were Muslims. In Taybeh, everything was about Jesus, the theme, the songs and the lessons. We sung If You Love Jesus And You Know It, talked about Jesus’ Parable’s and prayed, all in Arabic. Because I had more freedom at this camp I was able to hang out and play with the kids more. I was blown away by their attitudes and how much they laughed. They reminded me of the children I used to nanny and my sisters when they were younger. They loved to laugh and be silly in every available moment.  These families live in a unimaginable situation, even I, who has lived in Bethlehem for 2 months couldn’t fathom it. For this village of 1,500, surrounded on all sides by settlements, its easier to move away than to stay. In fact there are 15,000 people from Taybeh living abroad, compared to the 1,500 who have stayed in the village.

On Thursday morning while walking to the camp we could hear fireworks going off, and found out that the Tawjihi(Grade 12 exams) results came out. Everyone at the Catholic school passed Father Raed was extremely proud. It was like a party, proud parents and family members passed around chocolates in celebration and you could hear car horns all day. I got to talk to some of the students and asked about their plans for study and life, and all are excited. They all dream of something bigger, not just for their lives but for their families, their friends and for Taybeh.

Tomorrow I start my 3rd and last camp at Baptist Village in Petah Tikvah, and I can’t wait!

A real quick update

Because my last blog was all about camp I didn’t talk much about anything else, so I’m going to do that quickly here.

At the moment I’m chilling in Taybeh at our second camp. Taybeh is beautiful and serene. More on Taybeh later.

Camps are great for practicing my Arabic, my Arabic teacher told me I’d learn more Arabic at camp than anywhere else. I think he might be right, in the least I am speaking it more than I would be. In the last camp I could never remember the children’s names, which wasn’t too much of a problem as they all became ‘habibi’ and ‘habibti'(my beloved, but used for children all the time). I also got on really well with the local leaders, one day I even told them not to speak any English(unless I asked for a translation). The phrases I probably used most was ‘inta moshgilti’ (you are my problem) and ‘inta majnoon'(you are crazy). My proudest moment was probably when Safa’ asked me a (relatively complicated) question completely in Arabic that I understood and could reply to, in Arabic. All that sitting in on meetings is paying off. Of course, I couldn’t repeat what she said in Arabic, but I knew what she was talking about. Other phrases/words I’ve picked up are, ‘sho bitsawi?'(what are you doing?), Hammam(toilet) ‘biddak maia?'(you want water?) ‘isma!'(listen!)

Mostly this is to write about the wedding I attended on Friday. On the way to the wedding I was buying chocolate in East Jerusalem and heard NZ accents, so I started talking to the group. Turns out the group were from Auckland, not just Auckland, Elim School and to top it all off my friend was with them on the trip. Unfortunately he was in the hotel. But seriously, what a teeny, tiny world.

Right, the wedding. Tamara, the bride, used to work for Musalaha so we got an invitation at the office. As I hadn’t attended a wedding yet everyone told me I should go. So on Friday I caught the bus into Old Jerusalem, and got ready for the wedding. This couple had 2 ceremonies, one in Bethlehem(Beit Jala) and one in East Jerusalem. This was for a few reasons, they both live in Beit Jala  and had a traditional Greek Orthodox wedding. But Tamara is from East Jerusalem so the second ceremony was for her family and to also prove that her centre of life is still in Jerusalem, hopefully it will be easier for her husband to now get permits out of the West Bank.

The service was all in Arabic apart from one Bible reading, but apart from that it wasn’t too different from weddings back home. Half way through the wedding we could hear the Shabbat Shofar blown to start the Shabbat, soon after that the Muezzin Call to Prayer goes off. Weird, beautiful mixture of cultures.

After the service we went to the ‘party’ which is what they call the reception. Instead of giving gifts to the couple you are expected to pay for dinner/give money to the couple. In fact, I was visiting some friends of mine a few weeks ago when they received their first wedding invitation of the season(summer=wedding season), they joked that it was the ‘first bill’. I think they ended up being invited to 13 weddings this year. The party was beautiful and the food was great. The bride and groom arrived around 10pm and from then on it was non stop dancing. Everyone was dancing. At one point Tamara was lifted onto a board above everyone’s heads. I love dancing. Just before I left they had the ‘single ladies dance'(and no, Beyonce was not the music of choice) where Tamara came onto the dance floor with two big candles and all the single girls held candles and danced with Tamara/had their photo taken to show all the single guys that we were available. I was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. I got home, my feet were killing me and I realized the wisdom of my friend, Daniel’s advice to ‘wear dancing shoes’.

Next time, inshallah.

 

 

Allah Khale Kul Ishee

This phrase sums up my week sufficiently, it translates to ‘God Made Everything’ and is a song we sung everyday of camp this week.

On Saturday with much anticipation our group of locals and internationals set off on the bus with Safa'(woman running the camp, also Adams mum)to Hebron. Hebron is about a 30-40 minute bus trip from Bethlehem(depending on whether you’re stuck behind a rubbish truck or not).  This camp had a youth group from the UK come specifically to help out with the camp, they were from the north and spoke with incredibly thick accents. I joked that I could understand the Palestinians speaking Arabic easier than the English speaking English.

We turned up to the Evangelical School at around 8am, half an hour before the camp started and already the grounds were swarmed with kids. And I instantly saw that these kids are amazing, so funny, cheeky and full of life. If you were to come with no idea of what is going on in the outside world you would have no idea from how they act.

This camp was extraordinary in the fact that these were all Muslim kids, so we couldn’t talk or teach about Jesus, even though the hall we gathered in had a huge painting of Jesus with children on the wall. What we COULD do is sing the song, Allah Khale Kul Ishee, a song sung by both Muslim and Christian children, because it doesn’t mention Jesus. As I’ve said before Allah simply means ‘The God’ in Arabic whether your Christian or Muslim. So instead we introduced ideas of reconciliation in different ways, through stories, crafts and games.

My main role at camp was to be Safa’s assistant and the nurse(thanks mum for making me do that First Aid course). Thankfully we had minimal injuries(except for when one boy was pushed and his tooth fell out…) More importantly I followed Safaa around and did whatever was needed. Often I found myself in meetings with solely Arabic spoken, despite the fact I didn’t know exactly what was being said, I could usually follow along well and asked questions when I couldn’t. In one of these meetings I met Abu Fareed the cook, during the meeting Abu Fareed misheard my name and called me Jamela(beautiful), I didn’t complain.

One day during Fun Hour, which is where all 100 kids gather in one room(imagine if you will, 100 energetic children in one room in 34 degree heat) we were all counting in Arabic, then in English, then Arabic again one boy I sat next to started counting in Hebrew. I was shocked and taken aback, and when I asked where he learnt Hebrew he proudly told me that his dad had taught him, before asking me ‘Manishma?'(Whats up?). When I asked about this I was reminded that his dad probably works for Israeli’s, maybe even building in a settlement. When I asked WHY they would do this, it was explained to me that work is work, in a place where work is scarce, putting food on the table becomes the number one priority.

At this camp, more than ever I felt like I was a local, I was treated as a local and expected to act like a local. On Thursday night the leaders had a BBQ in a park as a celebration of a great camp. As an honorary local I was asked to bring a salad, I know its just a salad but what it represented held great significance. In fact, when some of the leaders from Haifa and Jerusalem and I went out for coffee one night, I knew everyone there, they were surprised, I was stoked!

During camp I got on really well with the local leaders and often goofed off with them in my spare time. They were ages 12-17 which reminded me how much I miss my own siblings. At one point one girl and I got into a tickle fight that ended with me being attacked by 10s of kids tickling me. Most of them were translators and spoke good English while I practised my terrible Arabic. At one point I even had to translate from English to Arabic for one of the translators. He says its because of her accent, I didn’t care, all I knew was that I could translate it!

I am now resting for 2 days(HAHAH resting, not something I do well..) before my next camp!

Visions of Damascus Gate

Okay, quick life update!

Saturday I went shopping in Sinema Square(said Cinema Square) for some clothes that would be suitable for camp. I was shopping for an hour before I realized that I was the ONLY foreigner there, with 90% of the woman wearing Hijab. The fact I hadn’t realized these things just goes to prove how comfortable I am here. The shopping trip was a success, I bought some nice clothes and managed to only speak around 20% English.

Sunday I went to church and watched the Eurocup final. Italy didn’t win. I was disappointed.

Tuesday Shadia and I had a lot of meetings out of the office, which was nice. Of course all of them were in Arabic but I could just about follow along. I stayed at her house in Old Jerusalem that night. We watched Masterchef Australia. I can’t get away from it!

Wednesday I attended a Fourth of July party at my friends house with a lot of Americans. It was a lot of fun!

This week I also discovered that I live across the road from a refugee camp, named ‘Azza. What a weird discovery. I’ve lived here 2 months and never realized. The bakery I buy my bread from every morning is situated in a refugee camp. That is such a strange reality to me.

Visions of Damascus Gate

 If you’ve ever seen Damascus Gate you’ll know why its my favorite part of Old Jerusalem. It is beautiful and I could try to explain, but hopefully this picture will do small justice.

 

This is where get off the bus when going to church. My church is seriously just down the road. I always end up being a little early and get to people watch. Damascus Gate is in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian part of Jerusalem. There is always markets and seriously good street food . If you’re lucky you even find a delicious Carob drink here. Its Palestinian through and through.

Damascus gate is also a close entrance for Orthodox Jews with a direct road leading from the gate to the Western Wall(Wailing Wall). As I go to church on Friday nights, I  get to watch the Jews rushing through the gate in order to get to the Wall in time to pray, before the sun goes down. As soon as the sun goes down on a Friday evening, Shabbat (Jewish holy day) begins.

Its a beautiful mixture and gives me time to think. I love both these cultures. They both have so much to offer and both have very special places in my heart. At the moment I live and breath these cultures. So often though we are asked to choose between one and the other. You choose one and forget the other. Never both and the same. One or the other. People have chosen their sides and stand steadfast, they are passionately committed to their sides. If you are not for them, you are against them.

This breaks my heart, I can’t choose one or the other, I love both. I have friends on both sides of the story. After thinking and praying about where I stand on the issue, I chose the third, less talked about option. Both. One and the other. How? What does this look like? With out getting into the very serious, very complicated political issues, the answer is complicatedly simple, love. Man, that makes me sound like a hippy.

Recently at church we have been reading and talking about the Council of Jerusalem in Acts. While that situation had a very specific circumstance, we can take the lessons learnt from it. Ultimately it came down to a people group being on the outside. The final decision was one that meant that everybody could live in community together, while not losing their heritage. Essentially, who they were. Imagine, just imagine if that could happen in this situation. Just the thought gives me goose bumps.

Being Pro-Israeli does not make you Anti-Palestine.
Being Pro-Palestinian does not make you Anti-Israel.
There is an in-between. 
Loving one does not mean you hate the other.
There is a middle ground
 
 

PS. Our first camp starts this week in Hebron, this is a extremely volatile area with a lot of ‘action’ recently. The camp is being run in a Christian school, everyone attending will be Muslim. Prayers for energy for leaders, impact on kids lives and low frustration levels would be most welcome!

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.