In the fall of 2013, I realized that after three summers of working at Musalaha’s Children’s camp, it was time to gain a deeper understanding of the culture and conflict in this land. So, during the summer of 2014, I spent six weeks in Israel volunteering for Musalaha. I had no idea what to expect during my time there; all I knew was that God grew in me a desire to be there and serve.
Almost as soon as I began working at Musalaha’s office, I learned that it wasn’t about me serving or volunteering; it was about me becoming a sponge and learning. My job had become to learn, absorb, and take all of these things back home and share them. I was placed in a setting where everyday, I was with a handful of Israelis and Palestinians in one office, who respected one another, cared about each other’s well-being, and most importantly put Christ at the center of their workplace. Already this speaks volumes. Everyday, we would meet, discuss the upcoming week, read a devotional, and pray. We prayed for one another, upcoming events, and the hate that was breeding violence between people in Israel and Palestine. It was quickly instilled in all of us to remember that taking sides is easy; but what is necessary is recognizing that fear and pain exist on both sides, and that it was our responsibility to carry a message of reconciliation and hope, not who is right or wrong. I attended two separate Musalaha events that took place at Talitha Kumi, a Christian boarding school and guest house, located in an area where both Palestinians and Israelis can meet.
The first event was a women’s meeting for young Israeli and Palestinian mothers. At the gathering, we worshipped in Arabic, Hebrew and English; discussed listening vs. hearing, and what it really means to listen to someone from the other side; and then prayed together. I felt very honored to sit among these women and listen to them share their fears, worries, and frustrations with one another, especially regarding the current situation and escalating conflict. The women responded to one another with grace and understanding, instead of judgment and hate. The second event was a women’s prayer meeting, with the sole purpose of praying for the escalating situation occurring in the land. It is an understatement to say that the Spirit was present in that room that day. Prayers were lifted, Salim came and spoke about fear, and then gifts were exchanged. The gift exchange was profoundly humbling for me. Palestinian women gave bottles of olive oil to Israeli women, and the Israeli women gave six-pack bottles of water to the Palestinian women. Both the olive oil and the water had blessings attached to them which was written by the woman who was giving the gift. As I handed one woman a six-pack of water, I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, “Who am I to be giving this basic need to another human being, who should never be without it for any reason?” The gratitude this woman had in accepting this gift was beyond what I could comprehend. Change occurred within me that day.
Camp season was approaching quickly, and after a little more than a month of preparing for the junior and children’s camps, we were ready and excited to start the camps at Baptist Village. A few days before leaving for the junior camp, the political situation had risen to a level where safety and security became an issue and a deciding factor on whether or not the camp should even take place. The Enemy was on the prowl, and he wanted to make sure that camp didn’t happen. We all knew it, and we all prayed that God would have sovereignty over the situation and give discernment about the decision that needed to be made. Our prayers were answered in the way that we had hoped, and both camps were still on!
Walking into Baptist Village and seeing the smiling faces of both counselors and campers was reinforcement that these camps were meant to take place despite the demonstrations, violence, and political situation. Personally, it was moving for me to re-kindle the relationships I had formed throughout the years there, and the ability to “pick up where we left off.” It was humbling to receive such amazing welcomes from the counselors, especially considering I only get to see them once a year.
Throughout both camps, it was evident that fear was not holding power, but instead the building and formation of balanced relationships between Israeli and Palestinian children. No matter what the activity: Bible study, volleyball, pool time, track time, crafts, etc., the kids were having a blast and the sounding sirens we heard on occasion fell to the background of all the “good” that was taking place. The children responded to the sirens with resilience; after ten minutes of taking shelter, all the children would run outside and resume playing, laughing, and enjoying their lives like normal.
For four summers, I have found myself sitting on the plane on my way to Israel thinking, “I know I’m going to walk away changed and having been truly blessed by my time there,” and I always am. As an American, I was challenged with the world of “privilege” that would face me when I went home, and trying to learn how balance the change that had occurred within me against all the things that had remained the same at home. The big picture for me at the end of six weeks was this: It’s easy to focus on what’s scary and insecure, especially as it related to the escalating conflict in the West Bank. If we choose to focus on that, we are missing out on what God is really doing and lives He is changing there. Safety is not something God promised to any of us, but Romans 8:31 reminds us that “if God is for us, who can be against us?” There is nothing more secure to rest on than that promise.
By Hilary Nusbaum