This past April 6-9, we had a special youth desert trip, as the desert itself was in full spring bloom. We were told by some older Bedouins that the desert had not bloomed like this since 1980. We were quite fortunate to see so much vegetation, and the camels accompanying us seemed to enjoy this rare experience the most. After a night of Bedouin hospitality, 35 leaders and participants set off on a trek down some of the old Spice Routes that used to assist thousands of merchants to transport goods all over the world.
At the beginning of our trip, I was a bit annoyed that there was cell phone service in this part of the desert, and many of the youth were on their phones despite the “no phone” rule. I tried to let it go as soon we would enter a valley where there would be no reception and the phones’ battery lives would run out. There were two underlying themes in this trip that helped us get rid of technology distractions. The first was a two part lesson given by one of our more experienced leaders; her main emphasis was the uniqueness of the desert and the type of role it can play spiritually. She focused on how the desert is a place to come and listen, to wonder and to test oneself. The second part of our teaching focused on the uniqueness of what we were trying to achieve through reconciliation. The most memorable time of discussion we had with the youth was based around this story:
A young girl once came to her father during a time of conflict and asked him, “Why is life so difficult?” Her father did not answer her but beckoned her into the kitchen, pulled out three pots, filled them with water and heated them until they started boiling. He then put in each pot a carrot, an egg and some coffee grinds. [DSC_2742ed]
After a short while, he took the pots off the stove, waited for them to cool and asked her to pick up the carrot from the first pot and tell him what she felt. She answered that it was soft. He then proceeded to the second pot and asked her to repeat the action. She picked up the egg and told him that it was hard. He then asked her to move to the third and tell him what she saw. She told him that the she could smell the delicious coffee and that all the water had changed its color.
He then explained that life is like a pot of water that heats up in times of conflict. He explained that we can choose to let our surroundings make us soft, make us hard or that we can use our situation to produce something fruitful. We proceeded to complete our most difficult day of hiking and climbing which ended on the ruins of an old fort that used to overlook and protect much of the Spice Route. In this fort we asked the youth to spread out and be completely still and quiet. We asked them to use the desert as a time to listen to God and reflect on what reconciliation means in their lives. Without distraction we sat in complete silence for a number of minutes and then gathered quietly to head back to camp.
Once we got back, we asked the youth to reflect on this story and what it meant in terms of our own conflict. We asked them how many of them had heard or witnessed someone saying something hateful, racist or violent against the “other side” during the conflict. All of the participants (and leaders) raised their hands. One of the participants contributed her own perspective to the story by saying: “For me, this story is about influence. We can let our situations influence us on the outside (like the carrot), on the inside (like the egg) or we can be the ones that influence our surroundings when things heat up, like the coffee did.”
Afterwards we discussed how God has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) and that we are called to be agents of reconciliation in our own societies. In light of, and despite, all the hardships that have influenced our youth over the past six months, these youth have decided not to “harden” or “soften” as a result of the conflict, but mix with each other and create something new.
By Jack Munayer