Every year, between 20-30 new Palestinian and Israeli young adult believers join Musalaha’s desert encounter program. The participants meet each other for the first time, in many cases meeting someone from the other side for the first time, and share a week of challenging and meaningful experiences together. By the end of the trip, the members of the group usually express feeling impacted by their encounter, and the program is summarized on a warm and positive note.
This model is one we have seen repeated in almost all of our programs for all ages. Afterwards, the group scatters as the participants return to their everyday lives. It is at this stage that timing, personal interest and conviction, and will come into play, driving a person towards or away from a deeper attitude of reconciliation and bridge building. We have faith that God uses our programs to impact hearts, and we have been privileged to see a glimpse of that effect. Whether this is realized in ideological changes, such as an improved outlook towards the other side, or life-changing decisions, such as joining a ministry that works among the other side, the end result is awareness, willingness, and openness. After the encounter, we try to give more opportunities for group development, but because of legality, resources, and the carefulness many have when it comes to reconciliation, we consider the speed of success to be around that of a snail.
A few weeks ago, during the Passover/Easter vacation, we took thirty young adults, who had already been on desert encounters in the past, to Greece for a conference on forgiveness. We modeled it on last year’s women’s conference on the same topic. After arriving at many walls throughout the last few years, the breakthrough the women experienced at this conference brought renewed hope. Our highest expectations were for a similar phenomenon among the young adults, that the experience in Greece would be a small step on that snail-trail journey, a little ray of hope among the clouds. But in the end, there was no little ray of hope; there was enough shine to require sunscreen.
I should have known it when I saw the registration fill within a few days. Our young adults are open. They are aware, they are willing, and they are genuinely receptive. They shared the weekend with each other almost effortlessly, unafraid to take chances or to truly express how they feel and think. They explored deep issues that had taken other groups years to be ready for and extended to one another an honest desire for understanding. As we rode back to the airport, I heard not only the usual exchange of contact information, but also brainstorming on strengthening bonds, reaching out, and even practically improving the situation.
Even after the program, I still had my doubts. I questioned whether or not the participants would have been as enthusiastic if the conference would have been closer to home. Two weeks later, while the Palestinians still had permits to enter Israel in honor of Easter, we organized what was supposed to be a small get-together in Jerusalem on the spur of the moment. More than twenty people arrived, some from outside of the city, just to have an evening with friends. Recently, we sent out an invitation for an informal hiking trip in mutually legal Area C (which we had always thought of as just being shared highways, but thanks to the suggestion of one of our participants, we now know that there are caves and trails there too!), and we are excited about spending time together this weekend. These young adults are not letting the conflict or society dictate whether or not they will engage with each other; they are taking initiative and doing what they can within the confines of the situation. The bonds created among these young adults have become a source inspiration that leads to action and internal change. Call it youthful passion, but it is doing good work, and I love it.
It may seem strange how excited I sound over 20 people here, 30 people there, but one of Musalaha’s greatest challenges, perhaps even greater than finances, is recruitment. Sometimes I have felt that we are pouring out our energy to pester the unwilling, but now I feel like the tables are turning. Words cannot describe the joy that seeing such a strong group of open hearts brings to mine. It is an answer to prayer and I have faith that this excitement will continue to develop until reconciliation is seen as an important part of the walk of every believer in the Holy Land.
We will have more information about this retreat in our upcoming newsletter which will be mailed out in the next several weeks.
By Ronit Kory
Young Adults Coordinator