Musalaha hosted the third of its three camps July 18-23, 2016 where more than 120 campers and staff came together for our annual Children’s Summer Camp at the Baptist Village in Petah Tikva, Israel. Below, one of our camp volunteers shares some impressions.

When asked to write about my first-time experience at the 2016 Musalaha Children’s Summer Camp, I immediately said yes and just as quickly became overwhelmed with how to share all that’s been swirling in my mind since I returned home. The experience left an imprint on my heart. I’ll attempt to share with you and put into words how my time at the camp was life-changing and reaffirmed that God has limitless love for His people.

The Camp

The Musalaha camp is a blessing not only for children, but for its staff, leaders, and helpers.  In fact, there were almost as many leaders and helpers as there were campers!  This was surprising at first, until we learned that the system in place was a progression for campers to continue in the camp after they had reached the maximum camper age limit. As young helpers, they would continue in the environment, but with added responsibilities until they could become leaders. It’s an effective way for the kids to stay involved.

The goal of Musalaha is reconciliation through learning and, most importantly, exposure. At camp, Israeli and Palestinian kids can meet each other in neutral and safe surroundings. Year after year, as friendships forge, they continue to meet and stereotypes crumble. Outside of camp, plunged back into their realities, there is too much opportunity to unlearn the lessons of empathy.

The week of camp was a time I won’t forget. Campers, helpers, and leaders spoke varying levels of English, Arabic, and Hebrew. Through language barriers, we still found effective ways to communicate. Laughter and love are universal languages spoken everywhere. I had a chance to teach some of the kids how to play basketball, which isn’t nearly as popular as football (what we call soccer in the U.S.) but the kids still had a great time. We learned and sang so many songs, from which I only remember yelling “banana!” and “papaya!” in Arabic with the kids at the top of my lungs. We cooled off from the relentless sun in the swimming pool, where the kids didn’t care where you came from as they climbed on your shoulders and tried to dunk you underwater.

During the Bible study time, we focused on “Heroes of the Bible” and heroes in our society.  Several campers were excited to see their camp counselors were like heroes.

Our super hero crafts were a hit! The kids decorated masks, belts, and capes which they donned and ran around hoping to fly. Giving children a blank canvas with some creative tools to express themselves is a great thing to witness. Also, kids on both sides of the world use much more glue than necessary to hold two pieces of paper together. Messy, but comforting.

What do I take with me?

One of my biggest challenges was trying to process and distill my experience for those back at home. Supported by my family and friends, I had an obligation to share with them what I saw, felt, and learned. Much of the turmoil caused by the conflict makes the news here in the U.S. What doesn’t make the news is the collaboration of Israeli and Palestinian youth who help run a children’s camp for a week out of their year. Wars make the headlines for adults, but I’d rather talk about the annual camp color war which is comprised of kids armed with handfuls of color powder throwing them at each other. Bursts of red, blue, green, purple, and yellow powder flew through the air and onto our clothes. For a brief hour, colored rainbows streaked through the air while kids forgot about the burdens of any other conflict. The only “conflict” was to quickly get a handful of powder to douse a friend’s white shirt into a palette of color. That was one of the highlights of the camp.

Musalaha has a mission of reconciliation and healing in a region that is saturated with conflict. The Bible teaches us that love is the ideal we should seek. In today’s Israel-Palestine, I imagine that getting to love feels like an unsurmountable task. There are walls in places where we should instead be having conversations. But if you could have heard the campers’ laughter, seen their smiles, and felt God’s embrace like I did, you might allow yourself some hope. If you had seen the kids dancing side by side, regardless of where they were born, you might be more optimistic than cynical. I came home with resolve to share that God’s love will always triumph. To reaffirm that God’s love will always shine in the darkest corners. The camp taught me much more than I hoped to teach the children.

By Matthew