By Musalaha Staff
Musalaha camps are open to all children, from any ethnic and religious background. As we have increased the number of camps that we host we have received a greater diversity in the demographic makeup of both the campers and the leaders. This has been an exciting development and we are grateful for this opportunity to bring a wider range of children together to meet one another. Musalaha’s camps are also becoming known in new cities and villages, with various groups and organizations inviting us to their communities. Due to this demand, this year we decided to host two weeks of camp in Bethlehem instead of one.
Compared to other cities throughout the West Bank, Bethlehem is a much more open community. The new campers, who came from as far as the northern West Bank to attend the camps, added welcome diversity as they were from Muslim backgrounds. Games, craft activities, and trained leadership attracted them to attend our camps. The children also receive the invaluable teachings on biblical principles from Galatians chapter five, about the fruit of the spirit and accepting one another.
What was different this summer from previous years was that many of the parents expressed their appreciation for our camps as not only their children, but they themselves benefited from the teaching. Some of the parents chose to sit in the back during the lessons, learning alongside their children. The messages taught were a stark contrast to what they see daily on social media, or the attitudes of racism, intolerance, and exclusivism that they encounter in their daily lives.
One parent shared the following with our West Bank Camp Coordinator, “You have no idea what your teaching and enthusiasm did for me. I came here this morning disappointed and feeling miserable, but your teaching changed my attitude!" The mother then hugged the Camp Coordinator and began to cry. Because her child was able to attend camp, she learned about healthy responses to the harmful attitudes mentioned above- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Another aspect of our camps is the partnership with groups from the US and Europe who come to serve with us in the summer. For many of these groups, camp service can be life-changing, especially as their societies experience increased polarization and religious intolerance. For some people, spending time in a Muslim majority village and interacting on a basic human level helps to strip their preconceived ideas and prejudices towards Muslims. This includes the young adults as well as the leaders who come to serve. Below is a reflection from Pastor Eric Bryant of Gateway Church in Austin, Texas on serving at the camp in Nablus.
- On both sides of the wall I saw kids who reminded me of our kids. They loved ice cream. They loved playing. They loved each other.
- Another commonality we all share-- we don't like to be stereotyped. No one likes to be misunderstood.
- Not all Israelis are the same. Not all Palestinians are the same. Not all Americans are the same. The best way to understand others is to actually get to know them. Serving in Nablus in the West Bank gave us that opportunity.
- One moment during the camp which really struck me was when the kids started to learn a Palestinian cultural dance called dabke. Mohammad is the son of the janitor at the center where the camp was held in Nablus. He wanted to do the dabke with me. We did this for about 30 minutes, two different days. What a beautiful world where an American pastor who follows Jesus can dance with a Palestinian Muslim kid named Mohammad for an hour, in the summer of 2017.
We would like to thank everyone who prayed for us and those who contributed to these camps. We would like to especially thank the teams from Gateway Church in Austin, Texas, Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village, California, and St. Peter’s Church in Bolton, United Kingdom for serving with us this year. We have been truly blessed!