We arrived Friday morning to meet the group of 14 Israeli and Palestinian young adults reuniting for a Poetry slam. This was a group who had participated in an exchange program with British young adults at the end of the summer.
The meeting was designed to help them understand their potential for true impact within their communities. This was done by sharing their experiences of how their trip to the UK impacted those around them.
Everyone was given a set of questions about the changes they had experienced since going on the trip and all of them had stories to share.
Impact: One of the British participants, originally from Africa, was a new immigrant in England at the time, and had never heard of Shakespeare. So one of our participants sent him some of Shakespeare’s works following their return. He was very grateful and surprised.
Impact: One of the Israeli participants shared how she had made “life-time friends” and she had also “learned to trust [others], and to be myself.” Although it wasn’t easy for her to reach out to others because of shyness, she still laughed with the group and seemed to enjoy and have fun with them all. This was really moving and encouraging to see.
Impact: Someone felt this trip had made an impact, especially on two British Muslim teenage girls, whose families were not willing to let them go on the trip at first. Finally, they agreed on the condition that they would not be going next year to Israel-Palestine. After the trip, and upon hearing of their daughters’ great experience, their parents will allow them to come next year.
Impact: A group of Israelis who heard about Musalaha’s mission said they want to take part in future programs. They have started learning Arabic.
Impact: Some participants met after the trip and went to a video arcade together and had fun. One of the Israelis continues her friendship with the Palestinian. Someone shared, “It was a great experience and we plan to meet in the future.” Another guy from the group said, “I shared the experience with my friends and family and they wished they could be there. We [the group] plan to meet.”
Impact: Two of the guys, one a Palestinian and the other an Israeli are planning to make music together.
Impact: Someone said he “shared about the trip at work and everyone liked the idea of the program, while some youth leaders in Manchester, England, are looking to implement this same program with their group soon.
By sharing the impact of their trip, these young adults were engaging in the basics of storytelling. “We were created to create. God is the greatest storyteller, so we are storytellers by nature.” The group was encouraged to be advocates for change through sharing their experiences within their communities. Genuine personal stories influence those around us, especially those who know us.
Peer to peer communication is trustworthy and meaningful. Young people see things that are wrong and want to do something about it; they do not conform. This is why people are moved by personal stories about real people, with real challenges to overcome: because we relate and we care.
It is crucial to teach young people about their value in God and their potential for eternal impact in His kingdom. When we understand the meaning of the cross, that it reveals our value in God’s sight, then we will become truly secure in who we are, and we’ll be able to bring this hope to others. The cross, too, reveals the power of forgiveness, which is essential for reconciliation.
During the poetry slam itself, they got in two groups of four and shared their experiences with each other: One of the Israeli participants was rejected by her friends, who didn't understand her experience during the trip. Then, they tried to find commonalities and differences in their stories, jotting down ideas to include in the poem. When it came to similarities between their personal experiences, they listed, "we were all created in God's image." In differences, they mentioned language and culture. They tried to come up with the central idea for their poem based on what they had in common and chose love as their theme, love despite differences. It is also worth mentioning during the discussions within one of the groups, physical obstacles for reconciliation were brought up, like checkpoints.
The greatest challenge when inspiring people to believe in reconciliation and to spread this message is they rarely get to see the impact of their efforts right away, especially because of the physical obstacles to come together and build close relationships.
As a result of the trip, the first step toward reconciliation has been taken, including stripping stereotypes and judgmental attitudes toward each other, as well as reflecting on what the two groups have in common.
The question is not whether, as individuals, we can change the world, because the truth is the odds are against us. Instead, we should be asking ourselves whether we are willing to pay the price for becoming participants in a movement that chooses love over fear.
Mainstream narratives only have power over us if we let them. These young adults impacted their social circles, work environments, and families. They are tomorrow’s leaders and Musalaha will continue to invest in them. Join in investing in them as they impact their communities.
By Diana Ceballos Arruda