Reflections of 2019 Young Heroes Camp Director, Hannah Belk

“I will stay.” The 10 year-old girl looked at me with clear conviction and great courage. She wiped her tears and walked boldly back to her room, back to a counselor from the “other” side. It was the second night of the camp and we had just finished a long conversation about her fears, her desire to move to another room, and her longing to just go home. It all just felt too hard. But, she stayed. Despite this young girl’s fear and uncertainty, she chose to stay.

A couple of weeks ago, Musalaha hosted a summer camp with Israeli and Palestinian youth. The theme of the camp was “Young Heroes.” During Bible time, we studied both young heroes in the Bible, as well as young heroes having a positive influence in their communities today. Our hope was to inspire these children, that they too, regardless of their age, were capable of transforming their communities for the better. That they too, could take small actions like David to make a big difference, could live life with the courage that Daniel had, and work together as Mary Magdalene and the women who supported Jesus’ ministry did.

And then, throughout the rest of the day, the campers were given the opportunity to practice being young heroes. Whether it was working together as a team during water games, having the courage to sit next to someone different at lunch, or choosing the small action of saying goodnight in the other’s language, these children were practicing reconciliation. The children worked hard to get to know the “other” even if it wasn’t easy - different languages, different cultures, and different worldviews. But these children were brave. They didn’t let what adults would see as obstacles define their time together or dissuade them from developing new friendships. These campers were breaking down the walls society had built up between them - one smile, one conversation, and one silly song at a time. Reconciliation is about staying in and doing the hard work.

Yes, Musalaha summer camps are a lot of fun - we play soccer hard, get wild with crazy games, swim circles around each other in the pool, and dance like no one is watching. But, there is something deeper and more lasting that takes place in the lives of these children.

Musalaha does not teach tolerance, it teaches love.

A love that is radical, revolutionary, and reconciling. While tolerance is important, it is surface-level and short-term. It does not have the capacity to stay in when things get hard. Love is staying in a conversation with someone you disagree with. Love is staying in when society tells us to leave. Love is not letting fear dictate our words or actions. Love is bravely walking back to your room, even when you’re scared, as this little 10-year old girl did. And love? It pushes you farther than you think you can go. By the last night of camp, this young girl was happily in her room, making greeting cards with her roommate and counselor.

On the final morning of the camp, all of the counselors awarded their campers a superhero cape and a certificate which stated a heroic character trait they demonstrated throughout the week. This young girl received the word courage - the courage to love, the courage to continue, and the courage to stay.

Please join us in continuing to pray for the children and counselors involved in this camp: that their lives and words and actions and choices would reflect love and that they would continue to walk confidently in their communities, as the young heroes that they are - choosing love, choosing courage, choosing togetherness, choosing to stay. Until next summer…

Hannah Belk