Editor’s note: Michael Kurth sits on EPF’s National Executive Council and convenes the Young Adult Network. He’s a seminarian and traveled to Israel/Palestine in March with a group of EPF PIN members and friends. He reflects on his time on the ground.
In moments of summer solitude and sanctuary (of which there seems to be fleetingly few), I have settled into a comfy chair to read. My reading material has (unwittingly) coalesced around a common theme: resiliency. First there was Sheryl Sandberg’s “Option B”, a bestseller on how Ms. Sandberg and her family overcame the untimely death of her middle-aged husband. A friend then shared with me “The Stories That Bind Us”, a New York Times article on building resilient, happy children. Why did I keep reaching for this material? What attracted me to this theme?
Perhaps my current interest in resiliency stems from my experience visiting the Holy Land this March, and witnessing great resiliency amidst the anguish of occupation and unrest. Through the course of ten days, seven pilgrims (including myself) made our way through Jerusalem and the West Bank. Our non-traditional pilgrimage had many goals, among them: to visit and walk the land that Jesus walked; to better understand the situation in Israel and the occupied territories of the West Bank; to learn about the status of Christians in the Holy Land and the ministries of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem; to discover the common ground with contemporary concerns in the US, including racism, militarization of police, and colonialism; and to share experiences of ministering in places and settings of injustice. These are all complex issues in the Holy Land, issues that I can only strive to understand and educate myself in so that I may be an effective advocate for peace.
Throughout the pilgrimage, I wondered to myself: where are the oppressed finding their strength and encouragement to be resilient amidst such agony? My fellow pilgrim Kevin Antonio, a first-year seminary student from Sewanee, made a point to ask many of the people we met: “where do you find hope amidst the struggle?” Answers varied. Thanks to a grant from the United Thank Offering, Kevin is making a video to document these answers. One answer stood out most to me: when subjects claimed their hope could be found in the next young generation, in their children.
It is always our children that give us hope. They are the ones we pray will seize our unfinished dreams, who have the innocence to see the world in the just sense God intended, and who have the gumption to bring that dream of justice to fruition. Surely our children will build bridges and not walls, clean wells and not dirty pipes. As the prophet Isaiah claims, “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).
This image – a little child leading our walk for justice – was most poignant for me on our final day. We travelled out to the Hebron Hills in hopes of meeting with Bedouin villagers to see how the occupation affects their way of life. It was a breezy day on the hilltops, the sun oscillating between warming my skin and hiding behind clouds. As we came to a small village, we met volunteers from Italy who lived in a small, bare home. For months, they (and other volunteers from around the world) have walked young Palestinian children from their school to their homes, keeping them safe from harassment and harm. More recently, the school children had been meeting halfway with members of the Israeli army, who would then escort them on the last leg of their journey past settlements and to their homes. The walk was many miles each day. On this day, we joined as volunteers and shepherded the children before transferring them to the army escort. Here was an example of Palestinians, volunteers, and Jewish soldiers engaging in peace and trust, against all odds and cultural disparities.
How sad it is that someone would provoke and endanger the youngest, most vulnerable children on their way to and from school. And yet, the children remained strong, walking miles from their home and around potential danger to attend school. Little children leading us, little children leading the soldiers.
This is resilience. This is hope.