My First Pilgrimage of Companionship to Jerusalem, Gaza and Palestine:
We have been here for three days and my spirit is on overload. The sights and sounds and smells that surround me heighten all of my senses as I pass through the Damascus Gate into old Jerusalem for the first time. Holy sites, Israeli flags, bustling markets, and a mass of humanity from all parts of the globe. I’m humbled by the thought of literally walking in the footsteps of Jesus, yet confused by the conflict and “dis ease” I feel as a follower and disciple of the Prince of Peace.
In just three days I have been introduced to three amazing organizations with passionate leaders; I have heard their stories, witnessed their vocational vision and been touched to my core. I feel as if I’ve been privileged to bear witness to the work and ministry of modern day prophets.
On Day One we were given a “political tour” by Fayrouz Sharqawi, the Global Mobilization Coordinator for Grassroots Jerusalem. We saw how neighborhoods and villages have been systematically destroyed and taken over and how the wall has divided and cut-off Palestinians from their land and from each other. She has great clarity that this is a long-standing political battle and not a religious one. She believes that the Palestinian people are the one’s who need to set the agenda for a solution in order to reclaim their humanity. We can best support the Palestinians by taking a hard look at the realities in our own country and doing the work we need to do to bring about justice. A candle is lit in the darkness.
On Day Two we were driven to Bethany and saw for ourselves much of what had been pointed out from a distance the day before. What used to take 15 minutes took us an hour and a half due to check points, and the division caused by the wall. We visited House of Hope, Vision Elementary School and Kindergarten, a Waldorf School in Bethany and met with the founder/director, Milad Vosgueritchian and his spouse and lead teacher Menar.
In describing their decision to stay in Bethany despite the many difficulties they face he said, “We prefer to light a candle rather than living in the darkness.” They attempt to bring healing to the children’s hearts through music and the arts. We can’t solve all of the corruption but if we can save one child we have made a huge impact.
Constant trauma is one of the major problems facing the children. They are used to being stressed. Their son’s drawings of bombs dropping from the sky and smoking buildings show his reality. A couple of weeks ago they had a lot of increased violence and bombs in their neighborhood. Their son’s asthma was acting up and he said, “Oh no! I won’t be able to breathe again.” Menar asked him to go and get some lemons and he came back with 3 lemons and 3 bombs. Nissan is 9, Menar is 34…she relives her upbringing and the violence she experienced through his eyes and that helps her heal even though it’s very hard watching the impact it is having on her son.
In Dec. 2016 Milan and Menar received a grant from Japan to serve more communities. They took children 3-16 years old; kids that had been divided by the wall, that have never seen the sea even though they live just about 30 miles from it, have never seen a green forest. They attempt to shift the children’s anger through music and the arts and they notice that the kids begin to forget they are enemies. Applying the world of education, working on their hearts and then their minds, shaping a new generation of Palestinians. A school that provides a safe place for children of all faiths in Bethany. A candle is lit in the darkness!
The morning of Day Three we set out for Gaza. Why? Because no one visits Gaza; we go because we can and our presence helps to remind the Gazans that that they are not forgotten. We are taken to Al Ahli Arab Hospital and meet with the Director, Assistant Director, and the Medical Director. The passion and vision they have for their hospital and the urgency of ensuring that Al Ahli Hospital continues to be there for all Gazans in the future, offering the best medical care possible in a war torn area is palpable. I had heard before of the difficulty for amputees waiting for prosthetics and surgeries. What I didn’t realize is the significant increase in these injuries since the Great March of Return. They described how many times their patient’s limbs are affected because the Israeli soldiers shoot at their legs. At the hospital, they are working hard to enhance their microbiology so that they are able to provide the correct antibiotics in order to save the patient’s limbs and sometimes their lives. When that is unsuccessful the resultant need is for prosthetics. All of this would be difficult anywhere, but in Gaza where there is very limited access of materials in and out it is miraculous what they are able to do. Candles are lit in the midst of great darkness.
I wonder what candle I’m called to light? How do we do our own work in our country and spheres of influence in such a way that we support and shine a light on the work of our Palestinian brothers and sisters?