Southeast Michigan Synod Mission Trip
Four of the six adult travelers on this pilgrimage were visiting the Middle East for the first time. In the group, some were excited. Some were anxious to share the experience. Some were unsure about the impact of this journey. But ultimately, lives were touched and changed as they got close to the reality of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
Our itinerary began in Amman, Jordan, worshipping at the Church of the Good Shepherd, touring historical sights, and experiencing the Dead Sea. We continued on to Petra and marveled at the natural beauty of the 3rd century city carved completely out of red rock.
The next, and most extensive, goal was to visit our Lutheran Mission Partners in Palestine and Israel. Crossing the border at the Allenby Bridge we experienced a slight delay but did witness Palestinians who have been waiting for hours to cross into Israel due to repeated harassment by the Israeli border guards. This treatment was to be an appetizer for other similar encounters at road blocks and check points. As we would come to learn, this is the daily struggle for the Palestinians (Muslim and Christian) under Israeli occupation.
We continued on with visits to the Holy sights around Jerusalem, walking the steps of Jesus and touring Augusta Victoria Hospital, operated by the LWF and the only hospital with specialized medicine serving more than a million Palestinians. We helped with the olive harvest at the hospital grounds and visited with Bishop Younan of the ELCJHL at the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem, walking the Old City and meeting the other ELCJHL congregations in Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahur.
We visited with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition (ICAHD), and our hearts were crushed to see homes that were totally demolished in order to expand illegal settlements. In Bethlehem we felt shocked when we were up close and personal with the huge towering cement barrier wall, topped with watch towers, that completely surrounds Bethlehem and makes it extremely hard if not impossible for Palestinian Christians from other parts of the Palestinian territories to visit the sight of the birth of Jesus at the Church of the Nativity.
The many encounters and conversations we had with Christian and Muslim Palestinians and also with Israeli Jews support the conclusion that the policies of Israel do not reflect the desire of the people who strive for peace and justice for all. The spirit of hope and faith is strong in the hearts of the Palestinians despite the daily turmoil and struggles just to get through their days. The gracious sincere hospitality from the Palestinians is a lesson to ALL. They remain strong in their faith and keep pressing on to endure and survive. They simply want to be free to stay in their homes, work their land and be able to have freedom of movement to family, friends, work and church.
Reactions most expressed by our travelers were “our eyes and hearts have been opened to find a way to support the Palestinians in general and our Christian sisters and brothers in the birth place of our faith. WE must speak to the fact that the roots of our Christianity have dwindled to less than 1.5% of the population from a high of 23% pre the establishment of Israel. We must speak out for a just peace. We must tell the personal stories we heard and share the experiences we had which not only increased our faith, but also changed our lives having witnessed the truth of this conflict first hand. One participant stated so profoundly, “I know what I saw and I cannot deny the facts that lay in front of me. This trip taught me a profound lesson and that is we are truly all the same. We want the same things out of life: the freedom to do what we need to do to provide for our families, to have lives filled wit enjoyment and meaning, to walk with dignity, to be recognized as equals and to be filled with the hope of a better tomorrow for our children.”