Last Friday I spent the day near Jerusalem—on the West Bank.
I came to my first Musalaha (Arabic for “reconciliation”) small group meeting since an initial trip to Holland with no expectations. I had joined the Holland group with mixed feelings; combined with a serious back problem, the entire trip had been difficult and I had returned exhausted. So as I set out for Jerusalem, my only hope was to not get lost and that I would stay awake, because, of course, I hadn’t sleep well the previous night.
I knew would be meeting in the West Bank, but there is a difference between driving on the West Bank alone, and being there with a group. So you can only imagine my panic when my GPS took me past Ramallah. I started to freak out and wondered why I was doing this. Then I got a phone call from a close friend—her husband had just been admitted to the hospital. I began wondering if I should have even come. By the time I met with the other ladies and we arrived together at our hotel next to the separation fence (a small village where it was legal for both Palestinians and Israelis to meet), it was in a total state of tension, feeling extremely tired, and wondering yet again, why had I come?
It is one thing to believe “by this shall all men will know you are my disciples, by your love one for another,” but I felt like I was at square one. It is easy to love at a distance.
However, as the other ladies began to arrive I started to relax, and the prayer and worship time helped me focus on our common Lord and Savior… The focus of the meeting was “Identity.” One exercise we all had to participate in was a real eye opener for me. While most of the Jewish believers in Jesus found their identity in being a woman, mother, believer in Jesus, and somewhat by being Israel, not one of us found our identity in our nationality per se. The Palestinian ladies however, had an incredibly strong connection with their nationality and in their roles as mothers. When challenged to look at the five things we felt identified each of us and narrow it down to one item, most of us found the strongest identification in our faith in Jesus, but again, a surprise. While most of the Jewish ladies didn’t find letting go of our family or national identities all that difficult, all the Arab ladies struggled with letting go of their nationality and family roles.
There is a saying, only by feeling deep pain can one feel deep joy. The real lesson to challenge all of us was yet to come. We were divided into two groups, Arab and Jewish. We had to draw a representation of our identity as a group. My Arab sisters taught me a very important lesson: not to underestimate their faith and their commitment to Jesus.
They drew a picture with a prominent Palestinian flag on the right. Small islands of land, they explained, indicated the cut up portions of the West Bank with Gaza cut off and alone; a large house stood next to a path, representing their homes and family life. On the other side of the path was a gigantic olive tree, representing the land they treasure, and a church similar to one in the home village of one of the ladies. The dividing path was long, seemed stony, and almost looked bloody because of the red marker used to draw it. The path was narrow but clearly divided all that they loved and ended, up at the top of the picture where there was a Bible and a cross.
One of the ladies went on to explain, “This is the long narrow path that Jesus said we have to walk on. We have chosen to leave everything behind, our land, our people, our homes, our families, our churches, for the sake of following Jesus. We are committed to His Word, and the cross and the Bible represent the Kingdom of Heaven, our true home.” And joy was evident in her expression as she shared.
Yet also evident in that drawing was the pain, the suffering, and the blood shed for the sake of giving up all to follow Jesus. I was so challenged. My Arab sisters had already made sacrifices to follow Jesus, but they were willing to give up everything for Jesus; Am I?
Later we had a precious time of prayer. I am looking forward to getting to know these dear sisters. For now politics and borders separate us. We will never really be able to share in each others lives as we could if we were neighbors. But we can pray for each other, and I am looking forward to the day when I will have eternity to get to know them, and many other precious saints in the only Kingdom that every person can be a citizen of—the Kingdom of Heaven.