Thursday, July 31, 2008

“The Other”

Dear Participants of the 4th young adult conference

" Palestinian Christians and the Challenges Of Today "

One last minute reminder:
Your family and friends can receive daily updates about the Young Adult Conference on the Young Friends of Sabeel blog. The link is

So, when you tell all of your families that you have arrived, send them the link so they can stay up to date.

See you all in a matter of hours!


July 30th, 2008 – Nazareth

As you enter the Church of the Annunciation, you are greeted by a courtyard of mosaics representing Mary and the baby Jesus as created by countries from around the world. Walking through the shade of the mosaics – they are BIG, larger than life-sized – it is easy to forget the checkpoints, the Wall and the injustice of the occupation that exists just beyond the Church’s gate. Passing the cave that is considered to be the home of Mary, the Church opens up into the main sanctuary where international mosaics keep watch over pilgrims and those at prayer. As a Canadian, I was eager to see my country’s representation of Christ. I found the Japanese Mary and Jesus and those from various European countries and, finally, amidst the life-like images of brightly coloured glass and jewels was my country’s contribution. At first glance it looks like a huge stucco wall gone wrong – all clay-coloured, without any human figures or myriad pieces of precisely cut stone. Our tour guide only paused by it because it was near a breeze – he couldn’t tell our group much more than it was made by an Aboriginal Canadian artist and that most everyone classified it as “different”. Although Canada’s image wasn’t the in-your-face, 3-D Jesus that was in the USA’s mosaic, I was pleased with what Canada had to offer and that Canada’s creation was accepted in a place of honour despite its “different”-ness. And while each country’s image of mother and child were more or less distinct, Canada’s abstract and simplified version was as fitting an image as the others. The images, after all, are interpretations of the same faith. I am proud to be a Christian (and Canadian!) when it means respecting, accepting and celebrating diversity – especially when it would be easier (or more aesthetic) not to. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but remember: we are all created in God’s image and He is a unifying Creator that exceeds definitions of denomination, race and nationality.

-Katie M.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A foreign reality

How do you share the improbable [I’d say impossible, but I’ve seen it, it’s real]? So much of the world I’ve been exposed to is so foreign to my reality that I’m not sure I can even comprehend it, never mind share it. But, I’ll try.

The Holy Land is an incredibly beautiful place. The landscape around Jerusalem is a testament to God’s creative magic. More than that, there is something special about this place that defies my understanding. I don’t know that I can describe it in words, but there is a feeling deep inside me, one that I get in Jerusalem, one that I get few other places. I share this because it is the backdrop where the stories of the Holy Land take place, both those of the past and those of the future.

While the backdrop is unbelievably beautiful, the stories themselves are plainly unbelievable. I could share stories of things I’ve heard, things I have seen that even I have trouble believing myself. But seeing as I’m not sure I believe them, I will keep them to myself for now.

What I can share, because I can’t deny its reality, no matter how much I may want to, is the extreme prejudice that is so blatantly obvious everywhere we go. This morning, on our way out of Bethlehem, we saw the lines of taxies on each side of the checkpoint waiting to take people to their destinations; not because the people here are incapable of driving themselves there, but because Palestinians in Bethlehem are not allowed to drive to Jerusalem. Instead, they have to walk through a Giant Checkpoint. We were told that people start lining up at 3:30 in the morning in order to get to work on time even though the checkpoint doesn’t open until 6 am.

For me as middle class Canadian, it is so incredibly foreign that because of completely uncontrollable circumstances [ethnic origin] a single person, never mind thousands of people, would not be allowed to drive themselves 10 minutes to work. It is completely ridiculous. I can think of no other words to describe it. And this from a country that claims to be a part of the ‘western world’ and shares ‘western’ values!

Being in the land where Christ was made known, I can’t help but wonder how His message has been so tragically lost. It’s not as if the stories aren’t remembered. Millions of people visit the Holy Land each year to see where Christ walked, to listen to the story of his life. But I can’t help but wonder if they are perhaps listening to the words without hearing the story.


"I have always had the privilege of freedom"

My name is Margaret E. and I am a 21-year-old Canadian. I have never been told where I can or cannot go or live. I have always had the privilege of freedom.

My reality compared to a Palestinian is as different as comparing East and West. I wake up every morning, and the only thing on my mind is, "What am I going to eat when I get upstairs?" I eat, hop into a car and travel the 30 kilometers to work. I only leave 30 minutes before my shift begins. I do not need to worry that anything could prevent me from getting to work on time.

At a checkpoint in Bethlehem, the Sabeel conference group waited 45 minutes to pass thirty feet from the West Bank to just another portion of the West Bank, sectioned off from itself. We passed through three segregated gates with multiple ID and visa checks before we were admitted. This was just a blink of an eye compared to a typical rush hour wait. We were told that Palestinians get up and wait in line beginning at 3:30 to 4 o'clock in the morning until the gate opens at 7 AM, just to get to work on time. From this the question "why?" arises. Is it a protection for the Israelis from the "terrorists?" The so-called Palestinian terrorists did not have any arms until the second Intifada at the end of 2001.

When the group was returning from a visit to an NGO in Hebron, we encountered a true act of terrorism. While walking past a roadblock, it was brought to my attention that two Israeli soldiers were harassing three little Palestinian girls who lived just around the corner. I heard later that they had been threatening them with sticks and aggressively moving towards them to intimidate them. The children were backed up against a wall and the soldiers waved their guns casually at the children's feet. Some of the Palestinian participants began to yell at the soldiers in Arabic. The soldier suddenly switched his attention to the Palestinians in our group. He began to demand, "Are you Muslim; are you Christian?", pointing around the circle. The response from one of the Palestinians was profound and will remain ingrained on my heart forever. She said, "We are Christian, but why does it matter? Are we not all human?" Finally, the children were released, but one of the Palestinians was detained and his ID confiscated. This is reality. To speak up for injustice is to risk your own freedom.

My heart was heavy with questions. How long would the children have been harassed had we not intervened? How far would the soldiers have gone? The circumstances are so hard to put into words, since it was both a fateful blessing and an unjust necessity that we even needed to be there. It is an internal conflict that I will forever battle. The whole ordeal left a bitter and lasting taste in my mouth, and it was easy for anger to swell inside me to the point of insanity. Yet, I had to remind myself of my own injustices. Israelis walk around everyday knowing that this is happening, yet they ignore it. I cannot judge them, for how many times have I walked by a homeless person, a drug addict or another in need, and done nothing? How many more times will I do it? I cannot give an absolute answer that I will not ignore it again since my heart and my mind conflict with one another. Logically, I know that justice must be served, yet the reality of my environment makes me worry about little but materialistic problems.

So, where does this leave me? It leaves me with a promise that I will give my best, in whatever that form may be, and share this tragedy to help the world listen. I cannot promise perfection, since it does not exist, but my best is all I have to offer.

There is a point, somewhere, that the east in fact meets the west; and in that place is where I wish to stand.

-Margaret E., from Canada

Saturday, July 26, 2008

And the YAC is underway!

While the sun has already set on the third full day of the Sabeel young adult conference, it's not too late to say that our group has arrived safely from their various locales across the world, including Canada, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, the US and Palestine! Not only did they arrive safely, but we've already completed three full days of engaging activities together.

Without regular internet access, it means we're a bit behind, so we'll back track a bit, and leave you with some reflections on Lifta, a depopulated town which we visited our first day together.

July 25, 2008

The second day into the conference, and it feels like a week. In a good way, that is. We have already experienced and learned so much, seen so many places, met so many people and heard so many stories. Being guided through the depopulated village of Lifta by a man who grew up there himself was intense. He showed us where their house used to be, where they used to buy sweets and where the mosque stood. After being imprisoned for 17 years he still has no hatred in his voice while speaking about the Israelis. He still has hope.

Even though this is only the second day of the conference, it feels as if we have already met a lot of this kind of people. People who refuse to give up hope, even after 60 years of Nakba. They are desperate to share their stories to the rest of the world and us, being a link to the outside. These people are a hope in a place of hopelessness, and it is so very inspiring to meet them.

-Hannah O.


It is such a place of paradoxes it seems. We went today (Wednesday the 24th) to Old Jerusalem and to Lifta. Lifta is a depopulated town, close to Jerusalem. We were guided by a man who had lived there before 1948. He was telling us how he remembered all the people who lived there who had shops, who had families. He would go to the sheriffs wife and ask for sweets, and she would always respond with “No sweets! No sweets!”

The sun was setting as we went through LIfta, a beautiful sight, yet so haunting. The paradox of beauty and great sadness. IT is a land of people who are devoted to God (Jews, Muslims and Christians), yet has been so cruel. “The Holy Land” and yet, it has been through so much.

We are blessed to be here, to learn about hope in the Holy Land.

-Robert P.

(Photo credit-- Jay Gregory)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Young Adult Conference 2008

The Nakba, Justice and Beyond: 1948

A Time to Remember ... A Time For Truth

Our vision for this conference (July 24-August 3, 2008) is to gather, network, and further educate young leaders (ages 18-35) from Palestine and around the world, during this 60th year of commemorating the Nakba; so that they may be trained, commissioned, and equipped with the tools to act in advocacy to work for justice and peace in the Holy Land

The conference will include

Visits to Palestinian and Israeli Towns and Villages

Events Celebrating Palestinian Culture

Worship and Biblical Reflections

Volunteer Experience

Advocacy Workshops

Sharing Experiences and Ideas with Palestinian Young Adults