Separation: I saw God on the first day of the trip when I had planned every optional manner out in which I could contact my parents and each mode of contact failed me upon entering Istanbul before journeying to Israel. I could not absorb the feeling of being in a foreign land as a joy, privilege or anything positive at this point because I had no means to reach my roots, my family to reassure them that I was safe. In twenty-eight years, my parents and I have never missed a day of communicating in some manner. I was out of my comfort zone, I did not know the Arabic languages well and those natives I needed to communicate with to try to call home did not understand English well. Therefore, my anxiety became overwhelming for me and I am sure for some of those with whom I traveled.
I found God in the peers around me who tried to accommodate me and use their minutes to contact home for me. I found God in those who encouraged me that everything was fine at home and I would be fine in a foreign, distant land. I found God in understanding that anxiety and worrying will only cause me to miss the blessings that are in front of me, as my sight is fixated on my problems and not on God, as in the God around me in each human vessel carrying love, new experiences, comfort, etc. I neglected to realize that Jesus was too prone to seek ministry opportunities that took him away from his family and hometown (e.g. Mark 6:1). Yet, I wondered how Jesus traveled for days, weeks, months at a time and there is no scriptural reference to Jesus sending letters home, or trying to contact his family members often. It was when I placed a physical dividing wall between my family and me, that I found my call to severe the spiritual dividing walls placed up around the world.
Architecture: In a land that three faiths call Holy, Christians, Muslims and Jews, in which all are technically “fighting for the soul of a nation” using President Shimon Peres’ words- I found God in another form of separation in the architecture of the Gates, Walls and symbolism I saw in Israel/West Bank. Each structure symbolically represented both beauty and invisibility. At every church visited there was a gate with symbols on it and on the way to these churches we witnessed a 20 to 26 feet high concrete wall, 196 feet in width, with symbols graffiti on it that traveled most of the way with us as we crossed between Palestinian and Jewish territories. I found God in the writings and drawings on the separation wall that requested freedom for those who have been oppressed or push out of their homes by the separation wall. Similarly, beautiful gates such as the one at the Sermon on the Mount Church reminded me of Peter healing the crippled beggar outside of the beautiful gate in Acts 3 and how gates play the role of keeping others out while permitting others to come in. In addition, with an increase in the Muslim population, some argue that the “veil is replacing cross” noting how population growth correlates to changes in architecture and symbolism.
Sharing of Meals: There were many moments in which the Wesley group sat and shared a meal with both our Jewish or Palestinian brothers and sisters, but one moment sticks out the most as a moment where I truly felt God’s presence. It was the second full day of the trip and the group was scheduled to share communion on the Sea of Galilee as three Jewish gentlemen sailed our class on a boat that would have resembled one in Jesus’ time. As a welcome, the sailors raised the American flag to the American National Anthem. In response, we all stood up to salute our nation’s flag. However, as I placed my right hand over my heart I realized that something was not sitting well; there was an ache when there should have been a beat of joy. I realized my heart was connecting with what I saw. As the American flag was being raised, the Jewish flag remained lowered and stationary. After the ending of the American National Anthem, I requested that the sailors raise the Israel flag and allow us to hear their national anthem. They responded with what I considered at the time an odd question, “Are you sure?” And with a nod, I heard the Israeli national anthem as they raised their flag to fly at the same height as the American flag. I watched with my scholastic peers as the wind would blow each flag in front of one another then side-by side. For me it was the right beginning to a trip to believe that no matter what, we are all called to be resurrected together, in love and in peace without one country dominating the other, without one religious preference condemning another.
There were a number of theological themes that were prominent in my immersion experience; however I will only mention a few:
1. Holiness: From observation during my visits to the holy sites, holiness for keepers of the holy sites equated to silence, modesty, and cleanliness. Holiness for many that we meant along our journey equated to getting one’s hands dirty with work and even shoving to get to one’s blessing.
2. A circular thread between lost-retaliation-justification: During my experience, it became challenging to connect what I experience through the lens of the Bible and how I have been reading the scripture to what I experienced in Israel/West Bank. Where is God in the gentrification in not just a neighborhood, but an entire country? There were many similarities between Israel/West Bank and the United States, especially when seeing the homeless and poor who also begged on the corners. The bottom line for each faith was they due to losing land and dignity they were justified in their actions of retaliation, even if it led to the suppression of another people, because all they wanted was a good life for their children, their legacies. All faiths agreed God does not forsake the children, (Matthew 19:13-15 NRSV), but have we led our children towards or away from God by submitting to a dominate culture that requires for one people to be right politically, economically and socially over another people?
3. Language: Alan Dershowitz states that “each side is entitled to its self-serving narrative so as long as it recognizes that another may interpret the facts somewhat differently.” This is what we found in the use of language. The use of language transforms perceptions, social, economic and political dynamics. The use of the term “occupation” and “wall” were used during Hitler’s persecution of the Jews as well as currently in the West Bank as Israeli military has taken control over once owned Palestinian territories. With every piece of land transformed by way of population growth a new name is assigned in the language of the ethnic/religious majority group represented.
4. Walking: I recall stating disbelief to Prof Hopkins during the journey to Mt Hermon by bus that Jesus could not have walked these lands on foot because the land was so vast. And her response was “now you see the honor in having one’s feet washed.” Although many would not consider walking a theological concept, I am beginning to think it should be. Much of Jesus ministry was conducted on his walks through unfamiliar and at times familiar territories. If Jesus had taken alternate modes of transportation, he may not have always seen someone in need to stop, rather an individual in need may not have had enough access from a distance to stretch out and stop him if he was on a camel versus on foot most of the time. After walking from site to site, experiencing the dust on my feet, not caring, and at the same time experiencing how good it felt to rest my feet helped me realized that there is more to walking than our feet being a means of transportation. My feet lay the foundation for ministry and if my foundation is not sturdy when confronted with challenges to my theology, I must question what I have built my foundation on. Theologically, walking sets the pace for ministry, which means ministry is not a quick/fast pace nor should ministries serve as temporary Band-Aids for people experiencing suffering. Rather walking as a ministry symbolizes steps towards deliverance, steps towards reconciliation, steps towards healing through touch, healing through seeing someone who was invisible, healing through listening intently even to the deaf and dumb and knowing what they need, ministry through kneeling and looking someone in the eye and not looking down on someone for not pulling themselves up and out of their desperation or impoverish situations. That means we cannot conduct ministry always from a place of preference or superiority, we must come down to the level of the people and start where the people are, start where the need begins. How will we find the need? By walking outside of our personal land and entering the land of an unknown people with an unfamiliar request that you may have the grace to meet.
After reading Sandy Tolan’s book “The Lemon Tree,” I ask the question, how can one be imprisoned and limited on their own land literally and figuratively? In one of the first Kibbutz we were introduced to, we learned how both Palestinians and Jews worked together to farm, grow produce, build shelter, and support the livelihood for one another. The story is reminiscent of Bashir and Dalia’s encounter. With this concept of using land to provide for the livelihood of another, I thought not of a value per se but the concept of homelessness versus landlessness. Matthew 15:26-27 (NRSV) states, “but she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” In this passage we see a Canaanite woman sticking her neck out for a Jew, Jesus, to heal her ill child. Her statement of faith in verse 27 may attest to her belief that wealth in the form of healing, provision, etc should be distributed to everyone regardless of social status. This highlights the concept of homelessness versus landlessness. As I listened to stories from both Palestinians and Jews, I heard that both ethnic minorities experienced landlessness and homelessness at some point in history. So I ask the question, are these concepts one in the same? Can you have land and still be homeless? Is homelessness worse than landlessness or are they both devastating occurrences. When I read scriptures referencing Jesus’ ministry, I see Jesus as a socialist, one who believed he had a home in heaven but understood the importance of distributing land, healing, etc, equally amongst all people. In a country, such as the United States where there are plagues of homeless children, foreclosures, forms of taxation, deportation of immigrant families, illiteracy, I would argue that these plagues stem not from homelessness rather landlessness since the land given to them has not equally distributed the appropriate resources for them to survive whether those resources are sanitary living quarters, food, water, nutrition, literacy, retributive justice, financial equity, etc. People not just in the U.S. but in Israel/West Bank are holistically suffering and need the support of one another.
The five learning points I will take from this immersion are as follows:
1. We are all truly one body, one people seeking answers to our human condition, and there is no definite wrong answer except that which results in harmful action against others. Galatians 3:28 (NRSV) states that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
2. God favors heterogeneity and desires for us to demonstrate love in the midst of differences. If God wanted the world to be homogeneous in color, ethnicity, religion, personality, and will then God would have made everyone homogeneous, but that is not the case.
3. In Luke 10:29-37, Jesus teaches us to demonstrate mercy towards one another despite our differences. During our first Kibbutz visit, I wrote down this quote, “we believe in sharing and feeding our children regardless of race.” I also recall the definition they gave of a good neighbor, and I paraphrase, as “a good neighbor is one who respects diversity, without competition but respect does require that you get your hands dirty.”
4. Love should be one’s religion. As Mark Braverman states, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a religious struggle, rather a social justice and human rights struggle.
5. Holiness is the process of getting dirty not clean.
Questions to consider from my Turkey, Israel and West Bank immersion
1) What is holiness?
2) Is holiness wherever you are?
3) How do you compromise with someone who finds you terrifying?
4) How has your freedom been occupied by an agenda that is not your own?
5) Consider the stability of your life. Do you believe that one only finds peace from the bottom up?
6) How have we gated and walled our communal sacred spaces?
7) Does religion act in the name of God or security and preservation?
 Greenberg, Joel. “Segregated sidewalk and harassment of schoolgirls in town fuel national debate.” Washington Post. 12/28/2011.
 “Steadfast Hope.” The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace. @ IPMN. 2nd Edition. April 2011. Pg 24.
 “Christians in the Holy Land.” 4/22/2012. 60 Minutes.
 Dershowitz, Alan. “The Case for Israel.” John Wiley & Sons, Inc. @2003. Pg 68.
 Tolan, Sandy. “The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew and the Heart of the Middle East.” Bloomsbury. @2006.
 Braverman, Mark. “Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land.” Synergy Books. @2010. Pg. 292.