Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Prayer for Prisoners and Jailers

For Prisons and Correctional Institutions

Lord Jesus, for our sake you were condemned as a criminal: Visit our jails and prisons with your pity and judgment. Remember all prisoners, and bring the guilty to repentance and amendment of life according to your will, and give them hope for their future. When any are held unjustly, bring them release; forgive us, and teach us to improve our justice. Remember those who work in these institutions; keep them humane and compassionate; and save them from becoming brutal or callous. And since what we do for those in prison, O Lord, we do for you, constrain us to improve their lot. All this we ask for your mercy's sake. Amen.
(from the Book of Common Prayer)

This last week, as I mentioned, I found out while chatting with one of my buddies from the camp that two of my close friends had been arrested by the IDF. Two days later (see the comment posted on my last blog entry) I found out that that same kid I was chatting with was also arrested! He was also a close friend who I played guitar with a lot when I was there. Today I chatted online with his brother. They don't know why they took him and he isn't even able to call home to tell them what's going on. I can't imagine. "it's ok" his brother told me, "we are all in one big jail anyway." I promised we would be praying for him and his family.

According to B'Tselem. an Israeli human rights group ( there are currently 8,800 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, furthermore there are an additional 850 held in
administrative detention." This is a fancy word for arrests that take place without trial. Individuals are held indefinitely and are not informed the reasons for their arrest. This is most likely what my most recent friend is under.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

This is a quick note to thank all of you who have played a role in my life this year, especially in my trip to Israel/Palestine this last summer. God has done much in my life, much thanks to you!
This last semester was a time of healing and redemption. My time in Israel/Palestine was one of the hardest experiences of my life, but God has brought great good and growth from it. Thanks to mentors and friends at Church of the Resurrection and at Wheaton I have been able to look back and process my experience. I am a different person because of it.

On a different and sadder note, I was chatting online with one of my Palestinian friends from the refugee camp where I stayed this summer and found out that two of my closest friends during my time there were arrested by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) this last month. They were cousins, both 19, who had just graduated from high school and had begun college. I spent many hours with them playing soccer, joking and messing around. One of them I interviewed (if you have heard one of my presentations he is the one I have recorded on tape). This hit me hard and brought it all close to home again. One of them had just had his brother come out of prison (after 2 1/2 years) while I was there. Now him. Why were they arrested? Who knows really. These kinds of arrests are daily occurrences in Gaza and the West Bank (click, for example, on the Palestinian News link on the right sidebard). Sometimes they are because someone threw a rock at a soldier, sometimes because someone went to a non-violent protests, often for no reason at all. Please pray for mercy for Moatez, Fadi and there families during this hard time and for a quick release. (click here for the press release of this: )

Thank you again for your prayers, notes, and encouragements this last year. Blessings to you in this new year!

PS. You can sign up on the right to receive an email each time I update this blog

Saturday, December 8, 2007

First Steps Back to Israel/Palestine

It's been quite an eventful week! A lot of the things that I have been praying all semester about were answered in one week.

All semester I have been thinking and praying about the possibility of getting ordained through my Anglican church here, Church of the Resurrection (Rez.), in order to eventually go back to Israel/Palestine as an ordained minister sent out from Rez. This last week I was finally able to meet with the pastor of our church who is in charge of the ordaining process. He asked a lot of questions about my vision to work in Israel/Palestine and ended up getting very excited about the possibility of partnering with Rez. in this work. Rather than go through the lengthy process of getting ordained now, he said that his and Rez.'s priority was getting me out in the world to do ministry. He said he would love to see me in the Middle East and soon. Later after some years of experience I could come back and get ordained. Wow! He recommended some next steps including writing a proposol to give to church leaders as well as getting together with another one of the pastors.

I sent this other pastor an email asking if we could do lunch in the next couple months. The next day I heard back saying "how about tomorrow?"! I then ended up having lunch with him on Thursday and he got really excited about the possibility of ministry through Rez. in the middle east as well. He committed to praying as well as talking with some of the big Anglican leaders to see how this could work out, given that it's pretty uncharted waters for Amia (the Anglican Mission in America of which Rez. is a part).

The last big thing that happened was finally hearing back from the Grad. school at wheaton and getting all my classes registered and everything for next semester. I hadn't heard back from them since i had re-applied in October. Long story short, I'm in and good to go next semester!

So in many ways the first steps in my journey back to the Middle East began this week. In around 18 months, God willing, I will have an intercultural studies degree and be back in the Middle East sent out from Rez. One part of this whole picture, that I haven't mentioned yet, is that after this last summer which was so hard and so isolating, I decided to not go back to the Middle East alone. Who I plan to go back with is Justin, another latin american MK who also is at Rez and who also has spent time in the Middle East. We have nearly identical life histories, though he is several years older. Our plan is to go together as a team sent out by Rez and to minister together in the Middle East. So here we go!

One thing that is still hanging in the air is sub-letting our city apartment for next semester when we move back to Wheaton. If we don't sub-let it, we can't move back. This would be a disaster. Please be in prayer that we would sub-let our apartment and be able to move back to Wheaton after Christmas! Thanks so much.


PS. Here's a link to one of my close friends' blogs:
He is also in the West Bank doing a lot of the same things that Idid when I was there. He has some informative posts about the situation there now.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Nearing the end

(myself with my Palestinian friend, and Ryan, my roommate)

The end of the semester is near. Much has happened in the last weeks. Here are some quick summaries:

-It was my birthday yesterday and my roommates arranged a surprise party for me, including a home made cake in the shape of "the wall" in Palestine, that I quickly destroyed to everyone's joy ;)
-My parents and sister came up to my apartment for thanksgiving. With two of my roommates, a Palestinian friend and one of my roommate's Sri Lankan friends we made quite an interesting group.
-We are putting up our apartment for sub-lease, hoping to move back to Wheaton next semester where I'll be doing a church internship and starting grad school in intercultural studies.
-In December is my first meeting which starts my process of getting ordained through the Anglican Mission in America, the denomination my church, Church of the Resurrection is a part of. This is very exciting for me.
-Currently there is a Israeli/Palestinian peace conference in Annapolis. Expectations for results runs pretty low for both Israelis and Palestinians. We can be praying, however, that good will come from this.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Obsession: a Movie obssessed with fear and stereotypes

I am deeply troubled by the recent documentary film “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” which is being shown around college campuses in the U.S. and on Fox News among other stations. In our post 9/11 world marked by fear and a “war on terror,” the last thing we need is a film which deepens stereotypes and fuels the ignorance we Americans (and Evangelicals) have of Islam, Arabs and the Middle East. This is exactly what this film accomplishes.
First, a note about the posters for this film (which show pictures of terrorists and a verse from the Koran about killing those who aren‘t Muslims). Imagine you are a Christian student visiting a Muslim campus and you see large posters everywhere of Christian crusaders waving American flags and below it the verse: “In the cities of these people that the Lord God gives you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them” (Deuteronomy 20:16-18)? This highlights two problems: that of taking another religion’s holy book and quoting it out of context and that of forgetting that there is much in our own history and holy book that is not so pretty. (As a side note, when Muslims see the U.S.-- in their minds a Christian nation-- invade Iraq they see a picture of the crusades repeating themselves).
Beyond the advertisements, the film itself is quite problematic. It is essentially propaganda with little discussion or analysis of the complexity of Islamic fundamentalism and of the fact that this represents a very small minority of the world’s Muslim population. This film is not without an agenda.
According to a New York Times article, Karyn Leffel, the person who is coordinating getting this film on college campuses works for Hasbara Fellowships, an organization that “educates and trains university students to be effective pro-Israel activists on their campuses” ( If you look closely on the webpage of the film ( you can finds links to organizations such as Campus Watch and Student’s For Academic Freedom, one of which was started by David Horowitz (a noted American Jewish conservative and strongly pro-Israel writer and activist) and the other an organization that works closely with him.
I have spent the last three summers in Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine. During this time I have spoken, eaten and lived with many Arab Muslims who, despite the political tensions between my country and theirs, have treated me with the utmost respect, kindness and love. I must say loudly: Arab does NOT equal Muslim (there are lots of Arab Christians), and Muslim does NOT equal terrorist. This film, if only implicitly, states otherwise.
In the words of Hossam, a 18 year old Muslim Palestinian I met this summer: “I want you to come and see who is the terrorist and who isn’t …because all the media says Palestinians [here read: Muslims or Arabs] are terrorists.”

Friday, October 26, 2007

Humanitarian Disaster in Gaza

Today the BBC reported ( that Israel approved to cut power to the Gaza strip in the case of future missile attacks. Israel presently supplies 60% of Gaza's electricity. While these missile attacks are terrible, this is NOT a proper response. This is collective punishment which is illegal by international law and only creates more terrorism and hatred due to the suffering of millions of innocent people. Gaza is already in a humanitarian nightmare due to a economic embargo by Israel and due to the fact that its seas, borders and air are completely controlled by Israel. Power cuts would only worsen the situation.

Just last year Israel bombed a power plant in Gaza, with huge repercussions on services such as hospitals, schools, etc. This was widely condemned by the international community as a war crime (see,7340,L-3308615,00.html). Now they are saying they want to encourage Gaza to develop its own power sources.

Please pray for the situation in Gaza and that Israel won't cut the power and that these rocket attacks would stop!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Looking ahead...

After much thought and prayer, it seems like I now have a decent idea what this next year will look like. I decided, after all, to start grad school at Wheaton in the spring in the intercultural studies program (probably with a concentration in development). This would allow me to continue at Wheaton and at my church, Church of the Resurrection. I have come to realize the importance of relationships; staying here for another year and a half would allow me to continue to build on the ones that I have made these last three years.

The program at Wheaton would give me an excellent background in mission/development work and in working with people of different cultures. Because it doesn't have much in the area of social justice/conflict transformation, I would love to attend the the Summer Peacebuilding Institute ( at Eastern Mennonite University in VA this upcoming summer. Some of the credit from this would transfer towards my degree and I would be able to gain some valuable training in this whole area.

All this is on the path towards eventually working in Israel/Palestine, Insha'allah, God willing.

Meanwhile I continue to study and review my Arabic and to build friendships with Arabs in my neighborhood. About once a week I am able to visit some of them in their shops and restaurants and speak in Arabic. This has been SO fun.

On a side note, the US (surprise, surprise) is making a push for a Israeli/Palestinian peace conference in late November. Be praying that Hamas will be included in the negotiations (and negotiations without them is doomed to failure) and that other Arab countries would throw in their support.

Allah ykhalikom, May God keep you!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Requesting prayer for guidance

As the end of my undergrad experience at Wheaton rapidly approaches so do many decisions. Some possibilities have begun to materialize, but much still remains to be decided. Presently I am looking into the possibility of doing an internship with my church, Church of the Resurrection, in prayer and social justice. This would allow me to get some more ministry experience as well as to deepen my ties in what I consider my home church, a place I have come to really love. Also, it would be a time to explore the possibility of getting ordained through its denomination: AMiA (Anglican Missions in America).

My second tentative plan is to also begin a masters in Intercultural Studies at Wheaton. This would be great training in cross-cultural work, as a prepare for eventually moving to the Middle East. There is a fair amount of flexibility in the program and so I would seek to add in some classes in Conflict Transformation (possibly from a Mennonite seminary or university) to prepare for reconciliation work, something needed in almost every country of the Middle East (partially thanks to our foreign policy).

In all of this it is really easy to become quite anxious: "What am I going to actually do in the ME?" "Is this the best path to be taking?" "Am I rushing into this out of fear?" etc etc.

I request your prayers in this time for these decisions and also welcome any advice regarding these steps (especially regarding graduate work).

In all this I try to listen to Christ's words to me: "Don't worry, I'll be with you." May this be an encouragement to you as well.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

Future plans...?

City living has been great and full of adventure. Every day we are surrounded by people from all different cultures and languages. One day I counted hearing 5 or 6 languages just walking on the sidewalk and riding on public transportation. I have been able to build some relationships with some local Palestinians that work at a restaurant close to our house. One guy, a recent immigrant, has come over to our apartment four or five times now, each time bringing a different Palestinian sweet or pastry. He is studying English here and so I have been able to help him with his homework. It has been so fulfilling to be able to offer hospitality to those who have offered me SO much hospitality these last three summer in Jordan, Lebanon and the West Bank.

These last weeks I have been wracking my brains, trying to figure out what I am going to do after graduating this December. I have decided to live and work in the Middle East, but lots has to come together before that happens: a Masters, stronger ties with my church in Wheaton (Church of the Resurrection) and getting ordained through them, a team, etc. Learning Arabic is also in there. I am trying to figure out whether I should go to the Middle East for, say, a year and finish my Arabic study and then come back to the US for my masters or vice-versa. I am considering getting a masters in Conflict Transformation/Peace studies.

I appreciate your prayers in all of this, that God's peace would be with me and that I would trust his guidance and presence through this whole process. (If any of you have any advice/suggestion, please pass it on!).


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Peace? In the Middle East?

A brief glance at this mornings headlines at bbc online broke my heart. How can we continue to hope in the midst of such hopelessness? How does one hold on to hope after reading just one day of the news? Today in the Middle East alone there is a decent likelihood of war on at least three different fronts: Israel vs. Gaza, Israel vs. Syria, Israel (and the US) vs. Iran. With Israel threatening to cut power and fuel to Gaza the situation there moves from critical to the great likelihood of a humanitarian disaster. Gaza residents have already suffered tremendously as a result of this summer's events and now face a even harsher threat. What are they to do? Of course the fact that they continue to fire rockets at Israel doesn't help anything, but still. Does this justify collective punishment? Does this justify punishing a whole people for the actions of the few? The BBC article made an interesting (and widely agreed to) comment regarding Israel's responsibility for Gaza: "the current position is that, under international law, Israel remains legally responsible for the coastal strip, despite withdrawing two years ago, because it still controls Gaza's borders, air space and territorial waters."

Lord God, give us the grace to suffer as you suffer with the suffering of the world. Give us the hope in the midst of hopelessness to see you at work even in this often dark world. Bring peace to the war torn middle east and to our war torn and confused hearts.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Life in Chicago

It has almost been two weeks since I've moved into our apartment in Albany Park, Chicago. This semester I am finishing up at Wheaton and commuting there twice a week for classes. The remaining time I wish to spend in the city learning and interacting with Arabs especially, but also with other groups and ethnicities. Very close to our apartment is the "little Arabia" of Chicago with its Arab stores and restaurants. I love it! Walking into a store last week I met right of the bat a Palestinian from Ramallah. Today in the same store I met three more. When I speak Arabic, I have been questioned multiple times "are you Arab?" When I say no they then ask me if my parents are Arab. I consider this a huge complement. One man after I told him I spent time in Palestine was shocked to death. "You are better than us," he said "because we (Arabs in the US) all care about Palestinians, but we do nothing about it. You actually went there and did something." He then went on to offer me a job, an Arab way of thanking me for what I had done. I felt like crying. I was very humbled. Arabs in the US are often stereotyped as terrorists and marginalized giving them a negative view of Americans. In a small way I was able to challenge this and bless this man. In turn I was doubly blessed.

In talking with one of the Palestinians I met today I found out that he had just returned three days ago from the West Bank. "Its not fair" he said with a forlorn face. He went on to say how he had to travel alone because his brother couldn't go with him. Since his brother does not have an Israeli ID card he can't return. "People from all over the world can visit, but my brother who was born there can't." Furthermore, Jews from anywhere in the world can get immediate Israeli citizenship and settle in Israel, yet Palestinians in the West Bank or refugees who have fled can never get one. Irony of ironies.

Re-entry and processing of my summer has gone well. Thank you for your prayers. There is much work to be done, though. Some more of my prayer requests have been updated and posted on the side. I will continue to update this blog in reference to my continued journey towards the Middle East and what I am learning about Arab culture and politics. Hang in there with me!


Monday, September 3, 2007

Another article

The Record didn't like my original article, so I wrote another one, which they published. Here it is:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has raged now for more than 60 years and it doesn’t show signs of letting up. What are we, as the Church, to do in the midst of such strife and suffering? Some would call us to not choose sides. My argument is that Christians are not to remain neutral in such conditions, but are to oppose injustice and oppression and to take the side of the oppressed.

This summer I spent three months living in a Palestinian refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. I personally experienced the effects of a now 40 year Israeli occupation. I saw faces and heard Palestinian stories of suffering such as that of Hossam whose two and a half year old brother died after Israeli soldiers threw seven gas canisters into his house. In Israel/Palestine I saw the direct results of as Evangelicals largely, one sided support of Israel, and I was deeply ashamed to be called an evangelical.

Mention “Israel” to an Evangelical and what first comes to mind are Biblical images and stories from the Bible. These make it difficult to talk of the modern nation state without an almost magical tone. It’s so much more than just a nation-state for many. Furthermore, for conservative evangelicals (51% by one poll), especially those with roots in dispensational theology, Israel today is a direct fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. What this often translates into is a deep, gut-level support for the modern nation state of Israel to the expense of Palestinians and other Arab countries.

A recent CNN article stated that the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 85 million evangelicals believe God tells them to support Israel -- more than six times the world's Jewish population. Evangelical churches raise millions of dollars each year in support of Israeli settlements within West Bank. What most of these churches don’t realize, however, is that these settlements are considered illegal by international law and make any future peace increasingly bleak. Furthermore, most evangelicals do not realize that Israel today is basically an apartheid state comparable to South African apartheid. This common comparison is made by such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president Jimmy Carter.

The Palestinian population in the West Bank is quickly being closed in and walled off from any contact with Israelis. Israelis in the West Bank have separate roads, separate cities, different ID cards, and the list goes on. The separation between the two communities is so marked that in Bethlehem, where I lived in the West Bank, many if not most of it’s inhabitants don’t speak Hebrew and, of the younger generation, most have never even met an Israeli apart from a soldier. Palestinians in the West Bank have not been granted Israeli citizenship (and thus Israeli rights) though a Jew from anywhere in the world can come to Israel and get citizenship immediately.

We, as Evangelicals, obviously don’t come at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a neutral standpoint. But, are we, as Christians, called to be neutral in such conflicts? I don’t think so. To remain impartial in cases of oppression is to side with those in power, with the status quo. In this case, it is to side with Israel. God is a lover of both the oppressed and the oppressor, but God does has a special concern for the oppressed. Passages such as Christ’s mission statement in Luke 4:18-19 make this clear. Christians, thus, can’t help but to choose the side of the weak and oppressed. This does not mean, of course, that we aren’t to be balanced and to listen to both sides. We are to oppose injustice, though, and to stand by those who have no one else to stand by them: the widows, the lepers, the untouchables… the Palestinians. Surely, for example, the church was not called to remain impartial in the civil rights movement or during South African apartheid.

We must begin by calling into question our largely un-thought through support of Israel. We must stop funding settlements. More importantly, we must begin to be willing to hold the state of Israel accountable to God’s standards of justice, just as we would any other state. Not speaking up is to side with injustice. When we take tours of the Holy Land we must not be content with simply viewing holy sights and monuments, but must take an effort to go to both sides of the “separation barrier” and listen to both Israeli’s and Palestinians.

After returning from my time in the West Bank this summer I realized that I am not neutral. This is not an excuse for ignorance or prejudice, and I will continue to strive to hear both sides of the issue. Still, I have seen who has the power and who doesn’t. And I have chosen sides.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Article for the Wheaton Record

Below is an article I wrote for Wheaton's newspaper, The Record (hopefully it won't be edited too much).

Stereotypes exist because they simplify an otherwise complex reality. This summer in Israel/Palestine I experienced an extremely complex reality that didn’t match the stereotypes of Israel and Palestinians played by the western media. Take, Hossam, for example. I met him while living for three months in his refugee camp for three months.

Hossam’s story includes losing his two and a half year old brother who died of suffocation after Israeli soldiers threw seven gas cans into his house. When his mom was trying to take the little boy to the hospital she was shot at by Israeli soldiers (though was unhurt). Hossam was also shot at, years later, while filming a documentary beside the so called “separation barrier” that cuts off the West Bank from Israel. His camera was hit, saving his face from a direct hit that could have severely injured or killed him. “I want them to come and see who is the terrorist and who isn’t,” Hossam told me. “Because all the media says Palestinians are terrorists. Just they show the children, that the children are throwing stones, but they don’t show that Israeli soldiers shoot these children.”

Hossam does not fit the image that Americans have of what a Palestinian is like. He doesn’t wear a kuffiyeh (think Yasser Arafat), he doesn’t own a gun. Hossam isn’t even religious: he considers himself basically an atheist. As an accomplished actor and dancer of debkah, a traditional Palestinian dance form, Hossam has traveled widely throughout the West Bank and several years ago performed in Paris, along with the other members of his dance team. Dancing has become his form of resistance, a way of telling the story of his people…peacefully. Hossam is Palestinian and yet, surprisingly for some, he isn’t a terrorist.

The American media has largely portrayed Palestinians as gun toting, ski-mask wearing terrorists. This has seeped deep into our sub-consciousness. If there is ever an attack against Israel, it is all over the media and Palestinians are shown as the aggressors, as the enemy. When was the last time, however, you saw media coverage of the daily Israeli military incursions into Palestinian cities in the West Bank and Gaza, of the Palestinians who die daily from Israeli bombings or raids? Israeli Defense Forces have killed 173 Palestinians this year alone in the Occupied Territories ( Rarely does the media cover this.

On the flip-side, Americans tend to hold a positive stereotype of the state of Israel, an innocent nation surrounded by a sea of Arab enemies. This is especially true of evangelicals who hold on to a Sunday school flannel-graph picture of the state of Israel. Since many consider it a direct fulfillment of prophecy they think it is a state that can do no wrong. According to a recent CNN article, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs estimates 85 million evangelicals believe God tells them to support Israel ( search). This article went on to state that churches raise millions of dollars each year in support of Israeli settlements within the West Bank. Needless to say, in the US there is a deep gut-level support of Israel.

As a further example, on August 15th the U.S. signed an unprecedented military aid package to Israel that amounts to $30 billion over a ten year period. Congress and the American public barely batted an eye. It’s incredible. Of course, this serves to further American interests in the region (such as containing Iran), but do we realize that this money is supporting what Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former President Jimmy Carter, among others, liken to the South African apartheid state? Do we realize that Israel is a militaristic state that has maintained a harsh forty year occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and that involves countless human rights abuses? To cite a few examples, from October 2001 to January 2005 Israel demolished 668 homes in the territories as a form of punitive punishment which is illegal under international law ( As of August 9th Israel maintained 47 permanent checkpoints within the West Bank that severely limit freedom of movement for Palestinians ( Clearly these statistics show that our stereotypes need some examining.

Stereotypes are single dimensional representations of a multidimensional reality. Maybe the reality in Israel/Palestine is much more complex than we would like to admit. What I experienced this summer certainly was. As Christians we are to continually strive to move beyond stereotypes, to pursue the truth. I am ashamed and saddened that misunderstandings have led evangelicals to blindly support Israel. I have seen the direct results of our support. Let us not allow simple stereotypes keep us from the truth and pursuing justice. Reality really is iconoclastic, as C.S. Lewis states, and it certainly isn’t a friend of stereotypes.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Summary and Conclusions

Jonathan: “Do you think there will ever be peace here?”

Fadi: “If you have a home and you sleep in this home, you and your family. And some people come and break [down] your door. And tell you: “this is my home, this is not your home.” But… [you] built this home and you lived in this home, you and your family. And the people come… and tell you, ‘this home [is for] us, [but] we can give you this room…’ What would you do? Tell me, I ask you!”

“…if you go and tell the police and the police do nothing. What do you do? You tell the world, all the world? And all the world don’t do anything. What do you do? And these people come and take your kids because your kids say “no, this is my home, you can’t take my home!” and [they] put your kids in prison…What do you do? And they say ‘We want peace’ but the truth is, they come and kill you and [then] go to the media and say we want peace… Now who is the terrorist: the Palestinian terrorist or the Israeli, the Israeli government? Tell me.”

Hossam: “I will do the peace with the Israeli soldier who killed my brother in 1988? Should I do the peace the Israeli soldier whom arrested my father for 5 years or my cousin for 3 years? I will do peace with the Israeli soldier whom didn’t [let] me pass from Bethlehem to Ramallah? With whom will I do the peace??”

(from a personal interview with Fadi and Hossam, 18 and 17, refugees in the camp where I lived. The interview was in english and was edited for grammare and clarity)

Returning Home: A Privilege

Last Friday, August 9th, at 2AM, I returned home to Waxhaw, North Carolina, after spending 11 weeks in the Occupied West Bank. Shaky is the best way I can describe my condition after getting back. 15 pounds skinnier, I felt 100 pounds heavier with the weight of 3 months of accumulated Palestinian stories of pain and suffering. Faces, names, places, memories, all swim around in my head as I try to nail down, to understand, all that I experienced this summer and how it is to affect my life from now on. I struggle to summarize it on paper.

I lived with a Muslim Palestinian host family in the ’Azza refugee camp in the city of Bethlehem. Those in the camp are refugees or descendents of refugees from the 1948 war (known to Palestinians as “the Nakba,” meaning “the catastrophe”). They were forced to flee their homes in the village of Beyt Jibreen when Jewish militias overtook their village. Although less than an hour’s drive away, they have never been able to return.

Bethlehem: Occupied

The city of Bethlehem, including its 3 refugee camps, is one of the central cities in the West Bank with a population of 60,000. Of these, 80% are Muslim and 20% are Palestinian Christian (mainly Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox). Many of which claim ancestry from the earliest of Christians. Here Muslims and Christians largely live together in peace. Bethlehem and the other cities of the West Bank have been under a harsh military occupation since 1967, when Israel took it from Jordan. For these 40 years Palestinians have not been granted Israeli citizenship nor have they been granted their own state. They have remained in a state of limbo.

Bethlehem today is severely affected by the Israeli military occupation. From the north it is surrounded by what is called variously the “separation barrier” or the “apartheid wall.” This wall cuts off Bethlehem from its sister city, Jerusalem, upon which it has been dependent economically, culturally and religiously and it cuts off the West Bank from Israel proper. Today, Israel does not allow Palestinians into Jerusalem (or outside the W. Bank at all), only 30 minutes by car, without a difficult-to-get permit. Most citizens of Bethlehem have never met an Israeli personally or been outside the West Bank.

Bethlehem is also affected by neighboring Israeli settlements, one of which looks down from a hilltop onto Bethlehem from the east . Slowly Bethlehem is being squeezed from all sides. One result of this (and just a sign of the how difficult it is to live under occupation) is the ever growing rate of emigration to the West, especially by Palestinian Christians for whom it is easier to get visas to the West.

Life in a Refugee Camp

Living in a refugee camp was a unique opportunity and experience. Within this closed community, I quickly became another one of the “guys from the camp” and was participated in elements of daily Palestinian life including: weddings, inter-family fights, parties for prisoners released from Israeli jails, “hair-cut Fridays“, soccer games, and lots of hanging out. I also experienced the wide ranging effects of the Israeli occupation including: lack of adequate medical care, water cuts for weeks at a time, Israeli military incursions, the fear of Israeli informants, the 70% unemployment rate, and the overarching sense of hopelessness. The occupation affects every aspect of Palestinian life. Nothing is left untouched.

Learning Arabic, Teaching English

Much of my time was spent learning Arabic. By choice I lived with a family that spoke no English and I was surrounded by Arabic every day. Thanks to this my Arabic ability grew rapidly and by the end of my trip I could understand much of daily conversation and was comfortable maintaining an hour or so of basic conversation about myself, what I was doing in Palestine, and, of course, the basics of my political views (a must for the Middle East J). Arabic acquisition was one of my main goals for the trip, and for this I am very, very thankful.

I also spent most mornings teaching English at a center for college students from the Bethlehem area called the Student’s Forum. My English teaching was generally very rewarding as well, though it is now fairly clear to me that this is not something I would like to do vocationally. The best part was building relationships with the students and getting invited to their homes. I built strong a strong friendship with three students in particular, one brother and his two sisters, who were very motivated to learn English, visiting their home four or five times.
A Difficult Trip, Much Learned

Overall, this was an very difficult trip for me, more so than I had expected. It was difficult on several levels. First, it was very challenging culturally and linguistically. In an all Arabic environment the possibilities for miscommunication and cultural faux paus were endless. Simply communicating involved seemingly infinite effort and strain.

Second, the enormity of the suffering and the harsh political conditions were hard to handle. Every day I was flooded with stories and sights and sounds of suffering, pain and death. For three months I absorbed these, day after day after day. Slowly they wore and weighed on me.

Third, and most importantly, I realize now how alone I really was. I was almost completely on my own. Knowing that this was not a Christian program, I had hoped to find a community on arriving by attending local churches. This did not work out as planned. Really for most of the trip, I was without any kind of spiritual community and this proved very unhealthy. Under these kinds of circumstances, spiritual community is more essential than ever. By the end of the trip I was hanging on a thread spiritually. It was too much for me to take alone. I have learned much from this.

1) I learned the necessity of a spiritual community wherever I am, but especially in the M.E. I have largely decided to not return to the Middle East alone or without an assurance of community before getting there.
2) I built a solid foundation in Arabic upon which I can continue to build in the future! This is a foundation for future effectiveness in the region.
3) I gained a first hand understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and of the state of the Church in Israel/Palestine.
4) I built relationships with: Muslims, Christians, and Jews; Israelis and Palestinians.
5) I now feel the responsibility of sharing the Palestinian story that is largely not being told in the West.

Now What?

So here I am, back in plush and comfortable USA trying to put this all together in my head, trying to make sense of it all. What I know is that I have more questions than answers, more questions than before I left on the trip. Questions about what is to be done in Israel/Palestine, questions about who I am, questions about my future and questions about what God wants me to do with my life.

In a week I head back to Wheaton to finish up my last semester there. With few commitments and extra credits to spare it will be a light semester. The main thing planned is to live in downtown Chicago with three of my friends and to commute to Wheaton three or four times a week. We desire to learn more about the inner-city and issues such as poverty and racial diversity.

After this semester I will probably stay in the Chicago area and work while my friends finish up their time at Wheaton. I plan to then head back to the Middle East for a year or so, to complete my Arabic studies. This is still quite tentative. I appreciate your continued prayers (and any advice you would like to send my way) for my processing of the trip, for this coming semester and for decisions about the future.

Saying “thank you” again sounds somewhat trite, but I am thankful for you all. I hung in there this summer thanks to your prayers. I am very, very sure of it. Of course, the fact that this trip happened at all is thanks to those of you who were so generous in providing my way. God provided for me once again. I pray that your investment in me will have been worthwhile.

Praise be to God who faithfully stands with us! Praise to God whose joy it is to bring light to the most hopeless of situations. Praise to God who leads us in right paths, bringing honor to his name.

!لا اسمو نشكر
(To his name be thanks),

Jonathan Kindberg

Friday, August 10, 2007

Home, sweet home!

Im home! After a long 26 hours or so of travelling I made it back to NC last night at 2AM. I had no problems in the Ben Gurion, Israel Airport, for which I am very, very suprised. Thank you so much for your prayers! God is to thank for this.

Now, begins the process of resting and processing all of my experiences. Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers this whole time!


(below is my story of getting out of the Israeli airport if you are at all interested. For many it is a terrible experience. For me it was somewhat unusual, that is why I wrote it down.)

I decided that it would be too hard to hide the fact that i had been in bethlehem, so I decided to just go out and tell them the truth (but of course to not say any Pals. names, etc).

So after taking a Nesher to the airport, I walked inside and got in line at the B area, since that was for the airfrance flights. At the front of that line a lady looked at my passport and asked me the purpose of my visit. I answered "a summer study program." She then asked where it was and I said that we travelled some, but it was mostly in Bethlehem. "Bethlehem?" she repeated. Yeah, I said. Then she asked what exactly the program was. I said that it was called Middle East Fellowship, that I studied arabic. "Did you volunteer" she asked. Yes, I said and then she asked what I did. I answered saying I tought english at a student center. And that was it. She put some stickers on my passport and bags and sent me on to the x-ray. After the x-ray I went to the counter where they checked my bags. They didn't pour out all the contents on the ground, they didnt turn on my electronics, they didnt take everything out (and they didnt see my Arabic books or my "against the occupation" t-shirt :). They mainly just touched everything with this "wand-ish" thing with a cloth at the end of it which they put in this machine (i think to check for bomb dust, etc).

After my bags, my personal security escort (which stayed with me until I went to my gate) took me to a back room where he had me take all the things out of my pockets and put them through the x-ray (as well as my belt and shoes). Then he patted my down fairly carefully.

That was it. We went to the ticket counter, I had some problems with my ticket, but he stuck with me until it was all worked out and then I went to my gate.

I really cant figure it out, especially since I told them specifically that I lived and volunteered at Bethlehem, a Palestinian area. They usually go bezerk at the mention of a palestinian area such as this, and even more bezerk if you say you were "helping" Palestinians. Helping Palestinians usually translates into to aiding and abetting terrorists, in their minds. After that first lady, I didnt get any more questions about what I had done or anything. No one asked me if I had met any palestinians or for their names or anything. This is very, very unusual.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Last Days

No, I am not refferring to another "Left Behind" book, but rather to my last 5 days in Palestine. I am not sure what to think about it. In general I am really ready to be home and really miss my friends and family, but at the same time I really love it here. I really have been here for a while and everything here feels so normal now.

I am afraid of the transition back, too. For one, it is likely that I will have a hard time leaving the Israeli airport. I will get out eventually, but since I have spent time with Palestinians I will most likely get the royal treatment: long questioning, extensive luggage check, threats, etc. I'll get out eventually for sure, but it won't be fun. (Please pray that they won't give me any problems with my camera and computer. Often they say they need to search/check them and then you never get them back. Please pray also for wisdom in aswering their questions and for courage in general). Beyond this, I know that my transition back to the US will be difficult. I have a lot of unprocessed experiences, such as the death of my close friend and everything I have experienced here, that I think will come bursting out once I am back in the US. Please pray for my emotional strength and health once returning, as well as good processing of my time in general. (If any of you have some good "processing" suggestions, please pass them on!).

These last days will be spent wrapping up the last details as well as saying goodbyes. One of my friends from Wheaton (Colin) will be coming up to visit me from Egypt on Sunday and will stay two nights. It will be great to see him and to get to show him some of my life here. Wed. night i will head to jerusalem, where I will spend the night in a hostel. The next morning, bright and early (4ish) I will take a taxi to the airport and be off. Oh boy, here I go again....

Once I get back and catch my breath I will write up some sort of overall summary/conclusions of my trip.

مبرك وسلام (blessings and peace)

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Meal for Mosquitos

This week has been an abnormal week, without much of the usual routine. Sunday night I went to a Messianic (though mostly evangelical) church in Jerusalem. There were some songs in Hebrew and I sat by a very eccentric jewish believer, originally from South Africa. It was a hard experience after being in "Arab-land" for so long and seeing all the difficulties experienced by people here. There was a brochure, for example, requesting prayer for those youth in the Israeli army who are "defending Zion", much like we would do in churches in the US. It was revolting to me, however. These soldiers make life a living hell for Palestinians, and yet the church was encouraging us to pray for their safety as they "protect" their country.

My next experience involved a solo expedition into Israel proper. After 5 buses and 5 1/2 hours, I arrived in Rame, a Druze (a branch off religion from Islam) village in the Galilee region. I stayed with a friend of a friend who refused to serve in the Israeli army and thus was jailed. Turns out this guy's father is a VERY famous Palestinian poet. I got to meet him briefly. I stayed overnight in Rame, and learned about how life is for Palestinian's who live withing Israel and are Israeli citizens (as opposed to West Bank and Gaza palestinians who don't have citizenship and are denied most rights). Life for them is very difficult also.

My third adventure involved volunteering at a summer children's camp, put on for the kids of the refugee camp where I live. The summer camp is at the local YMCA and involves camping and the usual camp activities. After the long trip back from the Galilee I went straight to camp and began helping out. That night I slept there and nearly got eaten alive by mosquitos (never again!). This camp lasts for 10 days and I will be helping on and off.

I have two weeks to go. Crazy! Please be in prayer for my remaining time here. Thanks for reading and caring! Salaam (peace).

Friday, July 20, 2007

From Jon-Al Ajnabee

Here is Jon "al Ajnabee" , checking in once again. Jon is much easier for people to say here than Jonathan and Al Ajnabee means the foreigner, a word I hear constantly whether walking on the street or sitting in a taxi. My status as a "Ajnabee", of course follows me everyone I go and is indellibly printed on my pale-white (though more nicely tanned, now) skin. It has its advantages like being able to travel where I want, more or less do what I want, and getting hand fed when being a guest at people's homes (this happened to me yesterday... was quite bizarre). All this while Palestinian who live here can hardly travel within their own country, many are very restricted in what they can and can't do, and some depend on the UN and other organizations for their daily bread. I am ashamed many times of this.

Why me and not them? Why am I so different by holding this little blue document called a passport? This little paper document makes all the difference in the world... and I am ashamed to have it at times. I am tiring of constantly, by nearly everyone I meet, being asked whether in joke or jest in I can take them with me to "America" or help them get there. Today I got proposed to by a girl who is from Gaza, but lives now in the West Bank and can't get back to Gaza. She's stuck here. The girl gave me a marriage proposol on the spot, in jest (though there is some truth in every jest), in order to get a green card to the US. It really saddenned me.

So I have three weeks left here. Im doing allright, but will definitely be ready to be home when the time comes. Everything just weighs on you here so much. Till then I will be doing some interviews, a little traveling, continuing my Arabic and wrapping up relationships and my volunteer work. Life has now a constant rhythm that I am accustomed to: lots of hanging out, lots of talking, some food every once in a while... :)

Thanks for hanging in there with me. I appreciate you all!

Salaam. (for more pics of my trip look under the "links" section on the right of the page)

Friday, July 13, 2007

ال حى في فلسطين (life in Palestine)

Hello Again!

Life has been rather droll since my last post and droll seems to be more difficult. When the novelty of hanging out with people wears off you realize that there is not a whole lot else to do around here. Maybe I'm starting to see what it's like for people who live here and aren't just on a nice little summer vacation. And I even have things to do like volunteering and Arabic classes. Lots of the youth (and jobless adults, of whom there are many, many) here in the camp have literally nothing to do. I think its this boredom and listness that drives many people crazy.

This last week I once again hit a wall, one could say, and had a taste of some depression: lack of motivation, being really tired, discouraged, etc. I have also realized how alone I am here in many ways. I have realized that, if I was to do a similar program again, I wouldn't do it without going with other Christians whom I knew. (The prospect for a wife, for the next time around, seems very appealing at the moment :). Living alone with a muslim family and doing a program not specifically Christian in nature has had its toll on me spiritually. One thing that has been difficult is that many of the big excursions and trips we go on are on Sundays, so if I go I have had to miss church. I have decided to not go on any more trips, so I should be able to go to church from now on.

My efforts to make contacts with Israeli-Jews, has thus far been ineffective. This is something I want to focus on in my remaining month here. I feel that to be effective in creating change here (and in simply undertanding the issues) on needs to hear and experience both sides of the wall, as it were.

Some random things I have experienced/seen this last week: the city of Qalqiya (a city almost completely surrounded by the wall), a grape-leaves lunch at a friends house in the camp, hearing the story of somone who slept away from home fore 3 months out of fear of being arrested, the actual arrest of a different man protesting the building of the wall, an hour or so conversation with a new friend, almost completely in Arabic (!).

On a seperate note, I would love to tell people in the US the real story of the situation here. If any of you have contacts in newspapers or other media who would be interested(or know of similar opportunities to share my stories once returning) please let me know.

(see some more pictures on my pic page- see link on the right)

Thanks for your thoughts and prayers! Keep them coming!


Friday, July 6, 2007

Past the Half-Way Mark

Greetings from hot and hotter Bethlehem, where Jesus was born under military occupation and were now 60,000 Palestinians live, again under military occupation, though this time now Roman, but Israeli.

It really has been a sultery last couple of weeks, for both the wheather outside and as far the wheather of people's souls. Gaza has been a nightmare and things in the West Bank have been difficult as well. Daily there is news of deaths, of military operations, of suffering. As typical for the summer, Israel has cut the water in the camp for the last 10 days or so. Some have gone without a shower for the 10 days. One of the bright spots (though really just bitter sweet) was the release of another guy from prison. He is the brother of one of my good friends in the camp and is well loved and respected here. The party for him was especially big and a great release for the camp. We all piled into cars, loaded with flags and with the horns blaring, to welcome his taxi as it came into Bethlehem. He is 26 and was in prison for 2 1/2 years, reportedly because he is an artist and was doing art in protest of the occupation for different political parties.

Personally I am doing well, though there are many times when I count down the days util I will be home and in an environment where I can communicate easily and where the expecations for what i am to do are clear. This last week, for example, I made several cultural blunders that got a couple people somewhat angry at me.

Arabic is going well. I am feeling quite pleased with myself at the moment. I am able to keep a conversation going on a variety of basic topics and can answer most basic questions about myself.

Last week I visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. So much suffering experienced by the Jewish people that continues to this day for both Palestinians and Jews alike. Each side's suffering easily becomes an excuse to inflict suffering on the other sides. One's suffering makes one blind to the suffering of others. Lord have mercy on this region that seems so hopeless and messed up. When visiting the museaum I was able to meet, by chance, an American-Israeli-Jew (who lives in the Old City of Jerusalem!) and am now hopefully going to be able to meet with him this next week to get his perspective on everything. Please pray that this works out and that this serve as a door to more connections with Israelis.

Tommorow I am travelling with my group to visit Nablus, Tulkarm and Qalquiyam, cities that have seen the worst suffering in the West Bank. It should be eye opening experience.

I have 5 more weeks left here. Thanks for your prayers and emails.

(I added some new pictures to

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Prayers of the Church

Hey friends and family! سلام علىكم (peace be upon you).

Thank you so much for your thoughts, notes and prayers. I know many of you have been worried about me with the hard situation here in the Palestinian territories and now also with the death of my close friend. These last days I have really been able see the effects of your prayers. For a while I have felt very energy-less spiritually and haven't really had the strength to reach out to God through prayer or otherwise, but these last two days I have really seen God reach out to me and give me prayers and times of refreshment with him. I am really depending on him to "renew my soul" as Psalm 23 says. This Psalm has frequently been an encouragement to me as it throughout shows God's initiative in our lives: HE is the shepherd who leads and comforts and guides and renews us. Thanks be to God!

Life has started to become very routine and much of the novelty has begun to wear off. The grind of Arabic continues, but it is much harder to sense progress. Still, many times I am encouraged when I am able to have some basic, good conversations with people who I wouldn't be able to with otherwise. (I am also very proud of myself when I see people who have been a much longer time than I in the Middle East and yet speak much worse Arabic, or none at all!).

A new focus that I would like to begin these next weeks is to build some relationships with Jewish Israelis, a group that I have more or less not been exposed to at all, living in an all Palestinian area of the West Bank. I know that I need these relationships to get a balanced opinion as well as to avoid becoming prejudiced and villify the other side. Please pray for opportunities to do so.

I continue to need prayers for spiritual strength and for the ability to process all I am learning from a spiritual perspective.


(PS I added some new pictures to

Saturday, June 23, 2007

In need of prayer

It has been a very difficult. Being here for a month now, weariness as has begun to set in. Spiritually I feel like I have been in a downward spiral as well, finding it hard to pray and to just be still. In the middle of this I found out that a close friend from Wheaton died this last week. Stephen Hampton was of my roomates a year ago, and one of my first close friends at Wheaton. He was in Germany, having graduated early fromWheaton, and was hit by a train. At the moment the details as to exactly what happened aren't known. This has hit me hard, especially beeing so far away.

Please pray for grace and strength in this time and for peace from the Lord.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007


Hello, hello? Keefkom? Shoo Akhbarkom? (How are you'all, what your news?)

I figured I would give a wide lense view of what my life looks like here:

I am living in Bethlehem, a city just south of Jerusalem, in what's considered the West Bank or the Occupied Palestinian Territory. These are lands taken by Israel in the 1967 war and which have remained under military occupation since. Israel has not given the Palestinians who live here citizenship, nor equal rights, and largely controls every aspect of their life. Bethlehem itself, along with most of the W. Bank is now cut off by what' called the seperation wall or fence. Bethlehem itself is encircled by (I think) 5 illegal Israeli settlements, villages set up by Israel only for Israelis on Palestinian land inside the W. Bank. These are mini Oasis's in what is otherwise an empoverished palestinian area. Bethlehem thus is slowly being constricted and encircled. Many are emmigrating (especially the christian popualtion) to the US or Europe. It is just too difficult to live here.

I live in a refugee camp with just under 2000 people. The people in camp are Palestinian refugees ( or descendants of refugees) from 1948 when Israel took their land (in what is now Israel). Palestinians are the largest refugee population in the world and the only ones who aren't allowed to return home. For many in my camp, their original village is less than 30km away, but they have never been allowed to return. Many have kept the keys to their homes as a symbol of their plight and hope to return home.

I work Mon-Thurs. at a NGO called Student's Forum. There I speak English with Palestinian university students who want to improve their english. It is great fun and a great opportunity to make friends! In the afternoons I work on Arabic, either on my own or practicing with people from the camp, if possible. I am hoping to get a formal tutor soon. Presently my Arabic is to the point where I can usually make myself understood, though in a very broken Arabic. My mind is often strained from the hard work of producing the correct sounds, much less the correct word or phrase.

My host family consists of 4 brothers and 3 sisters. One of the men is married as is one of the women. They own a little store in the camp that sells odds and ends and is a central hang-out place for a lot of the camp. Its where I often am, waiting for some new adventure. Yesterday I learned that there are about 600 people in the camp fron the same family of the one I live with. Everyone knows everyones names and how they are related to them. Amazing and very cool!

Allright, Ill stop for now. Thanks for reading!


Friday, June 15, 2007

Gaza Meltdown

Greetings! Those who keep up with the news know that the situation in the Gaza strip has gotten really ugly. The situation in the West Bank, where I am, is fine at the moment, but there are many uncertainties about the future of the Palestinian people.

I am doing well and have had a full share of experiences (as usual) this last week. Arabic has progressing at a nice pace, though my inability to speak well is continually frustrating. At the Student Forum, where I have been teaching English, I have had many invititations to people's homes and have been able to develop some good frienships. These are college students who go to the center to improve their english as well as to participate in workshops, etc.

Please continue to pray for my Arabic as well as for opportunities to share and reflect Christ with and to the people around me. Especially given my limited Arabic, this has been difficult and i haven't had many chances. I pray that the Holy Spirit in my life will be clearly seen by those devoid of hope and life around me.

Please sign up in the box to the right, if you would like to get an email every time I update this blog!


Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Slowly life becomes normal here. Slowly the heaviness in the air sinks in deeper and deeper until you don't realize its weight anymore-anymore that is until it is momentarily removed. On Sunday I was able to go the church for the first time since being here. I attended two different services in Jerusalem (and got a double dose of communion). For a brief period of time the weight was lifted and I was refreshed by the joy and peace of Christ. I realized then at that moment how crucial Christ is for people in such dire straights. Without the light of Christ it is all darkness and despair. With Christ's light there is not only hope, but direction and life. I was further encouraged to work in the Church in the Middle East, to give Christ's light to those in dire need of it.

I don't mean to sound overly dramatic. I am actually doing quite well and am really enjoying my time here. My Arabic is progressing as are my relationships with both the people that I work with and those I live with. I truly desire to build on these relationships during my time here.

I struggle to find words in which to condense the multitude of my experiences here. I want so bad to help you really see what life is like here for Palestinians and what the situation is like. I know I will come very short though. (See also my photo album at

One small snippet of life resulting from Israeli occupation I will try to describe is the families that have someone in prison. Here in the camp maybe 1 in 5 males is or has been in prison. This last week alone 2 men from the camp (of 2000 people) got out of prison. Palestinian prisoners are sent to prison in Israel proper and are often d. It is difficult for family members to visit them and often they can't for years at a time. Yesterday, at the house of one of the people I teach english to, I heard the story of how their brother was arrested three years ago. Israel said that he had killed 23 Israeli's and had bombs in his house. They never found any bombs though, and he had never killed anyone. He was only about 19 at the time. His brother has only been able to see him once in the last three years.

Thank you for your support and prayers. I appreciate all of you!

Monday, June 4, 2007


Each day here is full of experiences, faces and emotions. It's hard enough to simply live it, harder yet to process it all and distill it into words.

In the last week I have experienced: a wedding here on the streets of the camp, a inter-family feud, seeing first hand illegal Israeli settlements, the building of the separation wall/fence that is cutting people from their land, a family that I'm pretty sure is trying to marry me off to their daughte and what seems like millions of faces and names and conversations. It is all very overwhelming. Add to that the fact that is has been hard to get good sleep at night and the fact that I am surrounded all day by a language that I have to work hard at understanding.

Arabic is going well, but it is hard to stay encouraged. The process of learning it is a roller coaster. Constantly I feel like I am not advancing very well or that it is a nearly impossible task. I want so much (so much!) to learn it and so I keep pushing and pushing. My Arabic classes I was taking were not helpful, so now I am trying to find a personal tutor. Please pray for an individual who can really be of help to me.

As far as NGO work is concerned I am now working 2 days a week with in a summer camp for kids and three days a week teaching english. I love the english teaching because it enables me to really help people and allows me to build relationships.

I won't be sending out emails anymore each time I update the blog. If you want to get an email each time I update the blog put your email address in the form on the right.

See the link in the post below if you would like to see some pictures.!


Saturday, June 2, 2007


I will write a new entry soon. For now, everything is good and I am doing well. For some pics see:


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Getting Acclimated

!صبح لاخير (Good morning!). Greetings from Bethlehem. Life is beginning to become more routine, but very slowly. I have loved every minute of being here, though it has required lots of energy and input. Being around Arabic most of the day without understanding a lot of it wears on you.

On Saturday we toured East Jerusalem (which is largely Palestinian)and met up with B'tselem ( and the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions ( These are both organizations that are fighting for Palestinian issues. We saw a Palestinian home that was demolished by Israel becuase it didn't have a building permit. This is a very common thing in East Jerusalem, where Israel largely refuses to give building permits to Palestinians who are growing rapidly, basically forcing them to build illegally. We also toured some Israeli settlements, which housing complexes built within what is internationally considered the Palestinian West Bank. These are illegal by international law and threaten to divide up the West Bank into small Palestinian bantustans (thin South African apartheid). Seeing all this was a very heavy experience.

I have been able to have several eye opening conversations with some of the kids from the camp that speak good english. One kid, Mohammed, was telling me how in this month alone 7 people from the camp will be getting out of Israeli jails.This is from a camp of only 2000 people. Many more are in jail and won't be coming out soon. Mohammed's own brother, who they haven't seen in 2 1/2 years, will be getting out this next week. It will be a big occasion. Palestinians in the West Bank are taken to prison in Israel proper, thus seperating them from family and friends who can visit them. It is difficult for Palestinians to get permits to visit them (West Bank Palestinians can't cross into Israel without a special permit which is difficult to get. Many in Bethlehem, who live 15 minutes from Jerusalem, haven't been able to go.).

Yesterday, began both the Arabic lessons and my volunteering with the NGO (non-governmental organization, think non-profit). I am not sure if this NGO is going to be a good fit and it doesn't really fit with my schedule well. We are trying to see if we can find another place where I can volunteer. Please be in prayer for this as this will be a large part of my experience here.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

I am writing now, partly because of drinking so much coffee, partly because this is the first time I have been able to be alone today. These last two days have been great, but definitely a blur. I haven’t hardly had a chance to process it all it has come so fast. On Thursday I met my group and came to Bethlehem, Palestine (AKA west bank, occupied territory, etc) driving through a big checkpoint in what’s famously called the “seperation barrier” or "wal"l that Israel is building, effecting cutting off Palestine.

After arriving in Bethlehem I met my host family and they took me to their home. I am staying on the third floor of a building in the ‘Azza refugee camp. Most of the families, if not all, (including my host family) are originally refugees from the 1948 war. This camp is also called Beyt Jibrill because that is the city where they all used to live in what is now Israel.

My family is a Muslim family, with 6 kids (I think). There is Lu’ay, who is 25, and Hameed, who is maybe 11. They are the one’s who I have spent most of my time with. The first night here we all went to play some soccer , allowing me to effectively meet seemingly half the kids from the camp, it was great. My family has been extremely welcoming and hospitable, following the Arab way. They have basically shoved mounds of food (extremely tasty, of course) down my throat and cup after cup of Arabic tea and coffee (w/ mint).

I requested a family that doesn't speak anyEnglish so that I would be forced to use my Arabic everyday. PSE granted my request and my family speaks no english, which is somewhat unusual for Bethlehem. Conversation, thus, has been sparse for the last couple days, but I have already learned a lot of new Arabic since arriving. It is humbling (and often frustrating) because even the simplest of requests becomes very arduous and it is easyto embarass yourself. Still, I LOVE it! :)

Bethlehem is a very quiet and safe place. On the news tonight there was trouble in Gaza, in Ramallah and in Nablus, but Bethlehem usually avoids this, thus making it a great place to begin to dive into Palestinian life.

The other people who are here doing the PSE program with me are great. Tonight we went out to eat and just chat and I had a blast. They are very interesting people with many backgrounds. One guy, who I think I’ll get along well with is, from Switzerland. Some of the PSE participants are Christian, many not. This allows for some fun conversations about faith, justice, etc.

It seems that one challenge will be to find some quiet and solitude time, not because there isn’t enough time, but because here at my house it is impossible to be alone. I know that I will really need regular time to pray and process. Please pray that I will find a regular way to do this. Finding spiritual community with other believers and going to church is going to be a challenge too.

Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. I have really needed them and continue to do so. Time to sleep!


Thursday, May 24, 2007

From Jerusalem!

I'm here! After a LONG trip I made it all in once piece to my hostel in Jerusalem were I spent the night. The trip went very smoothly, and thank the Lord, I had no problems at all in customs.

It was all very overwhelming getting here last night. All of a sudden I was in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem ( in front of Davids tower) surrounded by orthodox jews, palestinians, russian orthodox, germans, americans, etc etc. Whew! This morning I took a walk around the old city and saw the Wailing wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and some other sites. In many ways being here is somewhat anti-climactic. Jerusalem is supposed to be this magical city, but in many ways it's just another place. The Wailing wall, for example, is pretty small and very un-impressive. I know that from a historical perspective everything here is important, but still it doesn't move me. Really, I didn't come to see the archaelogical sites, or to "walk where Jesus walked." That's all interesting, but in the end unimportant since we worship a Living Christ (hallelujah!) who walks the streets of all our cities alongside us.

The reason I came here was to live and work with Palestinians and I can't wait to begin. Today I am meeting my group and heading down to Bethlehem to meet my host family. The adventure begins!


Friday, May 11, 2007

Getting Ready

As I mentioned in my email, I am getting the last details ready before taking off soon to the West Bank on May 22nd. Once arriving I will meet my host family in Bethlehem whom I will be staying with for nearly three months. During this time I will be studying Arabic intensively and will be volunteering with an NGO, most likely teaching English.

Most people have a vague idea of what Israel and Palestine is and what's going on presently. To help you understand what the situation is presently I've added some links on the side here. First, it would be helpful to look at the map. Look for Bethlehem which is in the West Bank and is south of Jerusalem. Next, click on the link that gives a synopsis of the present situation in Palestine (known as the occupied territories), which is pretty bleak. In short, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza live under military occupation, do not have their own state, and their economy is in shambles. Israel is building what they call a "security fence" (also called "the wall" by those who oppose it) which is cutting off the West Bank and further isolating it. Click on the Wall link for more info. on that. Lastly, for most people palestinian is synonomous with terrorist and with Muslim. This simply is not the case on many levels, but especially since there are many Palestinian Christians, many of whom are descendents of the earliest Christians. Check out the link to learn more about them.