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.