By Rev. Paxton Jones, Regional Minister
It was not my intention to offend him, but I fear that I did. Two days after my return from two weeks in the Middle East, I was depressed and still suffering from jetlag when he’d shared with me after church on Sunday that he’d been with a tour group in Jerusalem himself not long ago. “Wow, wasn’t it great?” he’d enthused brightly.
I could tell I’d caught him short when I replied, “I’m sure it was … if all you saw were tourist sites.”
We saw a few of those – pyramids barely outside of Cairo; Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, and Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem – but most of our time was spent visiting our Global Ministry Partners in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel/ Palestine. Rather than coming home jubilant, as I had after a tourist visit in 1976, I came back pensive, concerned … and proud – proud of the investment we are making through our Global Ministries staff in the Middle East and the many partners we support .
Yet my heart remains heavy. We visited “temporary” Palestinian refugee camps that have existed since 1949, and camps of Syrian refugees that are only months old. Though living conditions in each are unconscionable, three and four generations of Palestinians crowd into the former, because to abandon the camp also means abandoning the Right of Return to their former homelands. The latter, driven from their homes by the brutalities of war, survive the blazing and freezing temperatures and constant winds of the Jordanian desert in UN tents, less than a mile from the border.
More than half of the people in the camps are children. All share a common vision, spoken softly and longingly by a male refugee who said, “I just want to go home.”
I don’t foresee that happening any time soon, either for the Syrian or Palestinian refugees-especially not as long as that blasted Wall exists in Occupied Palestine. Pictures don’t do it justice-and “justice” is not a word I will ever associate with it. Thirty feet tall and controlled by military patrols and checkpoints, it is a thing of evil that fittingly depicts the broken state of humanity. Coupled with the Israeli Settlements strategically placed to divide the Occupied Zones, together they effectively prohibit any chance of a Two-State Solution to the conflict in Israel.
Time and again, however, our mission partners urged us to “keep hope alive.” These are more than just words. Their hope remains alive:
» In the efforts of a former law student from Damascus who has started a one-room school in a tent
» In a Jordanian NGO (non-govenrmental organization) working to teach conflict management and peacemaking skills to youth
» In an administrator who pleaded with authorities in Beirut to create a playground in one of the camps, and succeeded after a dozen years
» In the proponents of BDS, a non-violent movement within Israel/Palestine urging nations to boycott products from the Occupied Territory and divest their investments in Israel until the conflict is resolved.
As my colleague Rick Spleth notes, “They are literally saving youth from a life of despair; they are helping women find dignity and power; and they are fostering interfaith relations in ways that are a model for other parts of the world. They are serving the refugees, who exist in far too great a number, with dignity and care. I am very proud of what we are doing and encourage your support.”
Learn more at Global Ministries website.
Grace and peace,