"And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Messiah, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." Ephesians 3:17b-19
The retreat center, nestled in pastoral surroundings near the ancient city of Ephesus, provided the ideal setting and relief from the tensions that have characterized the past two years of Intifada. The makeup of the group itself ? carefully balanced between young men and women from the Palestinian Christian and the Israeli Messianic communities ? also contributed to the palpable tensions it brought with it.
The differences in identity, language and mentality, coupled with the hostilities that exist between our peoples, forced us to face the challenge of biblically-based reconciliation if we were to fellowship at all.
The first days were devoted to the intensive study program on youth leadership, creative teaching methods, youth evangelism and communication. Neil O?Boyle, former training coordinator for Youth for Christ in the region, facilitated the sessions. By the time the conference was over, we parted from our teacher with grateful hearts for the invaluable contribution he had made to our own lives and to the communities we serve.
The evenings were set apart for the group to "chill out" through worship and fun activities. In addition to laughing together, we gave time for testimonies. Several participants shared their stories and told of different experiences in their journeys. We learned how two young Jewish participants came to know Jesus as their Messiah, forged a deep friendship, and faced great adversity to their newfound faith. The young men from Ramallah spoke of their dreams for further education and of their difficulties in encouraging the teenagers in their care whose lives had been reduced to restricted movement and boredom at best and very real danger at worst. One young woman, S. shared with us the experience of having her family home in Bethlehem occupied by Israeli troops while she and her family were forced to remain in one room for five days. What was remarkable was the fact that she had lost none of her "bubbly" personality and initiated joy wherever she went. S. indicated that this conference was her first time to meet Jewish people besides the soldiers she encountered, and that her perceptions of Israelis had begun to change. For both sides, hearing each others? stories made an impact in their understandings of each other.
The last day was set aside for a trip to the ancient city of Ephesus. In the ruins of a Byzantine church, we rested as Evan shared from Ephesians Chapter 2 about the challenge of Messiah?s followers becoming ?one new man.? In quietness the group separated into pairs of Palestinian Christians and Israeli Messianic believers and spent time aside sharing their personal stories ? the stories behind the stories ? and then praying for one another. To wander among the broken pillars and arches and witness this scene will remain as part of our memories forever.
Our final evening before departure began as every other, worshipping together in Hebrew and Arabic. As some participants were leaving in the middle of the night, the closing session became a meaningful time of responding to the experiences of training and building relationships that took place throughout the conference. The tenderness that had developed through the week was now obvious and we began to pray and weep over one another in our goodbyes. As an act of love and unity, C. an Arab Christian from the Galilee, asked permission to wash the feet of a young Israeli believer. As we witnessed this unique act of servant hood our hearts broke and God's Spirit moved upon us, and love replaced the fears and tensions that had kept us apart.
Through the course of the next few days, the Holy Spirit invaded the little group with the spirit of reconciliation and removed those heavy walls! It was so evident that everyone could feel the huge difference by the end of the conference.
"Personally, my eyes were opened to some things I had been quite naive about beforehand. I had heard on the news about the suffering of the Palestinians, but this was the first time I had been in conversations with the people who live and breathe the stories that we hear on the news. My heart was broken. I now have faces and names to put to my prayers." ~ Participant working with Israeli youth
"Reconciliation is not a step, it's a process. That is what I've been hearing lately, and during the Turkey trip it kept ringing at the background of my head as I was looking around at the faces of all the participants. . The only way to make this work was through relationships; Musalaha gave us that opportunity to meet with people that have great hearts for the Lord. Observing how we all communicated and how God was there made me realize that He makes it possible to change hearts." ~Palestinian participant
If you would like to contribute towards Musalaha's projects, please send donations to Reconciliation Ministries (PO Box 238, Medina, WA 98039-0238, USA) or in the UK to Restorer Trust (St. Peters Parish Centre, 347 Church Road, Bolton, Lancs, BL1 5RR).
Make checks out to Reconciliation Ministries or Restorer Trust, and in a letter designate the funds for Musalaha. Donations can also be sent directly to Musalaha at the address below.
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