• FEATURES \ Sep 08, 2003
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    Israeli and Palestinian Youth meet in Germany
Israeli and Palestinian Youth meet in Germany The story of this conference begins weeks or even months before the conference itself took place. The months beforehand were spent recruiting participants, and the Lord formed a group of dynamic youth leaders from across Israel and Palestinian areas. The group included students, a teacher, a policewoman, an engineer, an accountant, a soldier, and most were involved in youth and other ministries in their congregations. They ranged in ages from 18 to 45.

In the weeks before the conference, our office began working on visas and permissions that are required of Palestinians from the Palestinian Authority. These processes are always complicated and often delayed until the last minute. Early on, we began soliciting assistance and prayers from all who could help out.

Acquiring permission for Palestinians to enter Israel and fly through Ben Gurion airport is quite an ordeal. Without going into too many details, the Church of the Nazarene and the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs approached the Israeli army on our behalf. Things were looking positive until the terrible suicide bombing in Jerusalem. As a result, it looked like we would not get permission and had to proceed with sending the 5 Palestinian participants to fly through Amman, Jordan. This did not look hopeful either, as alternate paperwork is required and they were only on the waiting lists for flights. One hour after being told that there was no way we would get permission, we were told that it was ready. Although, in making these arrangements, the Palestinian participants had to take a different flight to the conference, everyone was able to attend! This was nothing less than a miracle.

Such is the reality of people's lives and situations here. It is from this environment and atmosphere that they come to participate in these conferences. On both sides, there are a lot of emotions and fears. People not only have to cross borders to meet with each other, but have to make an emotional and spiritual journey as well. One of the young participants who currently serves in the Israeli army was close to the same suicide bombing that happened the week before the conference, and helped with rescue efforts. It was not easy for him to lay aside the feelings of anger and to come meet with his brothers and sisters from the 'other' side. This is the case for many participants on both sides, who have experienced acutely and first hand the violence and hardships of the conflict.

So this is how we come to meet each other. The group was enthusiastic to be with believers from the other side, and found great joy in the fellowship. At the same time, each brought with them the difficult political realities.

Musalaha's vision for bringing together youth leaders was multi-faceted. There is a high demand for trained youth leaders in both communities. Youth for Christ and Musalaha share the goal of building up youth work in order to strengthen and support the body of believers. Youth who live in this land face a reality that is conflict-ridden. Attitudes of hatred, anger, and dehumanization develop at an early age. Therefore, in bringing youth leaders to an event where they further understand the importance of reconciliation, Musalaha's vision is to equip them to bring youth into the process.

The training provided by Youth for Christ was excellent and useful teaching. We focused on topics such as communication, creativity, vision, evangelism, and planning youth programs. As one of the participants put it, "What we are learning is like a massage for the soul."

In the evenings and afternoons, there were times of worship, fellowship, testimonies and games. Our evening sessions were intense and real times of sharing together. One of the leaders gave an honest and straightforward talk about his own process of reconciliation, and opened the floor for anyone who wanted to speak. Someone began with "I don't think there are problems or enemies between us, we are all believers." Others disagreed and responded that their experiences sometimes challenged their desire to pursue reconciliation. Palestinians spoke of being stuck at checkpoints. Israelis talked about their feelings of fear while guarding. One of the participants brought the discussion back to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48. "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven...."

Although the issues were deep and intense, it was refreshing to be away from home together. The experience of being outside our comfort zones created a special bond among the participants. In free time, we took a walk in the gorgeous and green woods, or went shopping in a nearby village. One woman, when walking through the woods commented, "I think God is pampering us."

After intensive sessions of learning and discussion, we enjoyed being outdoors and playing games together. After an afternoon game of volleyball, one of the women from the Bethlehem area said, "Wow, me playing with Israelis. An Arab and a Jew playing volleyball together. They wouldn't believe this at home." This group, although very mixed in age, had a lot of fun together and very quickly the ice was broken between people.

We are very grateful to our hosts, EDI, in Germany for providing this opportunity. They coordinated and sponsored the accommodations for the conference. In addition, they arranged for us to visit Heidelberg, a beautiful German city, and take a boat ride together. Onlookers were surprised by this mixed group of Israelis and Palestinians. Two of the young people, during the visit to Heidelberg, were looking for a place to buy water. They ended up finding water for sale in a bar, and began talking about the Lord with the bartender. He was skeptical. One of them said, "Hey look at us, an Arab and an Israeli together. If God can do that, he can do anything."