Revisited

Perhaps in the lull of senior spring and seeking to escape complete senioritis, I come back to this blog, which, looking back, I really did not keep up on while I was abroad….
However, my love of biology and baklava, has not dissipated. In fact, thanks to Ata, a sweet shop owner in the Old City of Jerusalem, my love of baklava has exponentially increased. Similarly, thanks to a challenging, thought-provoking, and spiritually edifying biology capstone class over January, my love for biology has grown as well. So, here I find myself, picking up where I left off- yet, instead of looking out at modern Jerusalem from my room, I see the small neighborhood of Upland, Indiana from my window.
While it has now been four months since I have returned back home and settled into life back at Taylor, my thoughts often find themselves here, there, and everywhere else. Restless–

what does it mean to love your neighbor, even if they are your [perceived] enemy? and how does the Church do that practically? what theology, thinking, or practices must be altered in order to point others towards the true message of Jesus? how is this different from some of our Western American ideas of what “being a Christian” means?
or
how do we learn about God from His creation and His Word? Is it really that hard to do both? Why do many Christians find this extremely difficult, with many declaring it impossible to do so? Isn’t all Truth, God’s Truth? Why must one shy away from things learned from the created order then? What does it look like to practically learn from both areas of knowledge while keeping their integrity?

My heart grows restless feeling pulled in many directions by good meaning individuals and ideologies. Though I continually fail to do so, I am humbly reminded by my Father to rest my thoughts in Him-every one of them.

This is all my hope and peace, nothing but the blood of Jesus. 

Holidays and More Holidays

Trying to push past all of the Jewish pilgrims who have flocked Jerusalem this past week, it is hard not to think of yourself as a local, just trying to go throughout your day.  Currently, we are in the midst of the Jewish holy days.  About three weeks ago, the Jews celebrated Rosh Shashana, the Jewish new year.  The following week was Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, and currently it is Succot–better known by its connection with the Feast of Booths/Feast of Tabernacles.  Succot is one of the pilgrimage holidays, hence many orthodox Jews from all over Israel come to Jerusalem during this time. 

Jews at Western Wall during Rosh Shashana

While we aren’t Jewish, we still have fun being a part of the holidays here in Jerusalem.  While many Jews build their sukkah, or tent/dwelling to live in during Succot, a few students here built a sukkah in the garden and some of us have even spent a few nights sleeping on the roof, under the stars.  Additionally, on our Shabbat dinner (Friday night dinner on the Jewish Sabbath) during Yom Kippur, Nicole and I wore our hair wrapped up in headscarves like Jewish women. 

In the middle of all of these festivities, my History of the Jews class went to the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv on Sunday.  There, we learned about the significance of all of the Jewish holidays, the history of the various Jewish communities in the diaspora, and the events that happen throughout the life of a Jewish person.  It was a helpful way to understand the people, who are currently flooding the streets of Jerusalem.  

The more that I have been learning about the history of the Jews, the more I see that the Jews are a very unreached people group.  They have undergone a long history of persecution, often at the hands of the Church.  Today, it is often pushed that the Christian perogative should be to “support the Jews”; however, I feel this should be re-thought, in that, our focus as Christians should be to “reach out to the Jews…and Arabs….and every nation, tribe, and tongue”

“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 2:3-4

Our Family Here

Amid the hype over Palestine’s bid for statehood at the United Nations there are many questions to be answered, including what self-determination might mean for the 50,000 Christians currently living in the Occupied Territories. While no one would deny the plight of Palestinian people after the creation of the state of Israel as full of injustice, the question of the Christians is posed to the potential reparations for the Nakba, ‘the catastrophe’ that occurred when the state of Israel was created in 1948. If full membership status is granted, what kind of a state will be created and will Christians find their lives in the Holy Land to be adequately just? If justice means the creation of a Palestinian state that is hostile and even dangerous to Christians, how should the church in the Holy Land respond? The result of these inquiries is a potential conflict of interest for native Christians between Palestinian nationalism and the strength and protection of the church in the region. “The Arab Christian community in the Palestinian Territories is an integral part of the Palestinian people,” said the Rev. Raed Abusahlia, Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate, in an article “It suffers with it, rejoices with it, and shares with it the same hopes and aspirations.” Christian Palestinians find themselves caught between the desire for self-determination and concern for what an independent Palestine would mean for the church. The question of Israel/Palestine has resulted in various ideologies supporting the differing parties. Christian Zionism and Palestinian Liberation Theology collide in a way that leaves the Palestinian Christians with no middle ground. Most Palestinian Christians support the creation of an independent state, but Christians familiar with the rising tide of Muslim persecution in other parts of the Middle East must ask what kind of government the Palestinian Authority would be if Israel releases control. Regardless of whether or not Palestine is created as an Islamic state, Christians in Palestine are the minority, living in a majority Muslim area. While it is unclear what exactly a Palestinian state would look like, there would be dangerous implications for Christians due to the inseparable nature of politics from Islam. Historically, Christians in the Middle East, including the area of Israel/Palestine, have been subjected to various social, economic, and religious hardships under Muslim rule.  The system of Christians holding a lower status still affects Muslim/Christian relations in the Middle East today. This is also not to say that continued Israeli control would be better for the church. Even though the Israeli constitution assures Christians “freedom of religion, conscience, education and culture,” they live as second-class citizens. Israel refuses to allow them to serve in its military, and Palestinian Christians have fewer educational and employment opportunities. According to Justus Reid Weiner, a scholar at the Jerusalem Public Affairs Office and author of Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society, “People see the Christians as weak, as not having connections in the entourage first of Yasser Arafat and now of Abu Mazen, as not having the economic power they once had. If they’re weak and anything goes, why not burn their cars, steal their land, harass the women? You can get away with it with the Christians.” However, while Christians in Palestine do face many challenges, it has not diminished the strength of their faith. Taylor senior, Tania Kuttab, a Palestinian Christian, sees her loyalty to her country as a positive thing which, “reminds me that I should hold on to my identity in Christ above all else, however, it gives me pride in being from the Holy Land – just like Jesus.  I’m also very proud to be part of a community who has a vibrant faith that has survived over the years of persecution”.  While often the idea of being Palestinian and a Christian is seen as an oxymoron by Christians in the West, Kuttab reiterates, “whether it’s a Christian Palestinian who feels a sense of nationalism, like I do, or a Christian American, who feels patriotic, it’s integral for both of us to realize that our value in Christ is superior to that of our nation.”  Thus, it is important for Christians in the West not to allow international politics and ideologies to keep them from seeing their brothers and sisters in Palestine.  In an area of the world which is full of unreached Muslims and Jews and where the people have been broken by war and conflict, the presence of Christians is desperately needed. Today Palestinian Christians make up 2% of the total population of Israel/Palestine, this has been in a steady decline since 1900 when the total was 17%, and could continue even if a free state of Palestine is established. As the percentage of Christians in the Middle East decreases, and as important decisions are made regarding the state of Palestine, it is vital that Christians in America pray and support the body of believers in the Holy Land.

It’s September in Palestine

Driving through the West Bank on the road to Nablus with a group studying the physical settings of the Bible, you pass a billboard with the words ‘UN 194 Palestinian State’–definitely not the typical sign that you would find driving down I-69.  Palestine is calling for istihqaq Aylul, ‘the September claim of our just due.’ With the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas is set to submit a formal request for statehood and U.N. membership on September 23, the possibility of Palestine becoming its own country and the 194th member of the UN, is an issue which has raised intense debate and conversation both among students and professors here at Jerusalem University College and in the international political sphere.  After almost twenty years of failed peace negotiations with Israel following the Oslo Accords in 1993 and with the current Israeli government supporting the increase of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, Palestinians are seeking a new diplomatic alternative.  According to Dr. Bernard Sabella, a Palestinian Christian and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, “The intention of President Abbas is not to confront the American Administration but to highlight that without a bold political move forward, at this juncture, the situation on the ground will become untenable. Opposite the misconceptions or misrepresentations out there, this move is not an alternative to negotiations; Abbas is adamant that going to the UN will not shut off the option for continuing negotiations with Israel with the mediation of the US and a broader international representation.”

The state which ‘Abbas is asking the UN to recognize is based on the 1967 borders, which include the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.  Following the Six Day War in 1967, these areas fell under Israeli occupation and remain so until today. In a speech in Ramallah on September 16, President Abbas designated that the Palestinian people have a legitimate right to an independent, sovereign state. Currently, Palestine has only observer entity status at the UN.  If they are granted membership, they will have the ability to be a part of organizations within the UN including the International Criminal Court, which will allow them to take legal actions against the Israeli occupation.  Furthermore, becoming a member of the UN would send a definite message to the international community that the illegal occupation and settlements are undermining the ability to create a viable Palestinian state. 

Israel objects to the proposal to act outside of the framework of bilateral negotiations. They have continued to step up the defense of their settlements within the Palestinian territories, and recent news of arming the citizens in the settlements has raised concern on the global stage. In a speech on to the UN General Assembly President Obama did not deny the right of the Palestinians to have their own state, but continued to insist that negotiations with Israel is the necessary route to take. The whole issue of the bid put the United States in a hard place, with relationships strained between Israel and both Turkey and Egypt, the image of the United States to the Arab could be in trouble if the U.S. is forced to veto the bid. Sticking with Israel is a hard thing to do in a Middle East that is continuously rallying around the momentum of the Arab spring and the cause of the Palestinians.

Even if the bid is vetoed in the Security Council the Palestinian Authority will still find progress in this process. No one knows what the outcome will be, but the hope is that this will lead to more negotiations and potentially eventual statehood. It is just the first step in the direction of full UN membership, and the practical truth is that there are still Israeli settlements all over the West Bank and nothing is going to change overnight. UN recognition and full membership has the potential to give Palestinians the force, pull, and motivation needed to make further progress towards statehood.

A Weekend in the Field

Weekends here are packed.  Especially this past weekend as I had a field study for my class on Christian Communities in the Middle East on Saturday and a field study for Physical Settings of the Bible on Sunday. 

Christian Communities in the Middle East.  First, we started at the Church of the Holy Sepluchre, where we got a tour of everything, with full explanations of the individual chapels and icons by our professsor, Dr. Petra Heldt.  Because of Petra’s connections in the churches here in the area, we were able to get into the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which has its monastery surrounding and on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepluchre.  So, not only were we able to look down on the groups of people who swarm to the Church, but we were able to get a close up of the beautiful domes of the church. 

Following, we were able to meet His Beatitude, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilus III.  There, he gave us a short history of the Greek Orthodox Church and some of the roles it plays today here in the Middle East.  The rest of the day was taken up by visiting monasteries in greater Jerusalem.  One monastery was filled with a group of nuns who kept a vow of silence. At the end of the day, I felt as if I had a better understanding of the groups of Christians here in the Jerusalem area and had gained a deeper respect for those who feel called to pray for the world and the church on a full-time basis. 

Physical Settings of the Bible.  This field study was exciting because the trip was to the land of Biblical Samaria.  Today, these sites lie in the heart of the West Bank, and due to the politics of the region, are not always accessible to tourists.  We started the day in ancient Shechem, the ruins of which lie in the modern day city of Nablus.  We were able to see the remains of two city gates as well as a temple area.  Following, we went to a Greek Orthodox Church, which was built over Jacob’s Well, the one which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan women.  It was still possible to draw water and drink from it today. 

We then went to Mt. Gerazim and overlooked modern Nablus, and looked out toward Mt. Ebal. These two mountains were the places where the covenant was renewed between God & the Israelites when they entered the land.   Taking our Bibles, it was so amazing to read aloud the blessings from Deuteronomy that God promised His people, if they obeyed Him, on the top of Mt. Gerazim.  After lunch, we explored the ruins of ancient Samaria.  There, we learned about the idolatry that was practiced at this place by Omri and Ahab, kings of the Northern Kingdom.  We ended the day at Tel Shiloh, where the tabernacle of the Lord was kept when the Israelites came into the land. 

It is really a blessing to be able to learn the Biblical history of the land but to also be able to interact with the Christians who are living out their faith in this land today.  It is a reminder that Christians here have been the minority in a hostile environment for hundreds of years and even still today.  We have a responsibility to pray and support our brothers and sisters in Christ here in any way we can.   

“Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life'”    John 4:13-14

Second Time Around

Sitting on the South steps leading up to the Temple Mount, we had a perfect view of the City of David and all of the hills and valleys that surround Jerusalem.  Re-reading passages in the Bible where Jesus taught the people from the very same steps, gives you a whole new contextual understanding of the Scriptures.  This moment, like many others, were some that I got to experience for a second time as I participated in a field study with the Physical Settings of the Bible class at Jerusalem University College.  Because I had taken an equivalent class the last time that I was at JUC, I now get to enjoy all of the field trips of Physical Settings, without taking the class itself. 

While I am so excited to go and re-visit all of the places in which Old & New Testament events take place, I feel that my view of Jerusalem is changing.  The first time I was here, I “couldn’t believe that I was in Israel” and found myself emotionally attached to Jerusalem when I left.  While the city of Jerusalem and the country of Israel will always have a special place in my heart because it is the setting of the Bible, I am beginning to see this place with more than just Christian pilgrim eyes. 

For example, I visited the Temple Mount yesterday.  As we climbed up, you overlook the Western Wall.  Both the Jews who pray at the Western Wall and the Muslims who pray at Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock do not know Christ.  While Jerusalem has so many connections to the Bible, the majority of the population today are lost.  Furthermore, this land is home to a very complex conflict, in which peace and reconciliation are badly needed.  Oftentimes, I leave my classes with my mind completely boggled with all of the aspects of history, people, and the region which play into the current issues here in Israel/Palestine. 

It is easy for me to become overwhelmed at number of people here who do not know the Lord, despite being so religiously devout.   I can also get frustrated trying to understand what is going on here, when injustice and suffering are felt by both sides, with only a few trying to “love their neighbor”.  While I may not understand everything, I know that God is sovereign here.  He desires to use His church to bring healing and hope to people who are broken and lost.  May I never limit the power of God to think that His arm is too short to work here in the Middle East, for our gospel is one of peace. 

“For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”                          2 Corinthians 4:6

Color-Coordinating Notebooks and More

Classes have started here in Jerusalem.  While receiving a syllabus and color-coordinating notebooks for each class remind me of being at school in the States, the similarities end there.  The courses which I am taking this semster are Introduction to the Modern Middle East, Palestinian Society and Politics, Arabic, and Christian Communities in the Middle East- topped with amazingly intelligent professors with Hebrew, Arabic, and German accents.

Introduction to the Modern Middle East is taught by an Israeli professor, who would remind you of a visiting lecturer.  He knows so much about the history of the region and he can spout it off like no one’s business.  Also interesting is his perspective on the region, the current issues, and the State of Israel.  As a biology major who knows little about the international politics of the Middle East, I will definitely be challenged to keep up with him.

Palestinian Society and Politics is taught by a sweet, old Palestinian professor, who is actually on the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.  Additionally, he is a Palestinian Christian, who is able to offer us information on Palestinian culture and insight into the lives of Christians in Palestine.  I was interested to learn about the demographics and population of the West Bank and Gaza.  Many statistics about social structure and education related to aspects of public health (which made me even more excited about this class).

Christian Communities in the Middle East completely blew my mind after one class.  It’s taught by a German professor, who is both a professor and a pastor in the Lutheran church.  In the first lecture, we learned about the five families in the Christian church- three were Orthodox church families, which many Christians in the West (including myself) often discount and question.  However, my professor said that her faith has been enriched by the theology of the Orthodox Church, though she doesn’t accept it as her own.  While this was a class I wasn’t originally planning to take, I am excited to hopefully draw “water from a deep well”.

Arabic.  This class is actually taught at Bethlehem Bible College.  Therefore, all of the students in our class have to travel to Bethlehem from Jerusalem (about five miles).  However, it requires us to go through the security checkpoint in the Separation Wall that divides the West Bank from Israel. Due to all of the hassles of buses and border-crossing, we were all late for our first day of class.  However, our Arabic teacher is the sweetest Palestinian lady ever.  She is full of energy and is so excited about teaching us Arabic.  We will all be sure not to miss a single minute of the class again!

I have a feeling that the Roof Room (our room is literally on the roof of JUC, overlooking the New City of Jerusalem, across the Hinnom Valley) is going to be the center of some great discussions and awesome Arabic practice sessions this semester.  So, while I have organized my notebooks and folders for each class, I cannot truly prepare for the academic, personal, and spiritual challenges that await me this semester.

It’s the Journey

My eyes opened and I realize that it is the day I’m going to Jerusalem.  Unable to fall back asleep, I get out of bed and get ready.  After a morning of excitedly puttering around the house, I make sure that I have everything with me and then drive to the airport with my parents…

My arrival at the aiport in Bangor, Maine was met with the ever dreaded DELAYED sign next to my flight to Philadelphia, due to severe thunderstorms in the northeast.  As we waited longer and longer and my flight started becoming delayed even longer, reality set in that I (along with everyone else heading to Philadelphia) was not going to make my connecting flight to Tel Aviv.  After a helpful chat with an airline representative, I was re-booked on a flight for the next day.  My arrival time in Tel Aviv would be one whole day later than originally planned.   Gathering my luggage, we all drove home.  The disappointment of not leaving was slightly appeased by Dad’s homemade icecream. 

My God controls the weather.  Why could I not get to Philadelphia? The answers may never become apparent but I know that in all things, He does them perfectly and for a purpose.  Maybe it was so I could have one more day with my family, avoid some unknown obstacles, or simply so I could learn a lesson in patience and trust.  Probably so I could a lesson in patience and trust.  May I always remember that the Lord is more concerned with growing our relationship and strengthening my faith than appeasing my schedule. 

My eyes opened and I realize that it is the day I’m going to Jerusalem.  Unable to fall back asleep, I get out of bed and get ready.  After a morning of excitedly puttering around the house, I make sure that I have everything with me and then drive to the airport with my parents…

The craziness of being back in Jerusalem is just now starting to sink in.  The glimpse of the Dome of the Rock, moving into the roof room, and walking around the New City of Jerusalem the minute I arrived was a reality check of where I am for the semester.  I am thankful to be back at Jerusalem University College and though the beginning  of the journey was a bit bumpy, I know that I arrived here wtihin the will and timing of my Father.

Four Year Plans

Four Year Plans. Make Them. You Must Have One.

The typical pre-med student will take intro science classes freshman year. Sophomore year will dabble in organic chemistry and physics if they make it. Junior year means MCAT prep. And senior year is when you apply to medical school.

Or go to Jerusalem.

While not the typical fourth year pre-med semester, I find myself faced with the realization that I am leaving for Israel & Palestine, for three and a half months. Instead of taking microbiology, living off campus, and enjoying seniority, I will be taking Arabic, living five minutes from the Old City, and enjoying Middle Eastern culture.  Armed with a great desire to learn, my L.L. Bean hiking boots, and a love for Arabic food, I will attempt to understand politics and international issues, climb ruins and tels, and enjoy lots of tasty treats.

However, my love for people is greater than my love for baklava.  That is why I changed my four year plan in favor of a semester in Jerusalem.  It can’t always be explained to an inquisitive advisor or in a passing conversation, but I want to understand the way people live and think.  I want to take the time to see the world through the eyes of others….while there are many reasons I have thought of,  the true plans the Lord has for me will be revealed in time.  He’s invited me to be a part of an exciting, challenging, stretching, crazy semester for His ultimate glory. The why’s and how’s are not always fully understood but His purposes remain. Therefore, full of adrenaline and excitement, I find myself ready to start senior year.

Four Year Plans.  Make Them What You Want.