Reflecting on my Alternative Pilgrimage

When I first applied to participate on the Alternative Pilgrimage last March, I honestly didn’t know much about the Israeli Palestinian conflict. I recognized a few terms because of what I had heard and seen in the media. I also knew this land was not only significant for Christians, but also Jews and Muslims.  From the world news I had watched and read it was hard to decipher why there was so much violence in this area. Was it a religious conflict? Political conflict? Why did every news story coming from a holy place for many involve so much violence? Although I didn’t know much about the conflict, I thought what a once in a lifetime experience. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to stand where Jesus was born and crucified & to walk the land the Bible references. These places are considered dead stones. Places that have significance to the past. We also saw living stones; people that are currently living in the Holy Land in order to learn about current conflicts and faith. Both living and dead stones played a huge impact on my experience.

HELLO!

It was breathtaking to stand in so many places where Jesus once stood. It was surreal to recognize all the cities on the road signs as they were Biblical sites. From kneeling down to touch the gold star where Jesus was born to standing in the Jordan River to seeing the rough terrain Jesus walked, there was an overwhelming sense of holiness surrounding me. These were all examples of dead stones.

IMG_1193

One of my favorite days during my Alternative Pilgrimage was when we visited living stones at Aida Refugee Camp. This is a Palestinian Refugee Camp right outside Bethlehem which houses over 4700 people. Through the Noor WEG program, a Palestinian family took us in their home with open arms to cook a traditional Palestinian dish, maqulabeh, which translates to “upside down”. This dish was composed of rice, noodles, many vegetables, chicken and a ton of spices! It was cooked in a pot, then turned upside down when it was time to be served. We also made pita bread, salads and dessert. It was the best meal I have ever eaten.

IMG_0845 (1)

Over the four hours we spent in this home, we got to know the family, their story and of course how to make delicious food. Although this family lives in a refugee camp literally feet from the separation wall, they are filled with hope, peace and God’s grace.

IMG_0850

 

This 30 foot concrete wall stands between these people and Israel. In order to cross this wall, they must go through a checkpoint, guarded by soldiers and have valid identification and a permit issued by the State of Israel. This is often a huge obstacle for people. Some Palestinians will never have the opportunity to see Jerusalem because of their nationality and lack of proper documentation. The ease of travel is a freedom Americans take for granted every day.

From my experiences and observations meeting with both Israelis and Palestinians, I found that settlements are the core issue of the conflict. A settlement happens a couple different ways. For example, when a Palestinian family leaves for the day, an Israeli settler will move in and put up an Israeli flag or cut off the Palestinian family’s livelihood such as sheep, olive trees or water supply. This family no longer has a home and is a refugee. These settlements are illegal according to international law. The face of humanity is obsolete in many people in the Holy Land which affects everyone’s day to day life.

IMG_0885

I learned that Israeli’s and Palestinians are very attached to their land. A family’s land is passed down from generation to generation and those family members harvest and tend to the olive trees and land in order to create a vital livelihood for the family. Many of the trees in this area are thousands of years old. Personally, it is sometimes hard to understand as an American because we are a country of immigrants and can and do move easily throughout the country and world if we please. Israeli and Palestinian land borders have changed drastically throughout time. It is important to realize how important land is to these families to better understand why many people do not leave their homes when violence may occur at any time.

I found that the Israeli Palestinian conflict is very complex and intertwined with a lot of people, controversies, history, politics and religion. A quote that really summed up the Pilgrimage and conflict for me was stated by Pastor Ashraf Tannous at Beit Sahour. He said, “Don’t be pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. Be pro-peace, pro-justice, pro-mercy. Be Christian.”

There is not a simple resolution to the conflict. But, people cannot be on one side or the other, because lives are being taken every day because the humanity is taken out of the situation. Peace, justice, mercy and humanity are needed in the Holy Land and the stories of hope and encouragement need to be shared. Pray and advocate for peace and justice because we are all human beings.

Anna Moorhead is a senior at Augustana College, Rock Island, IL studying Business Marketing and Finance & is also pursuing a Nonprofit Leadership Development Certificate. Anna went on a trip to the Holy Land with Cheryl & Cassie in January 2015. Anna is active with Business Club, Scandinavian Club, Sigma Alpha Iota (International Women’s Music Fraternity) and Campus Ministries. She is still figuring out her post-graduation plans, but knows that they’ll include something that engages her faith and the world.

Journeying for Justice by Faith

Gaililee Jumping

In the summer of 2013 an idea formed. What would it look like to train young adults to lead other young adults on trips to the Holy Land? This idea became a reality when sixteen young adults from various synods and regions traveled to Israel and Palestine in January of 2014. This project we made possible through a collaboration with ELCA Young Adult Ministry and the ELCA’s Peace Not Walls Campaign.

The goal was simple: to train young adults to lead their peers on accompaniment journeys and help connect their global experience with their local reality. Specifically, this project endeavored to:

  1. Accompany local Lutherans and Christians in Israel and Palestine;
  2. Educate participants about the conflict in Israel and Palestine;
  3. Share the religious, political and social history of the region;
  4. Deepen faith and identity of travelers as they build relationships with global companions and neighbors;
  5. Connect participants with the ELCA’s efforts through the Peace Not Walls Campaign by practicing accompaniment, raising awareness and engaging in advocacy;
  6. Build a base of individuals who not only travel but return home to engage their local contexts in issues of peace and justice.

In 2005, the ELCA Church Council adopted a Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine. The strategy is now in its eighth year of implementation through the Peace Not Walls Campaign. This campaign lives out its purpose through practicing accompaniment, building awareness and inviting individuals and congregations to engage in advocacy. The goal of this project is to aid in meeting the eight highlighted tasks of the strategy by inviting young adults to connect to this church’s efforts by providing a space where justice and faith collide for the purpose of forming faith and developing leaders.

Young adults are often said to be missing from our communal life of faith. This means that people don’t see them in traditional spaces. However, young adults throughout our society are actively engaged in issues of peace and justice and the ELCA has numerous opportunities, strategies and campaigns that speak to this reality. However, the one thing that make us different from other social justice organizations is our faith – our believe in a Triune God who became incarnate in the person of Jesus. This project is not about just enlightening young adults to social, political, historical and cultural realties. This project is not about just about engaging young adults in advocacy efforts. This project is not just about building relationships. This project is about deepening faith and connecting ones beliefs to ones actions in the world.

“The Ministry of traveling is a pilgrimage. It is a journey of people living and loving together. It is a way that goes on foot, alone, in company, in tents, for peace, for justice, by grace. Through faith. This journey is open to you. Love and wonder and praise is our reason to go.” – Adapted from a quote by Pastor Herb Brokering

This year, a total of 8 trips have been planned with one already having gone and returned (LaCrosse Area Synod). The initial model was for trips to be synodically or regionally based, but now, the remaining 7 trips are open to young adults across the country. On this site you will find descriptions of each trip, dates, information about leaders and the goals of each experience. These trips are designed for people who have graduated high school and are between the ages of 18 and 30. Please share the word far and wide. The deadline to sign up is February 28, 2015.

So here’s the ask:

  • Check out each of the trips.
  • See which one works best for you.
  • Read over the specific trip goals.
  • Contact the trip leaders for more information and to sign up. That’s it!

Contact Us if you have any questions. We hope you consider joining this movement of young adult faith-based justice seekers.

Dinner in Bethlehem

The story of a farmer

His hands were rough and worn from years of working the soil. His face was weathered and forever kissed by the warm desert sun that blanketed the hills of South Hebron. He reminded me of my grandfather, who, too, carried his story in the palm of his hands. Amidst his silence was a sense of deep passion and steadfastness for his land and his people. He, like my grandfather, was a farmer, a shepherd, and a steward of the earth. Continue reading

Belated Blogging and Intentionality

I was supposed to have written this blog last week, however, I did not have the proper words to express my experiences and the thoughts and emotions affiliated with them. When I write and speak, I like to convey my ideas through very intentional words; sometimes, this intentional articulation takes time to develop, as is the case with this post. Continue reading

Biting My Tongue

I tend to bite my tongue. And when I say this I mean that I tend to prevent myself from speaking but I also mean that I do it by literally chewing on my tongue as a manner to stay calm when I am distressed. And it was one thing to feel intense discomfort walking the emptied streets of Hebron, facing large groups of soldiers filling spaces where Palestinians are no longer allowed. But that night back in Jerusalem with our group, people who I cherish and among whom I feel safe and valued, I found myself again biting my tongue, refusing the opportunity to say anything as the words I could not find stayed shut behind anxious teeth lined up like so many rusting store fronts in occupied Hebron. Continue reading

AVH: Putting the Hospital in Hospitality – and More

The sweet 16 had the opportunity to step into my world for a day and become better acquainted with the Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH). Housed in a historical stone structure, this building served many purposes before being acquired as a center of care for Palestinian refugees in 1948 by the Lutheran World Federation.

Since that time, AVH has transitioned from a secondary care hospital to a leader in specialized medicine including but not limited to cancer treatment, radiology, hematology, nephrology, and diabetes care, offering the only services in Palestinian territories in cancer radiation therapy and pediatric kidney dialysis. On any given day 320 AVH staff operate 102 of the 170 beds available, providing a standard of care that recently earned the Hopsital accreditation by The Joint Commission International, the most prominent health care accreditor in the U.S. AVH is the only hospital with such a designation in all of Israel and Palestine. Continue reading