Emmanuel- God with us, and THEM

One of Laura’s favorite quotes can be paraphrased like this, when we draw a line between us and them in the sand, God stands with them.  So much of the ministry of Jesus was centered around those who did not fit within the bounds of mainstream society. He cared for women, lepers, tax collectors, foreigners (including Roman occupiers), and many others. It is unusual to be in a place where physical walls, razor wire, checkpoints, heavily armed soldiers, segregated roads, ethnicity specific identification cards, etc. cause this “othering” to be so visible. 

On Wednesday, our group visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum and memorial. Yad Vashem is a place which always stirs my emotions. I feel great anger, shame, and melancholy that this disaster was allowed to occur. It is also distressing to me the extent to which many people of faith were complicit in the Holocaust (and are complicit in the modern occupation and dehumanization of Palestine and the Palestinians). Disturbing are the many parallels which may be drawn from the content of the museum to current events, both in the Holy Land and in some prevalent political ideologies in the United States. 

I am disheartened by humanity’s unwavering ability to divide itself into groups of us and groups of them. I pray that someday, we will be able to recognize, as Jesus did, that they- Palestinians, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, refugees, immigrants, etc. are no different from “us”.

-Bjørn 

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Holy Land Hospitality

My Peace Not Walls experience has been incredible. I have enjoyed learning from and listening to the stories and perspectives  of all the people that I have met on this trip. My group was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share a meal with the Palestinian family that hosted my group leader during her of service with YAGM. This family welcomed our group as if we were their immediate family members . Throughout the meal we shared stories, food, and even more laughs as our friendship grew. This is one example of the hospitality that I have seen so far in the Holy Land. However, I believe that this level of care for others is common place for many people here.  As we continue in our trip, I cannot wait to continue learning more about Palestine and Israel from the people that live here.

The Tourist Side

Hi all!
This is Ellie and I’m going to be talking about what we did on Monday of our trip. After a day full of lots of food and good conversation, we took a different path and went on a big tourist adventure! We started out the morning by renting a car and Laura fearlessly drove us through the crazy streets of Jerusalem. We got lost one or two (or three) times but we eventually found our way out of the city in the right direction. Our first stop was the ancient fortress of Masala. It was here that King Harod had a fortress and, in 70 or so A.D, the Jewish people that were inhabiting the plateau were overthrown by the Romans. It was very interesting to be there, taking in more of the Jewish narrative and exploring old ruins. After a very hot couple hours, we got back in the car and drove to Ein Gedi, a nature reserve. We weren’t sure what to expect, but after hiking about a mile we came across the most beautiful waterfalls. The pure beauty of nature has always been something I have loved and the waterfalls in the middle of the Judean Desert were no exception. After our hike we found a beach to take a dip in the Dead Sea. It was very salty and very very hot! We floated for a while and then headed back to Jerusalem to rest.

Today was more of a tourist day compared to the others we have had. However, I never stopped looking at today through both Israeli and Palestinian eyes. This country is absolutely beautiful and I can travel 9000 miles to come and see it. However, many Palestinians can’t travel the 15 kilometers (and technically the Dead Sea is in the West Bank) to see their own backyard. I hope that someday every person that lives in this country will get to see waterfalls and float in the Dead Sea.

We are excited to keep sharing our adventures and leaning with you!

Shalom and Ma’assalama.

Northeastern Minnesota Synod – Yalla! 

Hello from Jerusalem! 
My name is Laura Anderson & I am serving as one of the leaders of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod Young Adult Holy Land Trip. We are a group of five young adults who have traveled to accompany the people of the Holy Land, advocate for peace and justice for all people here, and build awareness of the situation in Palestine and Israel.  

Having served as a Young Adult in Global mission in Beit Jala, there is a sense of homecoming for me – the sounds, smells, tastes and relationships are familiar and comfortable. In this role as a leader, there is a great opportunity & responsibility to share this place with the participants who have said “yes” to joining us on this pilgrimage of justice, peace, and understanding; even after a few short days, it has been fun to see how folks have gotten more comfortable and at ease with the time change, the landscape, the new flavors, and key words. 

The first days have been full and rich! Our participants arrived on Thursday morning, and after dropping their things at the Guesthouse, we set off on a Dual Narrative tour of the Old City with Megdi Tours. We met our tour guides, Jalal and Elad, near Jaffa Gate & proceeded to hear their stories & backgrounds, walk the stones of the Old City, and begin to orient ourselves to this place. We were so impressed with our guides and are grateful for their work & willingness to teach. 

Friday we met with Mark Brown of the Lutheran World Federation & had a tour of the campus here on the Mount of Olives. We heard about the important presence of the LWF, were able to witness a glimpse of the work of the staff at Augusta Victoria Hospital, and were able to climb the tower on the campus here & got a tremendous view of the city. Our afternoon was spent processing, reviewing, and discussing the political overview of the situation, as well as how what we had seen & heard at that point fit into the narratives. We also walked down the Mount of Olives along the route of the Palm Sunday processional and visited the Garden of Gethsemane & the Church of All Nations. 

Saturday was spent in Bethlehem. We departed early to travel into the city from Jerusalem. Much of our day was spent at Aida Refugee Camp, with Noor WEG, the women’s empowerment group. We took a cooking class & learned how to make “sheesh barak,” a sort of ravioli/dumpling in a yogurt sauce, “mjeddrah,” a dish made up of lentils, rice, and noodles & served with fried onions, assorted salads and desserts. It was all “Zaki,” or delicious, but what struck our group the most was the opportunity to cook side by side with these women, to hear about their lives in Aida Camp, and to support the work that they do with women, children, and people living with disabilities. From there, we walked along the Wall; for me, no matter how many times I see it, I am never prepared for how large, how imposing, how inhumane it is. Standing 25 feet high, the shadow it casts falls over the shops and homes that stand alongside it. When you consider that the word “Noor” in Arabic means “light,” you can see that the work of Noor WEG casts light into the shadows.  

There is so much more to share – the food we ate, the hospitality we received, and all we have learned. It can’t all possibly fit into a single post. What I will share now is a sense of gratitude for this group: the conversation is rich, the desire to learn more is contagious, and the sheer determination to be a positive presence & work for peace in this land of walls inspires me. We are still only at the beginning though & we invite you to walk with us as we journey. Yalla – lets go!