In January, 2008, I went on a Peacemakers’ Pilgrimage toIsraelandPalestine. It wasn’t a tour of theHoly Land. The trip was described as a pilgrimage. A tour involves visiting sites like the Church of the Nativity and the Jordan River – we did visit those places also. However, our days were primarily filled with other types of visits. My fellow pilgrims and I met with numerous mission partners of Global Ministries. We stood in the Shepherds’ fields and crossed the threshold of homes; we kneeled at the foot of the cross and sipped tea with new friends.
Our trip was a pilgrimage because, as one of my professors defined it, the trip required us to be humbled and immerse ourselves in another culture allowing ourselves to be transformed as an act of faith. When you go on such a pilgrimage, you are changed, you see the world differently, you want to know what you can responsibly do to help.
As my group met with each of the mission partners, we heard how each organization is working to advocate for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The current land conflict has been going on for more than 60 years. You could say that the conflict has been going on for thousands of years; but, in truth, the current state of affairs is about 60 years of disagreement.
There are myths, facts, statistics and arguments about the conflict. The most notable aspect is the Israeli army’s segregation and occupation of Palestine. All traffic into and out of Palestine is monitored by check points, road blocks, and the Separation Barrier or Wall. I don’t want to say that these measures are unnecessary, because they have almost entirely eliminated terrorist attacks inIsrael. The Separation Barrier cut the number of terrorist attacks in Jerusalem from 4 per day to just 2 in an entire year. However, not all measures treat the Palestinians fair and justly.
I’d like to tell you a story about a man I met along my pilgrimage. It is a story of a man in Bethlehem which is in the West Bank Palestinian territory occupied by Israel.
Daher Nassar lives on his farm in Bethlehem. The Israeli troops have blockaded the road to his land. There are no women or kids that live there. He lives with his uncle and brother. They each live in separate caves, that’s right, caves, because Daher can’t get a building permit from the Israeli government to build a home on his land, yet you can see Israeli settlement homes being built on the horizon.
He has a horse, goats, chickens, bunnies, and a donkey. His bunnies live in a VW bus, because he can’t even erect a building for them. Daher was arrested for building the Chicken’s Palace.
His farm is surrounded by settlements on all the neighboring hillsides – you know, those housing settlements that we’ve heard about on the news. The Israeli settlers want his land and they will confiscate it if he doesn’t keep it cultivated. He has spent thousands of dollars legally trying to protect his land.
He has started the Tent of Nations organization to help him keep his land cultivated. The Tent of Nations is supported by the YMCA of East Jerusalem, which is an official partner of Global Ministries. My group planted 30 trees on Daher’s land in honor of our friends and families. We planted apricot, peach, plum, and almond trees.
At the Tent of Nations, I got my hands a little dirty. It was a small gesture, but it was everything I could do. Daher was so pleased to have us that he made us sweet mint tea and led us in “Hallelujah, Praise be the Lord” then taught us to sing it in Arabic.
As my fellow pilgrims and I met with the many mission partners over our 12 days, we asked each leader, what can we do to help? EVERY SINGLE ONE SAID, “TELL OUR STORY”, tell the story of what you’ve seen, tell the story of the people you’ve met, tell the story of what we’re doing, tell the story of what’s happening, tell OUR story.
When I think about my pilgrimage, I don’t first think about the time I knelt where the manger was. I think first about the people. I could tell you stories all day long of people that I met from Bethlehem to Nazareth to the Old City of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives.
Sure, I remember all the holy sites, but not as vividly as I remember the puppies on Daher’s farm. That’s because I immersed myself in his life for a brief moment. Then, his story became my story to tell. There are many ways to share the story of God’s work. We can tell stories.
These stories matter because they belong to God’s people. They make a difference in the lives of those who hear the story and in the lives of those who the story is about. Knowing that there are people around the world who have compassion for their plight might just be the courage they need to keep demanding justice for themselves.
We don’t know how God will use a story. But, we have to be willing to tell it.
Remember at Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon the people, they started speaking in different languages telling about God’s mighty work and the crowd outside were confused about what was going on. The crowd confused a Holy Ghost party for a house party. The crowd thought the people were filled with alcoholic spirits and didn’t realize it was the Holy Spirit!
Peter marches right outside and sets them straight. He connects with them on a personal level. He reminds them, we’re the ones who’ve been expecting the Spirit. I have seen and witnessed many mighty acts of God and I’ve got to tell you about it.
Peter simply told the crowd, those people aren’t drunk, they’ve got the Spirit. And, he knows it’s the Spirit in them, because he’s got the Spirit in him. The Spirit’s like a fire shut up in his bones that he couldn’t contain – he had to go out and “Tell It!”
This is the first of many sermons attributed to Peter in the book of Acts. He couldn’t shut up about what God had done and was doing. He was telling everyone the story of salvation. We would do well to be so compelled to tell stories about what God is doing.
There Is A Balm in Gilead is a traditional African spiritual that you may be familiar with. The final verse of the song goes: If you can’t preach like Peter, if you can’t pray like Paul, Just tell the love of Jesus, and say He died for all.
Just tell it, Jesus died for all.