A Coming Together
The Palestinians have ruined my life. They really have. This is what I repeat to myself over and over again, especially when I get frustrated. Then I go to a pity party in my head, something along the lines of, “I could be working a great job, have a nice car, make money, live in safety, have nice things, never have to ruffle any feathers, and people would like me. Yeah, people would like me!” Life would be so much better.
But, because of what I have seen and experienced in 67-year-old refugee camps, I just can’t give up. The poverty, both physically and spiritually, the desperation that comes with permanent refugee status. I have seen firsthand how just being a Palestinian stigmatizes you as a less-than-human terrorist or helpless victim. So many of us view them as such. An entire people group that the world would rather forget and really wish would just disappear rather than deal with the 67 years of injustice that has faced them.
When I first became a Christian, I was diagnosed with cancer, thyroid cancer, which is treatable. You’re not going to die from it, but it does recur, which I have had happen. It makes me sick and interrupts my life periodically. It’s a nuisance, mostly. But, there is part of me that is grateful for it because what it did in the very beginning of my faith journey was make me seek out God and what was important to him.
What I believe to the core of my being is that God has a special place for the poor, the unseen, and those discarded by society. The Other. Walter Brueggemann in his book, Chosen? Reading the Bible Amid the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (which I highly recommend) writes this, “The question of the other becomes the interpretive key to how to read the Bible. …We ought rightly to be suspicious of any reading of the Bible that excludes the other, because it is likely to be informed by vested interest, fears, and hopes that serve self-protection and end in suicidal self-destruction.”
That quote sums up exactly what I took away from reading the Bible for the first time while I had cancer. I made a promise to God that if I ever got my health back, my life was going to matter. Even if I never got my health back, I wanted my life to mean something. That’s what facing cancer at 27 years old did for me. It motivated me to live and serve others. Luckily, I did get my health back and I pursued missions work, local and trans-local. I have worked in orphanages in Africa, orphanages in Thailand for children living with AIDs, the homeless in Denver, those living with HIV, and refugees in the US and the Middle East.
And then there was that fateful day in 2004 when I walked into Bourj Al-Barajneh Camp in Beirut. Up until this point, I had no idea Palestinians were refugees and lived in camps for years, decades. I was angry that this is something Christians don’t talk about. I met with Palestinians who didn’t fit my worldview. They were not terrorists or shouting death to America or trying to hurt me in any way. What they did do was ply me with tea, coffee, and treats. And they didn’t have much, but they gave me, an American Christian, what they had. It was humbling.
At that point, my life was ruined. Because everything I knew about Jesus and His Word pointed me to the Palestinians. From there, I moved my entire life over to serve them. It was a disaster. Two wars, several riots, a mugging, bombings, and a ministry falling apart left me disillusioned and traumatized. There is a cost to serving those embroiled in conflict and to those living in despair. The cost can be high; it can be your savings, your mental health, and the misunderstanding and mistrust of your own fellow American Christians.
And maybe that’s why it’s worth something. Maybe the Palestinians are worth all my resources, all my trauma, all my pain, maybe even my very life. I have learned about commitment, committing to them when it’s not popular, easy, or trendy. As an example, I met with a NGO in Amman; they wanted to hire me (a paying job!) to work with children in Zaatari Camp in Jordan. It’s a Syrian refugee camp. All Syrians. When I told them I am committed to working with Palestinian refugees, even though I am happy to serve both, I was met with anger. An American on staff told me, “The Palestinians are fine, they don’t need help.” I was also told by several other workers on the ground that working with the Palestinians is “out” right now. The “in” group in the Middle East is the Syrians. This made me even more determined to serve Palestinian refugees because I have seen first-hand how 67-year-old refugee camps look, I know just how much need they are in, and I know how much funding has been pulled out of the Palestinian camps to go towards the Syrian camps.
Something as simple as this picture (above) of Palestinian Kindergarten children has received comments that revealed a deep misconception in our hearts. More than one person has asked if I told them to put their guns down and smile so I could take the picture. Maybe they were making a joke out of their discomfort because it challenges their worldview, but it’s a joke that cut me right to the core of my heart. No one once said that to me when I showed him or her pictures of the children I served in Africa. What is the difference?
So, it seems that the Palestinians did ruin my life, in the best possible way, albeit the hardest. So, this is where I am, trying to serve them and asking others to join me. Educating, engaging, stewarding my Palestinian friends’ stories, trying with all my might to reconcile us with them, and all of us to God. Connecting under God’s immense love for all of us. It seems hopeless, but I move forward, live out of my heart, and try to make a difference, even if it’s only one person. And as much as I would like to give up, I just can’t. I have to believe that somehow trying to live out the teachings of Jesus, the hard ones, loving your enemies and offering peace to all, means something to them, to God, even to my own spiritual growth.
I guess, in the end, it’s about me ruining your life (Yeah you, who are reading this!) as mine was ruined. I do mean that in the best possible way. How do we love those we consider untouchable? Who do we exclude? Even in our hearts? Those people and situations we consider hopeless? How do we choose to share the love, the presence and the very blessing of God in the hard, hopeless situations? Can people enter our presence and know that love and blessing of God? We can bring hope, we can bring resources but I believe the greater impact comes if we do it together. We can do so much together.
This is where we can come together. Regardless of whom you think the Palestinians are or what you think about young Palestinian men, I have an invitation for you. One of our friends in the Middle East has a dream of making a film about men his age, about their daily lives and just how many obstacles and stigmas are associated with being a young, Palestinian man. This is his vision and he is writing the script. Beirut and Beyond’s Board of Directors and I are convinced this is the young man to invest in and help with resources to accomplish his dream. We are taking a big risk and moving forward with a documentary film. Amazingly, we have professionals willing to advise and help us, free of charge.
This film project is not only a way for a Palestinian man to find his voice, it is a way for us to make a long-term commitment to his growth and development. This film is also for you, the American audience, to help us overcome our biases and misconceptions and to engage these people with love. To engage them as God sees them. In the end, this project is a reconciliation piece, reconciling us all together.
We need people to partner financially with us to make Phase One a reality. This is a small way for you to join us, to risk with us, to serve with us, and to help give these young men a voice. To help one young man accomplish a dream. We can do that together, as community, as Americans, as people from different backgrounds and religions. Because I as a Christian believe there is no one outside of God’s heart, and we must work together to love as God loves them. This is how we make a difference.
If you’re willing to take a risk, be involved in something so much bigger than ourselves, and join us to help a Palestinian refugee, go here to our GoFundMe page or give on our website. 10 dollars, 20 dollars, 50 dollars, 100 dollars…it all makes a difference and it all helps because we all did our part. This is a tangible way to join us. All donations are tax-deductible.
Thank you for the risk and for being it in together.
Click here for our GoFundMe campaign.