My friend Amir

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One of my favorite days in Palestine was visiting Hebron and the surrounding countryside. Our tour guide that day was a young Palestinian man named Amir. His knowledge and passion for the people and culture in this ancient city overflowed into his words and actions. He walked us all around Hebron; through the market where he bought us fresh pastries, passed the tomb of Abraham, but not down Shuhada street.

Places such as Shuhada Street are closed to Palestinians for “safety purposes.” It seems that Israel, like the United States, hides racism behind a veil of fear and the need for safety. I’ll tell you the full story of Shuhada Street another time. 

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This is not the only time that Amir has faced exclusion due to his nationality. Amir received a Bachelor’s in English Literature from Bethlehem University. He hoped to continue his education and was accepted at the University of Seattle in the United States. In order to attend school in the United States, Amir needed to obtain a visa from the US Consulate. Because of his father’s connections, Amir was able to get a 3 year student visa to study in America. He booked a flight out of Jordan and prepared to move to a new country.

The day he left, he travelled to the Jordanian border and presented his travel visa to the Israeli border patrol. He was told that he had to return to the consulate for one more meeting the next day at 9am. He travelled home, and arrived at the consulate the next morning to sit in the waiting room. He waited all day before being told that the person he needed to see was not in, and he would have to come back the next day.

This happened for a week. Amir was not able to recover his flight, and the semester started without him. Amir still does not understand why he was not able to cross the border that day, but he does understand the result. Amir missed an opportunity to further his education; to, in his own words, “be somebody,” because of his nationality.

Stories of Palestine

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These are the stories that I promised to share to educate others about the injustices that Palestinian people continue to face under Israeli oppressors. I fell off for a bit, but I refuse to break that promise. I may not post regularly, but I will continue to share truth. Now let’s get to it.

 

The town of Eilabun is a small Christian village in the hills of Galilee. My group and I arrived in town and enjoyed a traditional lunch prepared by a family who owned a small restaurant. After the meal, many in our group had to use the restroom, but the restaurant did not have facilities. A teenage girl in her school uniform, the young woman who helped her mom serve lunch, led us around the back of the restaurant, directly into her family’s home. We were amazed at her hospitality and overwhelmed by their willingness to open their home to a group of strangers. What a joy to be welcomed.

After returning to the restaurant, we were greeted by Dina- our guide for the day and a friend of our trip leader. Dina is a Palestinian woman who is not from Eilabun, but lives there now with her husband and son near her husband’s family. We began our tour in a small church, where Dina told us the story of the massacre at Eilabun- one account of the terror that continues against Palestinians.

The Nakba (literally “catastrophe”) had displaced Palestinians who were attacked or had their homes occupied by armies from the newly created Israeli state. The catastrophe finally reached Eilabun in October. In 1948, Zionist, Israeli forces approached Eilabun in an effort to expel these people from their own land. As the soldiers approached the town, the residents took refuge in the small church where my group and I were sitting.

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The 300 residents of the town crowded in this small place of worship and determined that they would surrender to the soldiers in hopes of maintaining their lives. They raised a white flag over the church, and waited. The Israeli forces disregarded their sign of peace and stormed the church, escorting everyone into the town square. 14 men and boys were chosen from the group to stay behind, and everyone else was told to walk to Lebanon. Those who stayed behind were killed and their bodies placed around the town to create an illusion of retaliation, to make Israel’s murders look justified.

Thankfully, this is not the end of the story. Because Eilabun is a Catholic village, the presiding archbishop successfully petitioned the military and other powers to let refugees from Eilabun return to their homes from Lebanon after six months. Please know that this story is an anomaly; very few have been able to return to their homes after being driven out by Israel.

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A monument now stands in the town square honoring those who lost their lives in the massacre.

 

Social Movements and Social Holiness

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A few months ago I was asked to participate in Youth2015, the national gathering for United Methodist Youth groups. I was able to share my experience working for Workers Interfaith Network, and local movements in Memphis. It was an honor to share stories about workers who are standing up to fight for a living wage and union representation.

Click on the photo below to download the video of my presentation. No viruses I promise!

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Let us Continue: A Call to Action

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My time of service as a US-2 will be ending in one week! It’s hard to comprehend all the changes my class has been through, the lessons learned, and the growth we’ve achieved. But this is not the end of our mission. This was just part of the path of living a mission filled life. As we continue on, we will put our faith in action, stand for justice, and work for kindom with God. We drafted this Call to Action to guide ourselves as we find ourselves at the end of one journey and the beginning of another. Please reflect on this call, and feel free to join with us as we move forward.

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In our engagement with local communities through missionary service, we, the US-2 class of 2013-2015 have come to fully understand mission as transformation of thought, heart and life. As we seek to be a transformed people through a lifelong ethic of service, we invite all United Methodists and people of faith to journey with us through the embodiment of this call to action.

To all who believe in love as manifested in God, while there are many things that make us uniquely individual, we acknowledge that the confidence in what we hope for and the assurance of what we do not see makes us one, but as we survey our world, we are shaken by what we see.

As racism makes overt and covert declarations that some lives take precedence over others through systematic microaggressions, discrimination and the abuse of power, we see despair.

As greed and corruption because of wars and human rights violations abound unchallenged, we see hopelessness.

As systems of human trafficking force children of God to be bought and sold as commodities in the markets of slave labor, sex, and war, we see pain.

As people of faith lash out at each other for their differences, forsaking the core values and beliefs that they share, we see hatred among those called to love.

God grieves with us at the vastness of these realities, but does not want us to be overcome by paralysis, apathy and inaction.

Whenever one is being judged by the color of their skin and not the content of their character, God calls us to recognize the humanity of all people, made in the image and carrying the breath of God.

Whenever oppression reigns unchallenged, God calls us to relentlessly pursue justice.

Whenever hatred infiltrates the body of Christ, God calls us to advocate for peace, remembering that, regardless of our differences, we are all children of the same God.

The road that leads to the kindom of God is long, but the kindom comes when we pursue right relationships through authentically hearing and learning people’s stories. The kindom comes when we recognize the God given gifts in all people and honor the use of those gifts in living into the promise of abundant life. The kindom comes as we embrace the journey of accompanying those who speak truth to the systems that stifle them.

In these efforts, what we hope for will be seen, what we do not see, will be made plain; God’s kindom on earth will be as it is in heaven. And in all this may we always make disciples by sharing the Good news of Jesus Christ, walking the ancient paths where the good way is, alongside of God, for apart from Him we can do nothing.

Peace Not Walls

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Hello readers-

I recently returned from a trip to the Holy Land where I spent time in Palestine, Israel, and Jordan. I was blessed to be able to travel with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America for the Peace Not Walls campaign, calling for efforts toward a viable, contiguous Palestinian state; a secure Israeli state at peace with its Arab neighbors; and a shared Jerusalem with equal access and rights for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

The trip was exhausting, incredible, heart breaking, and life changing. I have many stories to share that are not my own, and tell the tale of fear, oppression, and hope. When the group of Americans who I travelled with asked the locals what we could to to support the effort for peace, we heard one thing: “Tell my story.” I intend to do so.

To view more of my photos, visit my Facebook album.  If you would like to talk more about my experience, please reach out. IMG_0583

These beautiful souls, Rami and Aisheh, are part of a group called Parents Circle Families Forum, a project bringing together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost a loved one due to the prolonged political conflict. Rami is Jewish Israeli and Aisheh is Palestinian- but they are truly friends. They laughed, joked, and kissed despite the differences that maintain injustice in their homeland.

Although many have experienced pain and anger as a result of the conflict, members of the PCFF believe that peace and forgiveness are required for healing. For them, this is achieved through dialogue and love. Rami told us that he believes when people share their stories of heartbreak and loss with the other, “it puts a small crack in the wall that divides us, and then light can shine through.”

Here are their stories.

Rami served in the Israeli military, as is required by law. On Yom Kippur in 1973, he was involved in a battle in which is company lost 8 of 11 tanks- he lost some of his best friends. This experience made him cynical and angry so he decided to cut himself off from involvement in political battles. He built a career and a family after being released from military duty. On Yom Kippur 1983, his beautiful daughter Smadar was born.

Years later, two Palestinian suicide bombers murdered five people in a crowded shopping district- one of whom was 14 year old Smadar. Although it is the natural reaction, Rami did not retaliate. He understood that revenge would not bring his baby back to him. So he chose the other route. The pensive route where you explore the causes and impacts of the situation, and try to prevent others from experiencing your pain.

Aisheh’s story is different, but part of the same story. Her brother Mahmoud, a 17 year old, was with a group who was throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. A sharp shooter shot him through the heart. Mahmoud was able to survive the injury, but doctors said that due to the trauma, is heart could fail at any moment. 10 years later, due to overexertion, he died.

The death took an emotional toll on Aisheh and her family. While she was very upset, she understood that vengeance would not make her feel better.

PCFF brought these two together to heal. The program showed these survivors that no matter who you are, our blood is the same color, our suffering is the same, and we cry the same tears. Bloodshed and killing are not the answer. When we focus on our similarities we can find common ground and reconciliation.

Memories of Hatred and the Push for Peace

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This blog post was originally featured on The Book of Fellows Blog, a collection of sacred moments and theological understanding. Check it out to learn more about the hearts and minds of other young adult missionaries.

When I became a missionary, moving to the American South prompted me to explore my new home to learn more about the history and culture of this place that I had not experienced before. The South is a great place with a rich history, richer food, and inspiring people. Through my adventures, my eyes were also opened to some heartbreaking truths about the mistreatment of groups and individuals that stem from hatred and misunderstanding. The scars of this hatred are still fresh in this place, and some are still experiencing persecution.

Relics and historical sites, such as Civil War battle fields and old plantations across Tennessee, act as constant reminders of brutal death, inequality, and injustice in the South that stemmed from feelings of hatred. What can we do to promote a spirit of love while learning from the past? How can we, as Christians, stand against hatred and violence in a contemporary context?

In January, I visited Murfreesboro, TN, a city 30 miles south of Nashville, and spoke with the imam at the local Islamic Center. When plans to construct a mosque there were made public in 2010, some citizens in the county expressed their outrage, taking an anti-Muslim stance. Anti-mosque proponents filed a suit attempting to halt construction, claiming that Muslims do not have protection of religious freedoms because Islam is not a religion. Some went as far as making violent threats to express their outrage. During construction, arsonists set constructionmosque equipment on fire, delaying the building process. The community also experienced gunfire, an unusual occurrence in the area.

Although shaken, the Muslim community and their allies stood their ground. The court case was dismissed, and construction continued. The Muslim community in Murfreesboro decided to combat the hatred that was demonstrated with openness rather than retaliation. The mosque finally opened in 2012 and continues to operate with a spirit of inclusion and love. During my tour, I was greeted with smiles and handshakes from members welcoming me to the space. The Islamic Center’s Web site states that they endeavor to build understanding and tolerance through open communication, and welcome all visitors to their space to experience worship. It is inspiring to see a group so passionate about building acceptance and interfaith dialogue even when parts of the community are not willing to accept them in return.

I also visited Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, TN. Pulaski is a small town that is famous for being the home of the Ku Klux Klan. The KKK was founded as a social club in a small law office in 1865. If you have studied American History at any level, you are aware of the terror that this group has caused in the last 150 years in order to maintain white supremacy.

kkkThere is a plaque on the building to mark where this historical moment occurred. However, at some point, someone unbolted the plaque, flipped it around, and then bolted it back to the building. Now, there appears to be a blank plaque to commemorate the beginnings of the Ku Klux Klan. The person who flipped the plaque seems to think that the KKK does not deserve to be recognized, so wanted to erase this relic honoring the terrorist group.

These acts of nonviolent resistance in response to violence and terror mimic the teachings of Jesus documented in the New Testament. As a Jew living under Roman rule, Jesus was familiar with violent tactics used to oppress. He preached nonviolent examples of how to stand up to authority in an attempt to create change. One example of this is in Matthew when Jesus instructs his followers to “turn the other cheek.”

Walter Wink, an American Biblical scholar, offers a historical context to why this is a powerful act of nonviolent resistance. The back of the right hand was used to slap in order to assert dominance. If the persecuted then turned the other cheek, the oppressor was forced to slap with an open palm- a sign of equality. The other option was to slap with the left hand, which was reserved for unclean acts. Once the persecuted offers the other cheek, he is demanding equality. As Christians we are called to stand against injustice at any cost; not to be passive while also not harming others.

The nonviolent resistance that I witnessed in the examples of the Murfreesboro Islamic Center and Pulaski are exactly the type of action for change that Jesus would condone. They remind me that there is already positive action being taken to create a culture of love and change in a place where elements of economic and cultural history are based on the effects of hatred. It is important to acknowledge the tragic history of this place in order to build toward reconciliation. Once we achieve reconciliation, it is my hope that these symbols of hatred and inequality will only be a memory.

Christian Beliefs and Social Change

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I participated in a speak out this week as a community representative to support the Fight for $15 on Tuesday. The first action that I participated in when I moved to Memphis was in support of the Fight for $15- Fast food workers who were striking to get $15/hour and union representation. Since that rally in August 2013, it has been inspirational to see the impact of the movement and the growth of the local workers in Memphis. Seattle and other cities have raised their minimum wage to $15 after being influenced by workers who could not afford to support their families on less. We are still waiting to have an impact like that in Memphis, but have a tough road ahead of us. Unlike other cities, Memphis cannot pass local legislation to raise the wage, so change must come at the state level. On a personal level, I cherish the relationships that I have been able to nurture with workers who are facing adversity, but are standing strong and fighting for each other.

I wanted to share the statement that I made to the local press in Memphis about why Workers Interfaith Network supports the Fight for $15. The reasons listed are also personally validating for why I support workplace justice, and why it makes sense that all Christians should support positive movement and justice in their community.

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At Workers Interfaith Network, we believe that every person has a God-given dignity that must be respected in the workplace. That is why we are involved in the international movement to help fast food workers earn $15 per hour and the right to form a union without retaliation. 

It is immoral and unjust that many fast food workers are forced to rely on charity and government assistance programs in order to get by. Our God calls us to love our neighbors. WIN expresses that love through action. We honor our Creator by seeking justice that enables workers to share in the fruits of their labor; by standing side by side with those in need to create a better world for everyone.

I echo what Larika Harris, a McDonald’s worker and workers center member said, after being arrested for standing for her right to a living wage: “We know we won’t get $15 and union rights simply because our cause is just. We know we have to take risks and push those in power if change is going to come to our communities.”

In today’s economy, half of the workers in America earn wages at or near the poverty level. In 2014, McDonald’s Corporation saw almost $6.7 billion in profits. Low wages, poor access to benefits, and unsafe work environments are great for corporate executives and a few top earners, but it comes at the expense of the millions of workers and their families.

Tennessee has the highest proportion of minimum wage workers in the country. The minimum hourly pay rate—what many fast food employees make—is $7.25 per hour. That means that full time employees, working 40 hours in a week, make only $15,080 in a year. No one who works full time should have to live in poverty or pray they’ll have enough to cover the rent, bills and groceries. 

Workers Interfaith Network is proud to stand for economic justice with all low wage workers. Fast food cashiers and cooks, home care and childcare providers, college and university faculty, all deserve better— and we will continue to stand up until these workers are granted the respect they deserve.

If you have not already, I encourage you to sign up to stand with low wage workers on April 15 (April15.org) when low wage workers across the country, in 200 cities, will stand together to fight for change (and we ain’t talking about pennies).