I’ve been reflecting on my time in Bethlehem with the Holy Land Trust organization since we returned home a little over two weeks ago. The seasons leading up to our trip moved slowly, as if it would never come. Anticipation and excitement built in the days and weeks before the flight overseas. Then, finally, the moment arrived when we made our way to the West Bank.
At first, there was so much to take in about the people, culture, history, and conflict. We were inside Bethlehem for about two hours, getting situated in our rooms in Beit Sahour at the Arab Women’s Union- our home for the two week stay. After a short time, we went to meet with the people at Holy Land Trust- primarily Elias, Said, and Jerry. And, as we would so many times over the course of the trip, we shared a meal, conversation, and the start of a new life.
I say a new life because the two weeks in Palestine felt like an entire lifetime. There aren’t words to describe the connection that we felt with the people God pulled together in those days. We were immersed into community alongside families and friends, and they treated us as their own, as if we belonged to their birth-families. This is all we knew during our stay in the West Bank- working hand-in-hand to harvest olives while sharing meals, stories, laughter, tears, and love.
In tears, we found that it’s impossible to avoid feeling the tension that comes with an imposing wall, lining a makeshift border. The wall stands as a symbol of animosity, a constant reminder of the struggle that began long ago. This symbol takes on new meaning when you learn that it divides families who are no longer able to see each other; lands that were once owned, but now cannot be revisited or reclaimed; people whom God loves and would rather see united instead of broken in violence and conflict.
Through all this, the word “Hope” appeared across the Holy Land as we made our way from place to place. In several cases, it was spray painted across the wall, in Beit Jala, Hebron, and other areas. It resonated with our group so strongly that we prayed out to God: Let this word become more than graffiti on a wall, manifest in the hearts, minds, and actions of the people, young and old, within the country. We asked God to continue spreading real hope through the people of Holy Land Trust, who share the love of Jesus and a vision for healing this broken land.
And for a few short days, we were able to do this with them- to share the love and engage in beautiful relationship with people an entire world away. I’m still trying to determine if we were on a mission to help them with the Olive Harvest, or if they were on a mission to love us in a way that we don’t often see in the United States. I believe God would tell me the answer is both: love through our serving in an olive field, and love in their acceptance of us into a new family.
Just as quickly as it came, the “life” ended for us, and we returned from the trip back to our homes and families. But it did not end, because we carry that life – all that we saw, experienced, felt - with us in deeper understanding of our brothers and sisters. We advocate for our new family in profound ways, and look forward to a time when we will be reunited, inshallah. And we continue to pray- Lord, your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven.