WMI cross-cultural trips can be so many things to so many participants. Eye opening, transformative, heart-breaking, inspiring, joyful. No matter the place for the culture, students and others can always see God at work in the world. Below are a number of reflections from participants and leaders. Read them and consider joining us in this workthrough your prayer, participation, or financial support.

Listening and Sharing the Stories

Joshua Demi, M.Div. Student and 2018 WMI Trip Participant to Israel/Palestine

Traveling to Israel/Palestine with WMI was one of the most powerful formative experiences of my life. This trip has dramatically changed the way I think and powerfully impacted the way I live. For many Americans, the people of Palestine are the demonized other. The popular image of Palestine is that of a war torn hellscape populated by a nation of terrorists and murderers. At least this was the image which I had absorbed in my childhood. I was horrified at the thought of going there, but was drawn . . . mysteriously, dynamically, drawn by what I can only conclude was the guiding voice of the Holy Spirit. The image I had in my mind, and the living, breathing, reality which I experienced were fundamentally different things. 

I have never felt more safe traveling abroad, nor more welcomed as a foreigner, than I did in Palestine. The entire culture was washed in a defiant kindness. Shop owners would wish us well even when we could not afford to purchase anything from their shops. Locals waved, and smiled, and shouted “Welcome! Welcome to Palestine!” Everywhere we went, we were greeted with a smile, a laugh, and a warm welcome. It was as if everyone we met knew how they were portrayed and were deliberately proving the world wrong. 

The most powerful aspect of the trip was the chance to meet with local Palestinians and hear their stories. Over and over again we listened, and over and over again, we cried and we promised to tell their stories, over and over again, until our voices became hoarse and those who listened grew tired of the hearing. Here is one such story.

One day, in a little corner of Bethlehem, we met a woman named Claire. She owns a small gift shop not far from the tomb of Rachel, the great biblical matriarch. It was a wonderful spot for a thriving tourist business, at least for a time. Bethlehem rests in the shadow of a massive concrete wall, constructed by the Israeli military, staffed with sniper every so many yards. Locals often refer to Bethlehem as an open-air prison. This wall, which all but completely surrounds the area and winds throughout the depth and breath of the West Bank like some great mythic serpent, surrounds her shop on three sides, separating her from the tomb and from all tourist traffic. It was originally intended to surround her home on every side, but plans changed when the military broke through a sewage line, flooding and all but destroying her shop. It then became more convenient to adjust the plans for the wall.  After this, Claire rebuilt. She cleaned the sewage from her shop. She got up every morning and worked. She climbed on her roof, which stretches above the wall, and hung her laundry, as guns fired, and snipers bullets whizzed by her. Her act of defiance, her act of resistance, was simply to live and to tell her story.

I encountered so much more, so many images that will be burned into my mind, etched into the fabric of my soul forever: holes in church walls made by bullets purchased by American tax dollars, school windows filled with concrete to protect the children from tear gas canisters fired at them during their lessons, strength in the eyes of refugees who endure violence and humiliation every day of their lives. If these images, conjured up in your mind by these feeble words, touched your soul, I ask you please, please share the story, find other stories, and listen and share them, and be kind, be defiantly kind.