WMI Intercultural Experiential/Learning 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 work—through your prayer, participation, or financial support.
Where did I see and experience God during my time in Israel-Palestine? I expected an introspective encounter with God; I went into the trip assuming that God would emerge during solitude and meditation. Unexpectedly, however, I witnessed God in our community lunch and dinner sessions. In these times, two cultures and experiences came together to break bread and drink water as one body. It is here that Paul’s words penetrated my heart: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). In addition, I witnessed, in these community dinners, the grace of God. The Palestinian people, living in despair and unfortunate condition, still welcomed Americans at the dinner table and treated us with love and respect. I saw the love of Christ on their faces and in their hearts!
My informative time in Israel-Palestine had a transformative impact on how I understand my future ministry. Unfortunately, the usage of biblical language and narrative had and continues to have a destructive effect on the Palestinian people’s way of life. After hearing many testimonies, I realize now more clearly how crucial it is to express the story of the Bible with honesty and carefulness. Therefore, my encounter and conversations with Palestinians reaffirm my vocation to serve others through pastoral ministry and biblical studies at the academic level. I am more confident than ever that my call is to study the Word of God.
I had the privilege to travel to Lebanon this January to explore the topic of trauma in the context of the Middle East and the role of the Church in healing. It was a rich learning experience to engage with a mosaic of different organizations and leaders, each with a unique set of gifts and a distinct approach to providing care for their communities and the region.
Together, the 17 different partners we connected with truly incarnated what it means to be the body of Christ in such a time as this. I learned to continuously shift my perspective from trying to figure out the “right” way to approach healing to seeing and valuing the unique ways God has gifted and called each of the partners with whom we met. As I return to my U.S. context, I feel invited to listen more attentively to how the Spirit is moving in me and to follow whole-heartedly, while coming alongside others to do the same, trusting God’s work through us as a body.
Mayan spirituality says to always direct prayers toward the rising sun. With respect and reverence for the new day, Mayans submit their prayers with an attitude of hope toward healing and restoration. Whether or not it springs from these indigenous roots, the people of Guatemala face issues of justice and survival with a posture of resilience. Over the course of 10 days, I listened to and learned from leaders and educators across the country, all of whom are speaking up and making change because not doing so isn’t an option. Having filled a notebook with facts, ideas, names, and stories, I return from this trip with so many questions.
At times I wondered where God was amidst all the injustice, and yet I saw the light of God in the eyes of each and every person I encountered—in the migrant maps guiding thousands along the perilous journey, the coffee and bread shared at every occasion, and in the people who spoke so adoringly of their country. I experienced God in the food prepared with love, the smoking volcano, the youth group introducing their parents, and financially poor but spiritually rich women who invited us into their homes. I have anticipated this trip since before I started my master of divinity in 2020, and now that it is done, I realize it was only the beginning.
One of the clearest places where I saw God in the Philippines was during our time with a fisherfolk community. I was struck by the ways that God felt so immanently present in the web of interdependence that was so apparent there.
The fisherfolk were intimately connected to each other, both in fellowship and in the solidarity of the struggle against the construction of a man-made island that would harm the sea, and they were just as connected to the sea itself. When I joined my homestay family in the morning to glean for seaweed and snails, I realized that God was providing for them in such immediate ways though the sea—loving them by feeding them the way that a mother feeds her children. And likewise, in embracing that relationship, the family had ways of seeing and knowing the sea that I did not; they could see what to glean, whereas I kept grabbing at shells and seaweed that couldn’t be used. God was also so apparent in their embrace of an interdependent relationship with the sea evidenced in their commitment to fight to protect it. Hearing about the ways they have organized to struggle against governmental proposals that would permanently disrupt the ecological web across the shoreline felt like a present-day example of David vs. Goliath, something sacred and miraculous.
Shannon Garrett-Headen, M.Div. Student and 2019 WMI-MUI Trip Participant to South Africa
I never dreamed I would ever have the opportunity to travel to Africa. Growing up in the United States as an African-American, Africa seemed like a dream, a phantom, that I could never fully see, grab, or embrace. As soon as we entered the South African street, Dr. Smith turned to our group and said, “welcome home." Africa is the cradle of humankind for all people, but it means something very different to people of African descent, particularly those of us who are the descendants of slaves. Being on the hallowed grounds, I achieved the hope and the dream of my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother, and all my foremothers: I finally made it back home for the first time.
However, South Africa is not what I envisioned. In many ways, it is painfully Western and familiar. From the golden arches of McDonald’s in Sunnyside to the garish high-end mall in Sandton with its shiny shrines to Gucci, Prada, and Louis Vuitton, I was simultaneously discomforted and comforted. Walking through Alexandra Township, a relic from the Apartheid era, I came face-to-face with South Africa’s struggle for freedom and land from a familiar oppressor. South Africa was not directly touched by the transatlantic slave trade; therefore, it is highly unlikely that I have any specific lineage in South Africa. However, we are linked by the trauma and the struggle for freedom. Colonialism on American and South African soil has left us with deep scars and open wounds.
Yet, in South Africa, I met beautiful, brilliant, black people full of optimism, full of hope, and full of love. I met awe-inspiring, Christ-centered black folks who found God in the bitter and broken places of life. Racism and white supremacist systems exist in many cultures, but they are all contextual to the environments in which they thrive. Bonded by our struggles for freedom, we are both reimaging, reimagining, and redefining our personhood as humans made in the image of God without the barriers of the manufactured systems that deem us inferior. South Africa taught me, “Ubuntu," which means “I am because you are." Mother Africa is our collective homeland and we are because she is.
Michael Ondrick, Second Year M.Div. Student and Participant in WMI’s Spring 2018 Trip to Egypt
At the beginning of Luke 10, Jesus appoints emissaries to visit every town and place where he himself intended to go. Among his instructions to them is the dictate to “[c]arry no purse, no bag, no sandals” as they sojourn (v. 4). The easiest way to fulfill this mandate of the Lord, I found, was to simply lose my wallet as soon as I landed in Egypt—as in, before I even got off the plane. You don’t need to worry about carrying a purse when you don’t have one. Of course, my spiffy new messenger bag didn’t last the trip either, its meager strap breaking not even halfway through the trip, forcing me to negotiate with a cheerful Alexandrian street vendor for a new one. And though my shoes did survive the Egyptian experience, I did unceremoniously lose a pair of underwear from my Cairo seminary room balcony, where they were drying after a thorough sink-washing. I like to think they literally fell from the sky on some down-on-his-luck seminary employee, who is now the proud owner of some nice new (to him) blue boxer briefs.
This is all to say that we read nowhere in the Bible, so far as I can tell, that mission is supposed to be easy. In past eras of the missionary enterprise, we might have read Jesus’s frank admission that he is sending out the disciples “like lambs into the midst of wolves” (v. 3) in smug fashion, as an affirmation that we are on the side of Jesus, the agnus dei, going to bring forth the Word into a dangerous, predatory world. Perhaps, sometimes, we might even read it this way today. Certainly, this is in line with the colonial mentality, so often part of globalized evangelism, that we few laborers are the specially-chosen few designated to bring in the harvest of heathens. But the parallel passage to Luke 10:1-12, Matthew 9:35-38, sheds some crucial light on our true role in mission. “When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt 9:36). Both the laborers and the harvest—to abruptly switch metaphors from flora to fauna—are sheep in need of a shepherd. We are all ultimately little lost lambs. Such was my experience in Egypt, where my best and most concerted attempts to inadvertently ruin our mission trip were met on the ground with compassion, kindness, and offers of assistance, from our sympathetic tour guide to the helpful staff of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, from the bevy of church planters who came from far and wide to tell us about their triumphs and struggles to the pleasant-but-slightly-off-putting man offering us food from the window of his slow-moving car.
See, we love to think we’re independent. Self-sufficient. It’s practically the American dream. In The Jerk, Steve Martin’s Navin R. Johnson grows up as the adopted white son of black sharecroppers, and after a remarkable series of rather unlikely events, ends up fabulously wealthy but in fact, totally deluded by his newfound riches. Fighting with his girlfriend, he exclaims, “I don't need any of this. I don't need this stuff, and I don't need you. I don't need anything. Except this... just this ashtray . . . and this paddle game. The ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need . . . and this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that's all I need . . . and these matches.” In asserting his supposed independence, Navin reveals just how dependent he really is. Small wonder he ends up (spoiler alert for a nearly 40-year-old movie) homeless, desperate, and alone. Jesus’ dictates to “[c]arry no purse, no bag, no sandals” and to “eat what is set before you” (Luke 10:8) are not declarations of independence but rather affirmations of radical dependence. This, I think, is the essence of mission, and for me, the essence of my Egyptian trip. Of course, these affirmations of dependence are true in a literal sense—was it my imagination, or was the rice-stuffed pigeon I ate actually smiling at me?—but also a powerful, profoundly spiritual sense. If there’s one thing my addlepated mind has finally come to accept, it’s that I can’t do any of this alone. Thankfully, I don’t have to. My mission experience has taught me as much. For this, I am quite grateful.
Even with missing underwear.
Kelcey Bailey, Second year M.Div. Student and 2018 Spring Trip Participant to Colombia
This year, WMI went to Colombia, where 11 PTS representatives participated with our Colombian brothers and sisters in a cross-cultural course, “Being church in the Context of Violence” (Siendo Iglesia en contextos de violencia), at the Reformed University in Barranquilla. Alongside six Colombian seminary students and their faculty, PTS students had the opportunity to learn about the cultures of violence that exist in Colombia, while also sharing about the many forms of violence that persist in the United States.
Together, we reflected on how Jesus calls the church to be peacemakers in our contexts, as well as what that tangibly looks like in practice. In our time in Barranquilla, we had the opportunity to learn more about liberation theology, feminist theology, and ecological justice. We met with leaders of the women’s movement; former members of FARC (the guerilla group now seeking peace and participation in the political process); and community members who had been displaced due to economic development. We also attended a World Council of Churches panel in Cartagena where the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, came to present on the status of the State’s work with the Peace Accord, signed about two years ago.
On the tail end of our trip, we traveled to the capital city of Bogotá, where we met with ecumenical partners working for reconciliation and justice in a post-conflict Colombia. Finally, we went to the U.S. Embassy to advocate on behalf of the communities from whom and with whom we learned the depth of the hope for a reconciled and flourishing Colombia.
The group had an incredible time soaking in the richness of the land and the beauty and hospitality of the Colombian people. We gained new insight into how to read Scripture in a way that looks to those whom Jesus loves. We learned that the Church in Colombia is a church of justice, speaking out for the well-being and protection of the marginalized against the violence that our systems provoke. And through all of our learning, we also loved soaking in the culture; from the food to the salsa dancing, the beach to the Andes Mountains, Colombia was an unforgettable experience!
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.
Emily Lasinsky, SE Asia Mission Trip Participant, Spring 2017 (original blog post)
I tend to read and think much about what it means to "welcome the stranger." Being in South East Asia gave me the opportunity to practice being the stranger and receiving hospitality. I learned that it is important to give what we can offer, but how we "serve" should not be used to create or exacerbate a power differential. God is not so much interested in what we give, but how and why we give. What did we give while in South East Asia? Presence. Why? Because when we are still, we open our hearts to listen and receive (from God and others). To say that we gave anything more would be a reflection of the human desire to do something and see results, as if the results depend on us in the first place.
People welcomed us into their homes and openly shared their food and stories. Talk about hospitality and courageous vulnerability! I am a sensitive person in general, but I cried after some of the visits because I felt so blessed and connected. I was a bit perplexed about this felt connection because although we had an interpreter, I could not understand what many of the individuals were saying. How can you feel so in tune with people you just met? The presence of God—the presence that reminds us that we are all brothers and sisters. To be honest, I think we have forgotten about this presence in the United States. Or, maybe we are too distracted to notice it. Maybe the job of this generation is to illuminate this presence and the hope it promises.
Overall, this mission trip encouraged my heart and reminded me that the Kingdom of God is a diverse mosaic. More than ever, we need to open our hearts, minds, and spirits to the colors, shapes, and squiggles that mark our shared humanity.
Joanne Spence, Russia Trip Participant, Spring 2017
There is much to say about Russia and Orthodoxy as a result of my welcome and unexpected opportunity to study Orthodoxy in Russia with Dr. Burgess in February/March 2017. I have written at length about the trip, but for this short reflection I would like to share a glimpse of what I saw in the Russian people—their hospitality, their strength, and their endurance. Let me give you a snippet of each.
Hospitality: We visited the small village of Davydovo during the first week of the Great Fast, when observant Orthodox were not eating meat or diary. There were services daily and sometimes twice daily. Yet, the local priest, Father Vladimir (a friend of Dr. Burgess), invited our group of 10 to dinner at his house. He and his wife, Olga, had prepared a feast for us (including meat and dairy), complete with local Russian folk singers and balalaika playing. It was a beautiful feast, a mingling of cultures, and a testament to Russian hospitality and graciousness, despite the great demands of the church season for Father Vladimir and his wife.
Strength: Physical strength was evidenced in how the Orthodox participated in their services. During our brief visit, the shortest service we attended was around two and a half hours, and the longest about five hours—much longer than your average 59-minute Protestant service in the U.S. On top of this, there are no pews. Russians have a practice of standing, yes, for all five hours. Yes, there are one or two benches at the church perimeter, and people do use them for a few minutes at a time. To be fair, not everyone stays for the entire service, but many do. Here’s what the revelation was for me: Standing for the Orthodox is a spiritual practice; it is asceticism. The experience is meant to be hard.
Endurance: During our second-to-last day in Russia, we had a three-hour lecture at St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University on Russian Church History in the 20th Century. I was struck by several things from this period. Beginning with the advent of the Revolution in 1918, the Church was severely reduced. Just prior to the Revolution, there were 50,000 parishes, 24,000 chapels, 1,000 monasteries, 60 seminaries, and four theological academies. By the end of 1960s, the Church was reduced to 7,000 parishes, 16 monasteries, three seminaries, and two theological academies (Holy Rus', 33). According to Kallistos Ware, there were more martyrs in the 30-year period following the Revolution than in the first 300 years of Christianity. Clearly, the Church in Russia has endured much. Yet, the signs of life are everywhere.
These signs were never more evident than in the faces of the twenty-something St. Tikhon students who met with our group so they could practice their English. One of them had shared with me that 90 percent of Russians identify as Orthodox, yet only 3 percent attend weekly services. When I asked my new, young friends how they might address this gap, Ivan, one of the young students, said he will reach people by singing beautiful music. Maria wants to reach her fellow Russians though her art. Naydia plans to teach young Russians about their own history through Russian Literature. Each seems eager to shine the light of Christ in their own particular way. I expect it is through these young lives that the power of the great tradition found in Orthodoxy will continue to invite fellow Russians, and indeed the world, to a life in Christ. I know I am changed for the better by their example.
Carmen Lee, Kenya Trip Participant, Summer 2016
Our team spent one Wednesday afternoon visiting some of the girls who have been rescued by the Samburu Girls Foundation. It was a moving experience. The girls we met are enrolled in the Falling Water Boarding School, which is co-ed. As we sat with girls in a circle on the school’s front field, several mustered the courage to stand up and share their rescue stories. Without going into a lot of detail, the accounts included stories of betrothals or forced marriages to men 40 or more years older than the child brides, experiences of rape and beatings, and undergoing FGM or trying to escape the procedure.
But the girls also shared their aspirations for futures better than their pasts. All said they wanted to help others in some way, with several describing a desire to rescue or encourage other girls like themselves. Their career goals included becoming doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, or journalists. A couple said they wanted to become judges who would fight corruption.
After the girls spoke to our entire group, we passed out packets of travel-size toiletries, most of which had been provided by a member of Friendship Community Presbyterian Church. The gifts were an apparent hit as the girls sniffed each other’s lotion bottles or scented soaps and smiled with approval. Our team also took up a collection from among ourselves, which along with donations that had been brought from Pittsburgh amounted to more than $1,000. The funds eliminated the school tuition debt for the year for 11 girls and reduced the amount owed for a twelfth. While the need for the Samburu foundation girls is still great, our contribution was beneficial and greatly appreciated.
Dr. Steve Tuell, Trip Co-leader
I have used this image before—in advertising for a conference at the Seminary, and in a previous blog—but this is my photo, taken earlier this month, from my first visit to the Nassar farm. These stones were placed at the entrance to his family farm by Daoud Nassar, a Palestinian Christian living in the West Bank, southwest of Bethlehem. Although the land has been in his family since 1916, and has been cultivated by them throughout that time, the Nassar family has been in Israeli state courts since 1991, resisting attempts to seize their land for a Jewish settlement. Daoud and his family host Tent of Nations, a work camp dedicated to fostering peace and understanding among the world's communities. The stones declare the purpose of Tent of Nations, and the commitment of the Nassar family to nonviolent resistance, in Hebrew, Arabic, English, and German: “We refuse to be enemies.”
We could not drive to the farm: settlers have blocked the road with heaps of boulders. So after our bus had taken us as close as John, our exceptionally skilled driver, could manage (driving backwards a good bit of the way, as there was no place to turn around!), we hiked the rest of the way. The view across the Judean hills was spectacular!
Later, Daoud explained to us the meaning of those stones to him and his family. In response to attempts to take their land from them by force or to seize it through government action, how could they respond as Christians? First, they decided that they could not give in, nor could they remain silent: “We refuse to be victims.” Nor, however, could they respond with force, or violence: “We refuse to be enemies.” I thought of Jesus’ own life and teaching—how he freely healed and taught and fed the hungry, refusing to the very end to return evil for evil, violence for violence.
We saw this faith in action. The family had prepared a delicious lunch for us. As we were sitting down to eat, four Israeli soldiers, with weapons at the ready, walked up to the farm. We watched and prayed as Daoud walked down to meet them. They talked briefly, and then the soldiers, clearly puzzled, walked away. When Daoud returned, we asked him what had been said. They were curious, he told us, about who we were—specifically, they wondered if we were Israelis, and if so, what we were doing there. He explained to them that we were Christian pilgrims paying fellow Christians a visit. “And then,” he said, “I invited them to lunch.”
That, to me, was the heart of the gospel—expressed simply and profoundly. “We refuse to be enemies” is not a passive stance, but an active one—we will not respond to violence, we will not be intimidated, we will show hospitality and try to be friends. We will, in short, love others as we God has loved us.
Whole orchards of fruit trees belonging to the Nassars have been bulldozed by settlers claiming that the trees were on their land. So before we left, we planted a few apricot trees. The soil was rocky, the air was cold—I am not sure if the trees will make it. Nor am I sure that Daoud will prevail in this struggle. But I do know that I have met a saint of God—a Christian committed to living his faith, despite circumstances.
April Roebuck, Trip Co-leader
During my mission experience in Guyana I participated in a feeding program that caters to seniors. It’s easy to forget about the seniors within our churches and community at large. Gloria is a young lady who oversees the delivery. Every day she goes around the city delivering meals rain or shine. Each meal has a protein, vegetable, and starch along with a beverage. I actually helped with the food prep as well before we went out. The program was great but I don’t want to focus so much on the program more than I’d like to lift up Gloria. Gloria is a deaf and dumb (not able to speak) as everyone kept calling her. However, I beg to differ. Gloria may have been deaf but she surely was not dumb. I do not know sign language but somehow we communicated just fine. We understood one another as if we were speaking with words.
Being out with Gloria I experienced the glory of God. The glory of God is both God's presence and mystery. The only way I can explain us being able to understand one another is through the Holy Spirit. We were one kindred spirit recognizing the other as we were able to share laughs and conversation without uttering a word.
Isaiah 43:7 says that we were created for the glory of God. If our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, this also means to enjoy the glory of God that exudes from those who are different from ourselves. It’s in those intimate moments that we will discover that God is present and requires us to not try to figure things out but to simply behold His glory on earth and within one another.
Kelli Booher, SE Asia Trip Participant
Greetings from Pittsburgh! After some time of being back home and reflecting on our trip I find feelings of blessed gratitude, prayerful hopes for you, and also regrets that often come with this complex world and religion.
I am so grateful for our time together and how through your story and tour you shared with us so many things that had to be felt and not heard. As you were an orphan yourself, from a minority tribe whose land had been taken away, you lived here in the States for years but felt a longing and call back to your homeland. Not only did you feel the land calling you back, but it was your people too, and specifically, the children who also did not have parents that were on your heart. You moved back and built a large house with lots of land and gardens in a village where the children you care for can go to school and be around their people.
You teach them using both your tribal language and the language of your country, because you have a love for your people and expressed how important language is to knowing who you are, where you come from, and how to truly interpret the location you live in. You beautifully expressed how important it is to you that the Bible become translated in the tribal language because there are words in that language that are more than a single meaning translation and cannot be fully expressed in any other language to really feel the true meaning of that word.
The way you show hospitality and welcome friends and strangers into your home was so effortless that it was noticeable how much a part of you that was and that it seemed to be a part of the tribal culture no matter where we went. At every table we sat down at, mounds of tangerines, star fruit, grapes, roasted soybeans, watermelon, and dragon fruit would begin piling up. Glasses of artichoke tea, green tea, or grape juice would be poured and all of it from your gardens; from your land which is a part of you. The love that you showed and how you would meet a need before it even came to fruition is a true gift that we do not see a lot of in our culture here. Thank you for showing and teaching us these things through your love and actions.
At this point, if you were reading this, I know that you would have already stopped me to tell me that all of this that you have done and showed us is not you but God at work. The most beautiful thing that was felt and seen, not heard, was God’s love in all of this. A call, not just any call, but a pretty big call! To return home, move across the world and not for fame or fortune but to serve your people. To answer that call and to truly trust God in all that you knew he was calling you to do, not only shows your faith to Him, but also shows how faithful our God truly is. You said He brought you this far and that you still dream bigger and bigger dreams because His love is infinite and it isn’t your dream but your call from Him. To see how He has gone before you to your homeland, used you for His greater purpose, and continues to give you dreams, knowledge, and provisions for those dreams is an amazing testament to His faithfulness. Thank you for teaching us this through your love, hospitality, and passion for your culture and people.
My hopes and wishes for you are a continued strength so even in the hardest of times, as I’m sure they are there, you don’t feel you are alone, burnt out, or ever question why am I doing this? I hope that you are able to continue working on getting the Bible translated in the tribal language, as language is so important to who we are. Languages can die; we see that happening here today in the States, but you know the importance of that, to really preach the word of God, it must be a language that speaks to your soul. So I wish for you the means and connections to continue to see that work through. I hope that the children you nurture and love continue to grow spiritually knowing who they are in Christ and who they are as people, a beautiful people.
My last hope for you ties in also with my regrets. Because I hope and wish for you as well as all the Southeast Asian tribal Christians the means and provisions to do what you feel God is calling you to do. Sometimes, I think we as Westerners on these short-term mission trips take for granted that whatever we are called to do, or think we are called to do, we could eventually find the money, we have the freedom, and we know someone who knows someone who can help. It isn’t like that everywhere else in the world so that means our “calls” or our “ministries” may not look the same. That is very hard for us to imagine sometimes. Church should look like what we think of “church” and being a “Christian” should look like what we think a “Christian” looks like.
We would never say that, but we don’t have to, because we show that in the types of questions we ask you about your church. We show that in how we describe your culture and your cultural religion. We show that in how we organize an attempt to “fix” your problems. We show that in choosing sides among your church leaders with our assumptions, comments, body language, and facial expressions.
So my regrets are, that we were not able to fully empty ourselves of our Western-biased culture. I regret not allowing you more time to teach us about your culture and cultural religion. I regret not giving you more time and space to express your dreams and visions of what a tribal church looks like to you and how we can truly “come alongside” you to see that come to be. I regret that because of “good intentions” in Christian mission history, when you ask for money so that you can begin a ministry you feel God has placed on your heart, we have to decline and use words like “dependency” and “Western Christianity” to explain our answer. Finally, I regret how the world structure is, that as far as access to money, travel, and education that often constitutes authority, there is this power Westerners carry. I regret that I can’t wish it or force it away, but I also regret that sometimes we blindly carry this “power over” you, instead of carry the “power with” you.
May God continue to strengthen, guide, and provide for you and your ministry within your land and among your people. I pray for you daily and am so thankful for what you have taught me through your love, actions, and stories of hardship in your life and currently in your ministry.
With love and love in Christ, peace to you.
Barbara and Hetz Marsh, Israel and the Palestine
We have recently returned from a World Mission Initiative trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, where we met with Christians who are faced with multiple problems as they live as Palestinians in a land controlled by Israeli Jews. There are three major faiths present in this land where conflict has been a part of its history. We heard Christians tell their stories of attempts to live as Christ would have them live, even though their daily experiences challenge this goal. Their stories reflect the depth of their faith. They were inspiring, calling us to recognize their struggle and to wonder what our response should be. The following story powerfully illustrates what it means to live out the gospel.
Sami Awad is a Palestinian pastor in the West Bank who felt challenged by Jesus’ words to “. . . love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you . . . ” (Matt. 5:44, Today’s English Version). When a pastor friend of his in Richmond, Va., asked him who his enemy is, he knew immediately. The Jews who live in the Settlements of the West Bank take up land that, according to the Oslo Accords, should belong to the Palestinians. Mr. Awad, though hesitant, took up the challenge of his friend. During his first meeting with someone from one of the Settlements, he found an Israeli Jew who, though that man believes that God wants the Jews to possess the land as a divine right, God also wants the Jews to treat all peoples with righteousness. He apologized to Mr. Awad for the Israeli Jews’ failure to do that. This was the beginning of many friendships that Mr. Awad is forming with Jews from the Settlements of the West Bank. They do not always agree on what God wants, but they have found a way to respect one another. “When anyone is in Christ, he is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come. All this is done by God, who through Christ changed us from enemies into his friends, and gave us the task of making others his friends also” (2 Cor. 5:17-18, Today’s English Version).
Sami Awad’s story is only one of many that we heard from Palestinian Christians. They are a gracious, hospitable people who opened their homes and their hearts to us. They acknowledged the anger that they experience as they are designated as second class citizens; as they have to get a permit to pass through the wall which separates them from places of employment, from school, from holy sites that they would like to visit; as they experience destruction of their legally owned property; as they feel humiliated by the way they are treated. In spite of the anger, however, they have rejected violence and sought ways to seek justice through the courts, through meeting others who can hear their stories, through building schools that teach reconciliation through God’s love.
Our reaction to their predicament was one of deep sorrow. They experience what we observed as oppression, resulting from laws that are burdensome and attitudes that imply that Palestinians are a people to be feared and avoided. If we were treated as they are treated, we hope that our faith would be as strong and that we would react with love instead of hate. Our response is to tell their stories to others, to advocate for them in the efforts toward peace, and to pray for their well-being in this land so full of conflict. “For he is our peace, who has made us (Jew and Gentile) both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility . . . ” (Eph. 2:14, RSV).