Educator lays foundation for new partnerships in Israel, Palestinian Territories

Posted on September 7, 2011 by VMMissions Staff

Partners teams have traveled to the Palestinian Territories and Israel over the last 5 years to volunteer at Nazareth Village and teach English to local children. These groups have traveled the land, stayed with host families and learned quite a lot about Arab & Israeli history, life and culture in the Galilee.

The author hiked the Jesus Trail while in the area, and plans to walk sections with next year's group.

Through these successful trips, it became apparent that in order to strengthen the trip experience, we would need to continue developing some aspects of the trip. As a Partners team, there was a need to establish stronger and longer-lasting connections between those traveling and those hosting. With this in mind, we began to look for new ways to serve, connect and enrich the lives all parties involved. And so I returned to Israel & the Palestinian Territories with a shared vision to reorient the current program towards the educational goal of thoroughly understanding the first century times in which Jesus lived. Such an experience would allow participants to draw connections between Jesus’ life in an occupied territory of Rome with the current Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

I have long been an advocate of place-based learning. As a Social Studies educator, I know there is nothing that creates a stronger educational bridge than the chance to learn about a historical event in the actual place where that event occurred. Despite changes in the landscape over the millennia and the effects of wars, colonization, industrialization and globalization, Israel and the Palestinian Territories maintain a striking capacity to remain timeless and relay an image of life in the first century. Carefully using this setting and juxtaposing it with the current situation, one can create many teachable moments that bring the teachings of Jesus to life in an exciting and meaningful way.

Upon my arrival, I was reminded of the less-than-perfect aspects of life in a police state that I often purposely forget. The security lines, searches, interrogations and brief detainments make it difficult to see an end to the militancy and subjugation. On the other side of a not so peaceful wall, homelessness, hunger, unemployment and immobility reminded me how easily one can lose hope when it seems that all is lost.  But it is here in this place that I once again was privileged to experience the tenacity of Believers who desire to deconstruct this oppression and create something hopeful, just and life-giving in a place where apartheid, destruction, hopelessness, faithlessness and so many other pessimistic perspectives often take center stage.

Here I worked with brothers and sisters who long to inform the outside world of the injustices that occur in this place. I rekindled my understanding of what it means to be a member of the family of Christ as we created itineraries, hikes, service assignments, lectures and reflections for individuals seeking to understand the life of Jesus more fully and to apply the truth of reconciliation made clear through his life to their own. As I think ahead to next year’s Partners team, I am filled with hope because I know that the message of Jesus is alive in the place where it began and ready to be heard with revitalized ears yearning for a greater understanding of their own place in that story of redemption.

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