Walking with Palestinian Christians for Holy Justice & Peace
co-sponsored by UMGBGM & Ginghamsburg Church
by Linda Bergh
The ceasefire in Gaza had ended and attacks resumed by the time that nine of us from Upper New York Conference joined over two hundred other United Methodists and guests at Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio. Our conference, meeting August 7th and 8th, was called “Walking with Palestinian Christians for Holy Justice and Peace”.
My first learning, as we gathered, was “the power of lament”. Opening worship included a plaintive Palestinian song, sung by Janet Lahr-Lewis, with the names of recently-killed Palestinians and their circumstances shown on a screen before us. We were to focus on one of the names and keep it in our heart.
As the day progressed, Lynne Hybels reminded us that “peacemaking is the cutting edge of the Christian church in this time”. Bishop Hope Ward called us to embrace lament and tell the stories. Bishop Abrahams said, “Let us do the right thing because our faith demands that we act prophetically–anything less is apostasy.”
Most powerful of all were the voices of the Palestinian Christians. Stories? We heard of how a family in Gaza lost some family members and had some others wounded. The Israelis had hit their house with a warning “sound-bomb”. As they hurried to leave the house in the seconds that followed, an elderly woman in their family moved very slowly. They struggled to help her out the door, but before they could escape, the “real” bomb hit.
In the hallway, I asked a man standing nearby to help me open a tight-capped water bottle. He obliged. When the next session began, I discovered that this man was Wisam, a Palestinian tour guide from Beit Sahour. He began to tell us of his daily routine, in which he prays about each and all of the minor details of life. The first thing he prays for, at the beginning of the day, is for water to come from his faucet!
Wisam said, after speaking of the difficulties in his daily life as a Palestinian, that he was not here to encourage us to hate his oppressors. He was here to tell us to please be the voice for those who cannot speak. Remember–“we Palestinians are human, too”–not just numbers!
The highlight for me was the presentation by Rev. Alex Awad, Dean of Students at Bethlehem Bible College. He said that the church is given a “political mandate”, for any book, (including the Bible), that speaks of peace, justice, and care for the poor is a political book. “Our mission is to guide governmental policy. How do we as Christians respond to obvious injustices against the Palestinians?”
In reminding us to act for justice, Alex said that we must know the situation. We know that the issue is not Hamas; it is the Occupation. We need to focus on the illegal Israeli settlements by supporting BDS, focus on Congress by exposing its members’ hypocrisy, and focus on Christian Zionism by providing a biblical alternative. Suggestions for possible action included asking our church leaders to hold a hunger strike in front of the Israeli embassy or a prayer vigil in front of the White House.
Best of all, Alex offered hope, referring to Matthew 12:18-21. His entire call to us was grounded in that “political” book, the Bible.
[Alex’s entire talk was inspiring. A powerpoint of his presentation may be found at (ginghamsburg.org/palestineconference). If not found there, try (kairosresponse.org) on the Resource or Conference page.]