Registration open for visit to Israel/Palestine
by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE – The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is once again offering individuals an opportunity to visit the Holy Land through its Mosaic of Peace Conference to Israel/Palestine. This will be the third time in recent years that Peacemaking has hosted a group in the region, with previous trips in 2014 and 2016.
“The Peacemaking Program conducted a conference in Israel/Palestine about 10 years ago with 100 people and that conference had such a large impact on the participants that we started offering it again,” said Carl Horton, coordinator for the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. “After next year, we may try to expand the Mosaic conference to other contexts of conflict in need of peace.”
Participants are scheduled to be in the region April 29–May 12, 2018 and will spend time in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Galilee. Horton says the group will hear from a variety of Palestinian and Israeli leaders working on justice and peace issues, as well as take tours and visit holy and historic sites.
“We are planning some optional experiences from which participants can choose – learning handcrafts with local artisans, exploring the flavors of the region with local cooks, lending a hand on a nearby farm and learning about olive oil and winemaking,” said Horton. “The conference is definitely an immersion experience.”
Horton believes it’s important for Presbyterians to “not only walk where Jesus walked” but to encounter the living stones of the Abrahamic faiths and hear stories from a variety of perspectives.
“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has a long-standing commitment to peace and to our partners in the region,” he said. “The Mosaic of Peace Conference is a rare opportunity for Presbyterians to go and see for themselves, learn and go deeper, to re-examine expectations and to reflect on long-held beliefs about the region and its people. It really can be a life-enriching, life-transforming experience.”
The Rev. Andy King, a young adult pastor in Pulaski, Virginia, made the trip in 2016. He said the trip impacted him in a number of ways including becoming more acutely aware of the issues in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and how the U.S. affects them.
“I read the news more closely and try to keep up with some of the organizations we came in contact with on the trip,” he said. “I’m definitely more anxious about the lives at stake, but I also feel more equipped to understand my place in the matters.”
King said it opened his eyes and heart to take more direct action at home around similar issues in this country. He has been volunteering to discuss the conference with local churches.
“For me, spending extensive time around Bethlehem was the most meaningful experience of the trip, whether hearing about the work of the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center, touring the Aida Refugee Camp or worshipping at Christmas Lutheran. Seeing the extent of the barrier wall every day in Bethlehem was important in shedding light on what I knew and didn’t know,” said King. “It felt like we were invited to see how a whole community, both Christian and Muslim, was striving to make the most of a very difficult state.”
Rebecca Gibbs of Cincinnati was another participant in the most recent trip.
“It gave me a broader view of both political and justice issues in Israel/Palestine,” she said. “I was amazed at how much we don’t hear on American news. Upon reflection, it reminds me to be open to hearing with an acute listening ear to all sides, to be guided by my sense of justice and fairness and be willing to acknowledge that there is much I need to learn.”
Gibbs said the most meaningful part of the trip for her was the time spent with community leaders.
“The impact of people living in an occupied territory and the lengths that they have to go through from the important to mundane parts of life is unimaginable for us in America,” she said. “We hear about it, but we can’t truly absorb what all that looks like until we actually have the experience and hear from the people.”
Horton hopes participants are both awakened to the complexities of the conflict and inspired to stay engaged in efforts for peace and justice in the region.
“There are so many ways that our participants can and do continue to work for peace in Israel and Palestine, long after the conference ends,” he said. “The conference can be a catalyst for some and a stepping stone for others to a greater, more profound and effective witness as peacemakers. Our Jewish, Christian and Muslim sisters and brothers in the region need our solidarity, action, advocacy, friendship and understanding.”
“I feel as Americans, our distant understanding of the Holy Land is curated for us by so many influences,” said King. “Being with people who live daily in the conflict in their own homeland, strips away a lot of those layers.”
For more information on the trip including registration, sample schedule and photos, click here. Applications to participate may be submitted through Nov. 15.
The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program is made possible by gifts to the Peace and Global Witness Offering.
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