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Tread the ancient stones, be transformed by the ‘living stones’ of the land called holy


Online applications open for the Mosaic of Peace 2020 Conference in Israel/Palestine

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

The 2018 Mosaic of Peace group visits the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. (Photo by Douglas Dicks)

LOUISVILLE — Many people say a trip to the Holy Land is definitely on their “bucket list.” It’s something they want to do, plan to do, hope to do — one of these days.

The Presbyterian Peacemaking Program and World Mission have collaborated to lead a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land every other year since 2014. The 2020 Mosaic of Peace Conference: Witnessing for Peace and Wholeness in a Land Called Holy is scheduled for March 15–28. Applications are being accepted online through Oct. 15, or after that should space allow.

Douglas Dicks, World Mission’s associate for ecumenical partnerships in Israel and Palestine, serves in justice and peacemaking in conjunction with St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem and other partners in the region. Both he and Carl Horton, coordinator of the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, agree that an authentic experience with the people and the land of Israel and the Palestinian Territories can deepen one’s faith and change the way a person reads and understands Scripture long after the trip is over.

“It is equally important that U.S. Presbyterians see firsthand how their financial support has been invested over the years, and continues to be invested in efforts to promote justice and peace in this region,” said Dicks, who has lived and worked in Israel, Palestine and Jordan for more than 20 years. “We Presbyterians are encouraged by our partnerships and long-standing relationships created in Israel and Palestine.”

“The Peacemaking Program has a long history of conducting conferences,” Horton said. “At some point we realized that a recurring conference in the Holy Land was an important part of our peacemaking work and witness.  This will be the fourth Mosaic of Peace Conference that we have done in the region with our partners.  The Mosaic of Peace Conference really is a sort of a hybrid experience, both a pilgrimage and a study trip. Participants visit sacred places and walk on holy ground, to be sure, but they do so in the midst of a modern-day Israeli occupation and alongside the Palestinian people, the ‘living stones’ who call this troubled region home. There is a lot to see and hear, to absorb and process.  It’s nice to do that accompanied by a community of co-travelers, and we provide that experience.”

“We kept saying to each other, ‘Why did it take us so long to do this?’” said the Revs. Mark and Cheryl Goodman-Morris, who retired and moved to Ashland, Oregon after serving as co-pastors of Valley Presbyterian Church in Portola Valley, California, for 29 years. The Goodman-Morrises participated in the Mosaic of Peace Conference in 2018 and are returning in 2020 as co-directors of the trip.

“It was profound and had a very powerful impact to visit many of the sites from Jesus’ life that we had read and heard the stories about, that we had preached about for so many years. If we were still preaching, it would transform our message for sure,” Cheryl said. “Of course, there are all the layers of what’s happening now with the current Israeli-Palestinian situation that are so powerful and compelling, they break your heart. And as hard as it is, it is empowering to see what the Palestinian people are doing, deeply motivated by their faith, to respond to a situation that seems almost hopeless.”

“For me,” Mark said, “we loved the people we met. The hospitality was really overwhelming. I feel like you leave a part of yourself behind, once you’ve been there. It’s like going home to a home you never knew before. So, I want to go back home.”

“Pretty much everyone we met had a story that we’ll never forget,” Cheryl said. She described how she and a good friend were in a small group that took a cooking class taught by a Palestinian woman in a refugee camp. “It was a witness to what was happening in the camp and what’s happening to her people,” Cheryl said. “She had a joyful spirit and was incredibly well-organized. She just had a little cook stove to make massive quantities of food. We made chicken shawarma or something like that. She was very patient with all of us who knew very little about what we were doing with Palestinian cooking.”

The cooking school students learned that this Palestinian mother had initially started scraping together money to send one of her five children, a son with developmental challenges, to a special school. When someone from South America offered to raise the money to send her son to school, the woman declined the offer, saying, “I cannot do that if all of my sisters in the camp who also have developmentally challenged children cannot send their children to school.” Instead she accepted help to attend cooking school and become a chef. After the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain recorded an episode in her kitchen, she began receiving requests for cooking lessons. Now she teaches cooking classes to tourists from around the world to earn enough money to send all the children in the refugee camp to school.

Sandra “Sandie” Hanna, a member of the Social Justice and Peacemaking Committee of the Presbytery of Missouri River Valley and member of Presbyterian Church of the Master in Omaha, Nebraska, took part in the Mosaic of Peace Conference in Israel-Palestine in 2014 to better understand Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives.

Hanna said hearing from both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict from the people themselves led her to return to the region for another visit just a few months ago.

“Basically, the whole subject has consumed me since that first trip five years ago,” said Hanna, a retired high school teacher. “I definitely did not know the Palestinian point of view, or what people call ‘the other side of the story.’” She said the Mosaic of Peace trip was “unbelievably well done.”

“It really gave us a view of the holy sites, but so much more,” Hanna said, “My children told me they wish they’d sent me to Hawaii, so I’d eventually stop talking about it.” Instead, she said, her passion for justice for the Palestinian people has continued to grow into a “retirement vocation,” which now includes her 13 grandchildren — who often write and speak about Israel-Palestine in their classes at school.

The Mosaic of Peace trip also has connected Hanna with a like-minded Presbyterian traveler, Christie Wiersma of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who has become Hanna’s best friend and fellow advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people. Hanna now leads the Palestinian Rights Task Force of Nebraskans for Peace, which meets monthly to educate Nebraskans about the Israli-Palestinian conflict.

“I believe Mosaic of Peace explores the borders between memory and hope, love and justice, power and reconciliation,” said the Rev. Lawrence Bartel, pastor of Oxford Presbyterian Church in Oxford, Ohio. After one year as a participant and two years as a co-leader of the trip, he said learning about Israel and Palestine historically, culturally and religiously is a unique experience of both ancient and contemporary events unfolding all around us.

“It defies political categories and allows participants to come to the conference with an open heart and open mind, moving throughout the land and conversations with a diverse array of people,” Bartel said.

The co-director of the 2020 Mosaic of Peace Conference, Susan Orr, aboard a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Effective July 15, Orr will begin work as presbytery leader for the Presbytery of Geneva, in addition to her work as Stated Clerk/Presbyter for Healthier Congregations for the Genesee Valley in Rochester, N.Y. She served as Mosaic of Peace Conference co-director in 2018 and 2016, and was a participant in 2014. (Photo provided)

Doug Derry, who began a one-year term as moderator of the Presbytery of West Jersey on July 1, and his wife, Martha, have both served as elders of First Presbyterian Church in Moorestown, N.J. They participated in the Mosaic of Peace trip in 2014 and developed friendships that continue today.

“It was a truly comprehensive study of the occupation from multiple perspectives, like a college level seminar and field trip,” Doug said. “We met with Jewish and Christian religious leaders, Palestinian activists, human rights organizations, Israelis and even former Israeli Defense Force soldiers, while also visiting historic sites. Among the most memorable events was visiting refugee camps in Bethlehem and the Jericho area, playing with the kids, and observing firsthand the conditions under which refugees of the 1948 and 1967 war and their families must live even 50 to 70 years later.”

Derry added, “I was inspired to travel to Palestine three times since then, and have made connections with several groups and people actively engaged in advocacy about the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967, connections which probably would not have been made had it not been for Mosaic for Peace.”

This year, two optional extensions are available from March 27–31. One is to Petra/Jordan; the other is to the Tent of Nations. Visit the conference webpage for more information.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) provides people with a unique opportunity to see, hear and witness to the reality of life in Israel-Palestine and then not only discern for themselves the things that would make for peace, but also understand why the PC(USA) has taken the stance it has on many of the issues that address human rights, and that call us, as faithful witnesses to the Living Christ, to be actively engaged in helping to make the lives of all of God’s children abundant, full and free.

For more information on Mosaic of Peace 2020 set for March 15–28, visit  or contact the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program at 800-728-7228, ext. 5805 or 502-569-5805. You may apply online through Oct. 15, 2019, or after that date should space allow. Notification and commitment packets will be sent shortly after your application has been processed. First-time visitors to Israel-Palestine, previous conference participants and seasoned travelers to the region are welcome. You must be at least 18 years old to participate. The Mosaic of Peace Conference is supported by gifts to the Peace and Global Witness Offering.

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