Pictured on the right is an Ankole cow, known as "inka" in Ikinyarwanda, the language of Rwanda. Inka remain an important element of Rwandan culture. Traditional dancing mimics the beauty of the cows' enormous horns and the graceful sway of the cows' gait. Milk remains a staple of the Rwandan diet in both village and city alike. For me, these cows represent the beauty and strength of a land and a people who have known division and death but who now seek unity and life.
Today, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Beit Sahour sent out its second newsletter. I was asked to write an article describing my time with this community over the past year and thought to share it with you all as well here on my blog. If you are interested in seeing the rest of the newsletter, you should be able to find it on the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land's website. If not, email me and I'll forward you a copy.
"In the Holy Land: Teaching, Learning, Struggling, and Growing"
When I learned I would be coming to Jerusalem/West Bank as a member of the Young Adults in Global Mission volunteer program, I was ecstatic. While called to serve as a missionary volunteer here working in Lutheran Schools, I have to admit that after majoring in Religious Studies in university, the thought of arriving in the heart of the Holy Land thrilled my intellectual mind. How easily I could walk through the streets so sacred to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. How amazing it would be to witness these three faiths up close and personal. How many stone churches and ruins I could visit and explore! Yet, I quickly learned that my religious experiences would have very little to do with the holy sites of Jerusalem or even Bethlehem. Rather, the faith I have witnessed and participated in has been with the people I live and serve alongside, not the stones that mark religious history. Within the space of relationships I have found the most holy ground.
I arrived in this land full of expectation—expecting to teach, expecting to learn, expecting to grow, and expecting to struggle. Little did I know how quickly and in what way I would find my expectations fulfilled. I was welcomed into the community of Beit Sahour as soon as I stepped foot into my flat. Beginning my volunteer placement at the Evangelical Lutheran School, I slowly immersed myself into a culture built upon this very sense of community. I soon found myself playing football with an emerging woman’s club team, marching alongside the youth of the Lutheran Scouts as a member of the brass band, and enjoying barbeques and meals with new friends and family. Within a matter of days, my expectations were replaced with actualizations of life in Palestine.
I soon found myself teaching, learning, growing, and struggling—but not as I expected. Yes, I began helping teach at the school, started learning Arabic, struggled finding my way around, and grew in relationship with my community, but as time went on, I experienced so much more. Instead of being independent, I had to teach myself how to rely on others to help guide me through the ins and outs of daily life here. Instead of just learning facts about the culture, I learned to take the time to listen to the pains and fears as well as the hopes and dreams of my colleagues, students, neighbors, and friends. I grew to realize that despite how vibrant Palestinian culture and life still is, my friends here suffer from injustices daily and find little outside support. I struggled to determine how I, myself, could have been so unaware of these struggles in Palestine prior to my staying here.
Where I had previously only known about the antiquities of the Holy Land—amazed by the structures scattered throughout the country marking thousands of years of history with stone facades and churches—until living here I had failed to consider the living stones that build the community of the Holy Land today, the very people I now call my friends. Beyond all expectation, I have witnessed a strength of spirit within this community that despite occupation attempts to live as we are called to live—loving one another.
As I continue my year with the YAGM program, walking alongside my brothers and sisters, I am especially grateful and blessed by the experiences that have opened my eyes to the here and now. The community of Beit Sahour, especially the Lutheran School and church, has greeted me with such genuine compassion. May we all as living stones continue to open our hearts and minds to greet each other with this same compassion. Together may we strive to build a greater community of hospitality, peace, and grace. In the Holy Land, as well as the rest of the world, we find in such a community the very thing we so often declare war over—holy ground. Lord, help let us let these living stones live.