Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the privilege of leading a Travelearn study tour throughout Israel and portions of the West Bank. During our time we were able to see, experience and participate in many life changing events. Often, the most change came in areas we would not have expected or from people we would not have expected as well. In particular, mid trip we planned an entire day in Bethlehem. Our itinerary included lectures at Bethlehem Bible College by Palestinian Christians, a tour of a refugee camp, seeing the Church of the Nativity and an adventure in some shepherd’s caves. Before leaving for Bethlehem, our Israeli guide made the statement, “I’m not sure why you’re spending a whole day in Bethlehem!” After leaving our Israeli tour guide behind, passing through the checkpoint at the wall, we were then introduced to our Palestinian tour guide, Raf. Raf, a 28 year old Palestinian Christian took us on the experience I will not soon forget. After having toured a refugee camp, Raf shared with us that many Christians once given access to leave the occupied territories, depart never to return. Raf, on the other hand, having dual citizenship in Canada and the U.S., has chosen to live in the West Bank for the purpose of being a missional representation of peace and the gospel. Separated from his family living in the States and Canada, Raf is not allowed to leave the West Bank. I learned more about sacrifice from Raf in 6 hours, then I had learned in my previous 41 years on earth.
This past week while reading Over Coffee: A Conversation for Gay Partnership and Conservative Faith by Dave Thompson I was struck by the need for faith based communities to create space, which in turns allows the existing faith community as well as those who are different to have a deeper faith formation. So, if creating space is so important for the communities faith formation, why isn’t this simple act practiced more? Below are three main concepts which emerged during my reading this past week.
When we Create Space
Fears must be dealt with… When I use the word “Palestinian”, what comes to mind? For most Westerners, they immediately drift towards PLO, terrorist, etc. However, sometimes our fears keep us from learning valuable lessons from dear Christ followers who because of their title, nationality or even positions, are not given space to be present or heard. It is when our communities lean into their fears, deep and profound formation growth happens, often coming from those least expected.
Assumptions are challenged… We all have assumptions. Some we now about and many that we do not. When we create space, we open the door for assumptions to be challenged. Once challenged, we find that many of our preconceived assumptions are inaccurate, or simply just wrong. Through this sharpening we begin to see more as Christ sees. Feel, more as Christ felt. We begin taking on His heart and mind for others.
We see with new eyes… Standing in a Shepherd Cave, Raf shared a story that his grandfather shared with him as a young boy. He went on to tell us about how shepherds would twist the leg of a sheep, when the sheep won’t stay close to the flock. Once twisted, not broken, the shepherd would place the sheep around its neck an carry the sheep. It is during these times that the sheep learns to be close to the shepherd’s voice. Separated by mere inches, the shepherd and the sheep, form new levels of understanding and connection. After long pause, Raf said, “Choosing to live in the West Bank, for many Christian Palestinians is choosing to be close to the Father’s voice.” When we make ourselves available through creating space, we begin to see with new eyes.
Have you been creating space for those who are different? Remember it’s essential for their faith formation as well as yours.