From January 6 to January 25, I joined my colleague Anabel Proffitt in leading a group of 21 students from our institution through the West Bank and Israel. I’ve recently returned, my camera full of pictures and my head full of realities to process and responses to formulate. In the next few weeks, I’ll be reporting on my evolving experience of the trip.
This was not a Holy Land tour. Although we visited many sacred sites, our trip was formulated to meet the goals of the seminary’s crosscultural requirement, described this way in our Student Handbook:
International Cross-cultural seminars aim to enable participants to discover and shape their identities as persons, as Christians, and as world citizens in relation to a culture significantly different from their own, enabling them to discern the uniqueness of Christian churches in another culture.
In these seminars, students and faculty undertake not only 3 weeks of international travel but also 6 preparation sessions and 6 follow-up sessions. At its conclusion, students write a reflection paper and participate in a presentation to the seminary community. Previous trips have included India, Turkey, Lebanon, Central America, Ghana, Egypt, and South Africa.
The goals of the crosscultural requirement shaped our itinerary in various ways. Because our focus was realities of global Christianity, we endeavored to see the situation through the eyes of Palestinian Christians–to experience as much of their daily lives as we could and to hear from as many individuals and churches as we could. That is why we organized our trip through the Palestinian group ATG (Alternative Tourism Group) and stayed as often as possible in hotels run by Palestinians. While most tourists spend less than one hour in Bethlehem, we made the city our home base: we stayed in a Bethlehem hotel for 11 nights and daily passed through the checkpoint that controls access to the city. ATG also arranged for home stays in nearby Beit Sahour: for 3 nights, we split into pairs and lived with families, eating and sharing stories.
Our focus on Palestinian realities meant that we went places and met with people who would have remained invisible on a standard Holy Land tour: separation walls, warrior fences, refugee camps, universities, an orphanage, Nablus, Ramallah, and Palestinian villages under demolition orders.
That is not to say, however, that we ignored the voices and experiences of Israelis. An Israeli guide led us through Yad vaShem as a painful reminder of the atrocities of the Holocaust. We met with the Israeli peace organizations Zochrot and ICAHD. And we did sit and talk with a settler. We heard a lot of data but also a lot of personal stories of oppression and hope.
In coming posts, I’ll be talking about these experiences and showing pictures. I hope that the process will help me formulate my own response to what I learned and to provide fodder for reflection for others.