Spirit shows up when we take risksBy Stephen Kriss
About a dozen of us were gathered around fresh-squeezed orange juice and a couple of tables just inside the Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. We had been traveling in Israel and the Occupied Territories as part of a partnership between Franconia Mennonite Conference and Biblical Seminary of Hatfield, Pa.
It was the third time in a few years that I’d been back, engaging with initiatives supported by Franconia Conference congregations — Deep Run East, Philadelphia Praise and Franconia.
We were gathering after a long day to meet with two seminary students, both American Jews living in Jerusalem. I had met one of them at a coffee shop in Philadelphia. The second was his housemate.
Our group had just returned from several days of staying with Palestinian Christians in occupied Bethlehem. We’d heard their stories and seen the dividing wall. It had been overwhelming and gut-wrenching.
It was tough to turn toward a conversation with Jewish students. I had strategically set it up at a small refreshment stand owned by a Muslim who had spent a lot of time in California. He agreed to stay open late this night for the conversation.
The two students told of their call as spiritual leaders, their struggle as Jews in Israel in the midst of injustices. They told of slipping scared into Palestine, trying to hide their Jewishness to see the other side of the story. They admitted being a little afraid to come and visit with us in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
The conversation was both beautiful and tough. The seminary students — both Christian and Jewish — shared openly from their own perspectives. They asked questions. They shared perplexities. There was both wincing and hoping.
But the most remarkable thing that happened that night was as our time was concluding and the shopkeeper chimed in to our conversation.
He said, “Listening to you guys gives me hope.”
He continued: “We have a long journey together to figure this out. We have much to overcome. It will take many years. But maybe because we gathered tonight it will only take 189 years rather than 200 to move toward peace.”
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