Editor’s note: This is part of a series featuring two participants of the Mosaic of Peace trip to Israel/Palestine, a Presbyterian Peacemaking conference running April 28-May 10. Read past entries here and here. The following reflects the thoughts and views of the participant and was only slightly edited for clarity. — Bethany Daily

May 1, 2014:

Having a total blast here; it’s very beautiful. We had our first real day today and heard two different liberal rabbis speak about their feelings regarding Zionism and hopes for peace. We also visited holy sites and heard from a representative of the Armenian perspective.

Like most things, the more I learn, the more I realize my own ignorance. I find my American mindset very much a hindrance, my inner voice piping up with protestations about why everything has to be so complicated. My sense of entitlement and security in personal freedoms is astounding me, not for the first time.

I love the people and places I live, but perhaps can never truly understand the concept of homeland as it is treasured here. Even the word is spoken like a prayer. Tour guides have repeatedly told us, “Welcome home,” and I can’t say it resonates the same way. The folk song “This Land is Your Land” keeps ringing in my ears. It may not be mine, but I’m beginning to glimpse the extent to which so many others feel it is. I am filled with gratitude to have been so welcomed. I have a zillion more thoughts so I’ll try to write often while here.

May 2, 2014:

Traveling with 100-plus Presbyterians is truly a unique experience. At times it feels like the epitome of American tourists lumbering on and off buses, our tour guides herding us like cats. It’s also imbued with a really fun and playful togetherness. Our name tags got detained at the airport and so every day we make the extra effort to be friendly, introduce ourselves and learn about one another. I’ve met more amazing pastors than ever before, and that’s saying something as a pastor’s kid!

During Q and As with speakers, group members are seldom afraid to ask challenging and insightful questions. We are brave as a Presbyterian people. When one of us falters (literally — there are a lot of slippery stones worn by centuries of travel — or figuratively — maybe having a less-than-culturally-sensitive moment) we are able to encourage one another and pick each other up, striving to make the next experience more positive. We are a kind and compassionate people as Presbyterians!!

I have to give a special shout out to my amazing small group members. I’m in the young adult group (I’ve now learned that is defined in this case as under 30 years of age) facilitated by Jessica. Our group discussions have been really open, honest and engaging. Each person being so willing to share is really exciting. Bringing our own person experience reflecting on the words of speakers, and sharing the affairs of the day, we’ve discussed topics like separation of church and state versus theocracy; our role as peacemakers, as Christians, as Americans; ecumenism; interfaith dialogue; and globalism. Somehow we've been lucky enough to create a culture of mutual respect and trust to make small groups a really safe, confusing and constructive place to bring our thoughts, processing together and apart. 

May 4, 2014:

Today was our second day in Bethlehem in the West Bank. The graffiti and Arabic pop music mingle with street vendors, pilgrims, the loud calls to prayer. So many amazing sights and sounds. We worshiped this morning at the Christmas Lutheran church with the Rev. Mitri Raheb. Songs and prayers in Arabic, German, English and Latin filled the space and the closeness of holy communion transcended differences of language and cultural identity. I must admit, I was pretty moved and cried a few times, my face getting all red and splotchy. Totally worth it, snotty nose and runny mascara and all.

My brain is swimming with cultural, historical and political facts from our amazingly insightful speakers. I’m just trying to process statements about Palestinian Christian and Muslim experiences. Dr. Raheb said a lot of really amazing stuff:

  • “Hope is a call to action.”
  • “Every theological perspective is contextual.”

I’m taking as many notes as I can to try to capture these moments and wishing I could share them with the people who are important to me. I know I won’t be able to accurately communicate everything but am beginning to grasp the importance of sharing this experience and witness with others upon return. I’m very thankful to be here with Mama — she’s a joy.

May 5, 2014:

Our speakers this morning were phenomenal. We discussed more of the socioeconomic implications of land disputes today, including the controversial BDS (boycott, divestment and sanction) movement. What made it all make sense to someone like me who is less economics-minded was the dynamics of power and control in conflict with human rights and self-determination. Today I felt the most inspired and motivated, rather than confused, as to my role as an American Christian, but most simply as an ethical human being.