A few days ago, I was reading in a public space that I shared with several others. Some of them were sleeping, others were reading, and a few were people-watching. As I read, I nonchalantly took in my surroundings and recognized that we were all satisfied with the gift of a few tranquil moments in the middle of an otherwise full day.
And then…our tranquility was interrupted by a little boy with a toy gun. At first, he shot what I could only imagine to be the villains that his eyes alone could see. With boyish confidence he pointed his plastic assault rifle beyond those that I sat among to those he sought to rid us from. With vocalized “Pops!” and “Splats!”, the little boy ducked and rolled, somersaulted and jumped…his “mission” seemed successful.
We all smiled at each other, as we remembered our own imaginary adventures of ridding the world of evil.
He blew imaginary smoke from his gun, looked around, and engaged in a different mission. This one was far less pretend and far more personal. This second mission interrupted our shared tranquility far more than the first.
In this mission, the villains were no longer imaginary enemies, they were now those men and women who shared the public space with me. With the same confidence, rather than pointing his assault rifle beyond us, he now pointed it directly at us.
“Pop!” “Splat!” called out the little boy as he sought to eliminate each and every one of us with a pretend bullet through the heart or head.
Smiles turned to troubled glances as we scanned the crowd for the parents of the little boy with a violent imagination.
As I watched this second mission unfold, I was transported back to the streets of Bethany…
Milad and Manar are a young Palestinian Christian couple with a beautiful little boy named Nashan. Milad has the looks of a Middle Eastern movie star complete with slicked back jet-black hair and a well manicured beard. Manar is a beautiful, passionate red-head with an intensity that leaves little doubt as to who is in charge. These two grew up under Israeli occupation in the city of Bethany, a small village located five miles from Bethlehem and just a few more from Jerusalem.
Historically, Bethany is a place of resurrection: its where Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.
A few years ago, Milad and Manar watched an unsettling story unfold in the streets of Bethany. Rather than the children of their village playing soccer or instruments, they watched them play war. With slingshots imagined and real and with sticks for guns, the neighborhood children would band together to declare war on their enemies. Most of the time, their enemies were imginary, but on other occasions, their enemies became each other.
Having grown up in the same streets under the same occupied scenario, Milad and Manar understood what was going on. Because they lived on the wrong side of a wall and because their village was surrounded by check-points guarded by armed Israeli soldiers, the imaginations of the children of Bethany were becoming calcified. The circumstances of life in the West Bank were producing little human beings who lacked redemptive outlets for their frustration. No national or international funding for the arts or for sport meant that when the kids of Bethany played, all they could imagine was their freedom. Freedom, they believed, that would come through a slingshot before it would come through a soccer ball.
Milad and Manar’s response was remarkable:
To do so, they began inviting the children of Bethany into their living room and, through the vehicles of art, literature, music, theater, sport, and, ultimately, through relationship, they began to watch the story unfold differently in their streets. Resurrection…new life…was emerging in Bethany again.
In August, Global Immersion’s learning community entered into this story. In the posture of learners, we watched as Milad, Manar, and their team carefully guided and trained over one hundred children in the course of one afternoon. Stunned, we watched and listened to hope growing.
That evening, we gathered at Milad and Manar’s little home. The women had snacks and drinks inside while the men circled up in their backyard. Assembled in that circle were one Palestinian Christian (Milad), eight Muslim men (Milad’s team), and nine USAmerican Christians (the men from Global Immersion’s learning community). After pouring all of the Christians a generous pour of delicious whiskey and all of the Muslims an equally generous pour of Coke, Milad asked an essential question of the USAmericans:
With humility and honesty, nine USAmerican men engaged in dialogue with nine Palestinian men about what we thought as well as what we know now.
As we went around the circle, I listened as USAmerican men affirmed Palestinian men, communicated what we had learned from them, highlighted our similarities, asked for forgiveness, and expressed our desire for friendship to deepen.
After I answered Milad’s question, I reciprocated the same question back to him and our Muslim brothers:
With equal humility and honesty, nine Palestinian men engaged in dialogue with nine USAmerican men about what they thought as well as what they know now.
At the conclusion of our dialogue, conversation went informal, more drinks were poured, and hugs were shared with promises to see each other in the morning. As we returned to our lodging for the night, the nine of us passed Lazarus’ old, empty tomb.
In the very place where resurrection had once occurred, I recognized that Jesus is still in the work of resurrection.