Friday, January 02, 2009

to be a teenage Christian in Gaza

I was attempting a huge posting on this whole Gaza thing, telling some stories that give context to my conflicted emotions (raised in the church and its complex relationship with Israel, joining a substantially Jewish fraternity in college and working directly with Arab Christians for a number of years, among other things). However, I kept deleting things, realizing it was not working out as a "meta" piece. So, I am just going to tell you one reason my heart breaks for Gaza.

In 1999 my wife and I were invited to lead the young adults and youth at a regional event for Arab Christians in Boston. It is a highlight of my ministry experience, where many of my prejudices and assumptions were ripped from me to be replaced by wonder and life-long friendships. Upon our move to Boston in 2001, I was placed on some sort of circuit and spoke at numerous Arab Christian events during the next few years. They liked to consider me the token white guy.

One of the most powerful experiences was with a future Podiatrist on the train to NYC. As he sat with Kristi and I, this young man gave details into his life as a young Christian in Lebanon watching his house burn after a bombing in the early 80s. There was much diversity within the group with the largest contingents from Egypt and Palestine.

At an event in the Summer of 2002, a young Christian woman of 16 from Gaza visiting her family for the summer took an interest in challenging many of my theological points. I spent a lot of time with her during the week explaining my beliefs, which were similar to hers "officially." She struggled with many issues, including her relationship to Islam (most of her friends were Muslim and she was very much in the minority), Christianity's relationship to Israel (who she saw as an oppressor), theodicy and God's Will. Some of it was typical teenage believer stuff compounded by bombings, threats of violence and general horror of daily life.

She told me of her experiences in Gaza, which the media barely captures and the constant threat of violence. In fact, as she was returning to Gaza for the year, she called for some counsel. To this day, it is the hardest spiritual counseling moment of my life. I have dealt with abuse, incest,the accidental killing of a student, suicidal tendencies and weird sexual stuff as a minister as I counseled people. I usually do okay by saying very little and listening a lot (not my norm). However, she wanted advice and answers.

I tried my best to give the answers we have all given. Nothing worked for a young lady faced with following Christ in one of the most dangerous places on earth, where her only friends belonged to a religion that feels hers is inferior, where Air Raids stop prayer and where her parents would not leave, even though they had the means and she desparetly wanted to come to America. All of the John Piper "find joy in your sufferings" and "God's will" would be spitten back at a preacher. And, she had a point. How could I, as a white American pastor that had lived in relative comfort my ntire life have anything to say? Luckily she was gracious and I had a few "not so useless and stupid" things to say.

I mention this because I cannot help think of her, her family and the few Christians stuck in the middle of this conflict, not of their making. I think of her running underground when the bombs drop and all of the American preachers concerned with Israel more than the plight of Palestinian Christians. I think of my friends and their families suffering in these conflicts and praying for peace, as I do.

That is what I am thinking of when I see the mdeia coverage which tells less than half the story. 


Michael said...

Well said. I don't have any similar relationships but I appreciate you sharing them. Definitely helps give context and an additional lens to view the struggles there. I cringe when I think about some points of view that I was taught as a child as well as one I heard a few weeks ago from a Messianic Jew. I think it's time christians adopt the penalty rules of soccer - each of us should be aloud to hold up a yellow card when another professing believer says something that they would obviously not say to the face of a christian from a culture they do not understand. The red card should be left in the hand of God. For instance, I should get a yellow card for making this suggestion.

RDF said...


Thanks for sharing this experience. The Non-Israeli side of the story is tough to find in the media. Its as if the oppressed has become the opressor in the Gaza.