I'm on board my flight to Tel Aviv to join a learning tour with Mennonite Central Committee West Coast. While I have been to the region before (Turkey, Morocco, and Iraq,) I have never been to Israel.
To be honest, I have never been all that motivated to visit the "Holy Land." I love to travel, I love history, and the Bible is something of an interest of mine. But my impression of tours to Israel was of large groups of North American middle class Christians getting on and off tour busses taking pictures of places Jesus "walked."
It seemed to me that tours like that were taken with an agenda-that the tour guides knew exactly what their customers wanted and gave it to them in abundance. Many of the visitors from the States want to have their evangelical end times theology reinforced. To see the place where Jesus will once again return to earth to smite the wicked and save the faithful. For them, this destination is only a stage upon which some greater apocalyptic drama will be played out, not thinking about how the local inhabitants might feel about such a narrative.
I am much more happy with the purpose of this particular trip. Instead of concentrating on how this land will impact American Christians, we are going to listen to the realties for people right there, right now living under the rule of an occupying army. We will listen to Israelis who have significant and legitimate concerns about their security and right to exist. We will listen to people who have been separated from family members and employment by a wall that represents the bifurcation of two separate peoples and cultures trying to live in the same land.
My hope is that through listening to these and other stories of people who are affected in a variety of ways, we all might come to understand the complexities of the struggle for peace in Israel/Palestine. As my new friend Jon Huckins says, "Peace making is on the cutting edge of discipleship."
I am excited to learn more about this from those who are on the ground, in areas of conflict, working as peacemakers.