Each night as I reflect on my day I recite a routine prayer reminding myself of the fruits of the Spirit with it typically ending with “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.” This is a prayer I mean from the bottom of my heart and have found it to be a beneficial routine. However, I could not possibly comprehend the effects that the last part could potentially have.
Thanks to the Great Plains Annual Conference Mercy and Justice Team, I was given the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land this past February. As I traveled to Israel I went with a great deal of excitement and uncertainty of what to expect. The group I traveled with was a mix of other General Conference delegates from all around the states and a few who were there along to simply walk the land where biblical characters once did. While there, we toured many holy sites such as Jacob’s and Mary’s well, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the stations of the cross, the Galilee, the Church of the Nativity and many traditional cites of the miracles performed by Jesus. Seeing the scriptures come to life is unlike anything I had ever imagined as a child reading my children’s picture Bible and even now as a college student studying theology.
I learned a wealth of knowledge from our tour guide as he spewed biblical knowledge out and had an answer to every question our group asked. Experiencing and witnessing the sites of the biblical narratives brought the Bible to life for me and influences the way I read scripture. Each part of this trip is something I will always carry with me and has been integral part of my spiritual journey.
The aspect of the trip that I learned the most about and touched me the most is the current day conflicts and living situations of those who live in the Holy Land. I must admit, my every-now-and-then news watching and article reading did not do me justice when trying to prepare for my trip. Ignorant does not begin to describe how I felt as I painfully left the darkness of the lies that had always been fed to me. When we were not touring sites, we visited with the native people and learned more about the divestment legislation that would be discussed at General Conference.
As I walked the streets in the West Bank my heart increasingly broke with each step. Poverty, oppression, broken-heartedness and fear lined the faces of those living under the illegal act of occupation. Each day Palestinians walk the streets of their occupied territory with the constant fear of death, houses being bulldozed, and war. Occupation is a reality for these natives, despite the international law condemning it as illegal. The occupation itself sounds ideal to Zionist around the world and Jews longing to be in the Promised Land, however the unintended effects of this has become the problem.
When a territory is newly occupied, residents are forced out of their homes and shoved onto a new land, or in extreme cases kicked of the country and into Jordan, and then live a life controlled by the government. When visiting with these residents, they talked about the lack of transportation, water supply, public services (such as roads and trash service), and an increase in separation between races and ethnicity. As the population continues to grow for these Palestinians, the amount of land and housing unfortunately does not. The land they once freely lived on now is extremely over populated and underdeveloped. My heart truly began to break for what breaks God’s heart. Each day, I began to see these hurting people how their creator sees them; more importantly, my heart was breaking and growing simultaneously.
Despite the labels pressed upon them, Palestinians spoke of nothing but hope and peace within their country. They dream of the day their land will be restored to its beauty and happiness. As a visitor, it was obvious to see the way they peacefully resist the oppression through art, demonstrations, music, dramas and non-profit activists. Just as I was filled with hurt witnessing the reality of God’s people, I was instantly filled with the joy they shared with us when they welcomed us into their homes for meals, gave tours of the landscapes and shared their beautiful stories.
At General Conference the Palestinian and Israeli conflict was discussed and votes were cast. It was proposed to divest from three specific companies where their products have been traced back to supporting the occupation. Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola Solutions are all a part of this legislation as the United Methodist Church currently invests in their companies for pastors’ pensions. Caterpillar products are used within the Holy Land when demolishing houses of Palestinians who are legally prohibited from obtaining building permits because they lack Jewish decent. Both Hewlett Packard and Motorola Solutions products are used at check points and crossings that help create the fear within the Palestinians as they travel within the West Bank. Each day, hundreds of men begin to form a mob outside the only walking check point beginning at 4 a.m. and wait for several hours for approval to cross. Throughout this process, products of both electronic companies are used to scan baggage, check identification and verify fingerprints. The Board of Pensions and Health Benefits stood against this divestment as they believe they will be losing influence at the table if they altogether withdraw from these investments. Each delegate had to weigh the decision of staying at the table or taking a stance against oppression.
Overall, my time spent in Israel and the West Bank was full of information, influenced my spiritual life and touched my heart deeply. My reading of scripture and prayer life are both influenced by my experiences and relationships made there. My prayer for the Lord to break my heart for what breaks His is a now ever-painful and raw prayer as I think back to God’s people in pain. To this day, I still pray for this and now pray for wisdom as to what to do now. Once again, I would like to thank the Great Plains Mercy and Justice team for this incredible opportunity and I hope in the future others have the chance to travel to the Holy Land.
Shayla Jordan is a college student and served as a voting delegate during General Conference.