Emmanuel- God with us, and THEM

One of Laura’s favorite quotes can be paraphrased like this, when we draw a line between us and them in the sand, God stands with them.  So much of the ministry of Jesus was centered around those who did not fit within the bounds of mainstream society. He cared for women, lepers, tax collectors, foreigners (including Roman occupiers), and many others. It is unusual to be in a place where physical walls, razor wire, checkpoints, heavily armed soldiers, segregated roads, ethnicity specific identification cards, etc. cause this “othering” to be so visible. 

On Wednesday, our group visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum and memorial. Yad Vashem is a place which always stirs my emotions. I feel great anger, shame, and melancholy that this disaster was allowed to occur. It is also distressing to me the extent to which many people of faith were complicit in the Holocaust (and are complicit in the modern occupation and dehumanization of Palestine and the Palestinians). Disturbing are the many parallels which may be drawn from the content of the museum to current events, both in the Holy Land and in some prevalent political ideologies in the United States. 

I am disheartened by humanity’s unwavering ability to divide itself into groups of us and groups of them. I pray that someday, we will be able to recognize, as Jesus did, that they- Palestinians, Israelis, Jews, Muslims, refugees, immigrants, etc. are no different from “us”.


Holy Land Hospitality

My Peace Not Walls experience has been incredible. I have enjoyed learning from and listening to the stories and perspectives  of all the people that I have met on this trip. My group was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to share a meal with the Palestinian family that hosted my group leader during her of service with YAGM. This family welcomed our group as if we were their immediate family members . Throughout the meal we shared stories, food, and even more laughs as our friendship grew. This is one example of the hospitality that I have seen so far in the Holy Land. However, I believe that this level of care for others is common place for many people here.  As we continue in our trip, I cannot wait to continue learning more about Palestine and Israel from the people that live here.

The Tourist Side

Hi all!
This is Ellie and I’m going to be talking about what we did on Monday of our trip. After a day full of lots of food and good conversation, we took a different path and went on a big tourist adventure! We started out the morning by renting a car and Laura fearlessly drove us through the crazy streets of Jerusalem. We got lost one or two (or three) times but we eventually found our way out of the city in the right direction. Our first stop was the ancient fortress of Masala. It was here that King Harod had a fortress and, in 70 or so A.D, the Jewish people that were inhabiting the plateau were overthrown by the Romans. It was very interesting to be there, taking in more of the Jewish narrative and exploring old ruins. After a very hot couple hours, we got back in the car and drove to Ein Gedi, a nature reserve. We weren’t sure what to expect, but after hiking about a mile we came across the most beautiful waterfalls. The pure beauty of nature has always been something I have loved and the waterfalls in the middle of the Judean Desert were no exception. After our hike we found a beach to take a dip in the Dead Sea. It was very salty and very very hot! We floated for a while and then headed back to Jerusalem to rest.

Today was more of a tourist day compared to the others we have had. However, I never stopped looking at today through both Israeli and Palestinian eyes. This country is absolutely beautiful and I can travel 9000 miles to come and see it. However, many Palestinians can’t travel the 15 kilometers (and technically the Dead Sea is in the West Bank) to see their own backyard. I hope that someday every person that lives in this country will get to see waterfalls and float in the Dead Sea.

We are excited to keep sharing our adventures and leaning with you!

Shalom and Ma’assalama.

Northeastern Minnesota Synod – Yalla! 

Hello from Jerusalem! 
My name is Laura Anderson & I am serving as one of the leaders of the Northeastern Minnesota Synod Young Adult Holy Land Trip. We are a group of five young adults who have traveled to accompany the people of the Holy Land, advocate for peace and justice for all people here, and build awareness of the situation in Palestine and Israel.  

Having served as a Young Adult in Global mission in Beit Jala, there is a sense of homecoming for me – the sounds, smells, tastes and relationships are familiar and comfortable. In this role as a leader, there is a great opportunity & responsibility to share this place with the participants who have said “yes” to joining us on this pilgrimage of justice, peace, and understanding; even after a few short days, it has been fun to see how folks have gotten more comfortable and at ease with the time change, the landscape, the new flavors, and key words. 

The first days have been full and rich! Our participants arrived on Thursday morning, and after dropping their things at the Guesthouse, we set off on a Dual Narrative tour of the Old City with Megdi Tours. We met our tour guides, Jalal and Elad, near Jaffa Gate & proceeded to hear their stories & backgrounds, walk the stones of the Old City, and begin to orient ourselves to this place. We were so impressed with our guides and are grateful for their work & willingness to teach. 

Friday we met with Mark Brown of the Lutheran World Federation & had a tour of the campus here on the Mount of Olives. We heard about the important presence of the LWF, were able to witness a glimpse of the work of the staff at Augusta Victoria Hospital, and were able to climb the tower on the campus here & got a tremendous view of the city. Our afternoon was spent processing, reviewing, and discussing the political overview of the situation, as well as how what we had seen & heard at that point fit into the narratives. We also walked down the Mount of Olives along the route of the Palm Sunday processional and visited the Garden of Gethsemane & the Church of All Nations. 

Saturday was spent in Bethlehem. We departed early to travel into the city from Jerusalem. Much of our day was spent at Aida Refugee Camp, with Noor WEG, the women’s empowerment group. We took a cooking class & learned how to make “sheesh barak,” a sort of ravioli/dumpling in a yogurt sauce, “mjeddrah,” a dish made up of lentils, rice, and noodles & served with fried onions, assorted salads and desserts. It was all “Zaki,” or delicious, but what struck our group the most was the opportunity to cook side by side with these women, to hear about their lives in Aida Camp, and to support the work that they do with women, children, and people living with disabilities. From there, we walked along the Wall; for me, no matter how many times I see it, I am never prepared for how large, how imposing, how inhumane it is. Standing 25 feet high, the shadow it casts falls over the shops and homes that stand alongside it. When you consider that the word “Noor” in Arabic means “light,” you can see that the work of Noor WEG casts light into the shadows.  

There is so much more to share – the food we ate, the hospitality we received, and all we have learned. It can’t all possibly fit into a single post. What I will share now is a sense of gratitude for this group: the conversation is rich, the desire to learn more is contagious, and the sheer determination to be a positive presence & work for peace in this land of walls inspires me. We are still only at the beginning though & we invite you to walk with us as we journey. Yalla – lets go! 


So what do we do now? Connect and Act

(While you read, I invite you to listen to this musical prayer for peace which combines Arabic and Hebrew.

All of the 2015 Peace Not Walls/Young Adult Tripshave returned from their trips.

So, what do we do now?

Two related ideas come to mind for me.

1. Those of us who went on a trip tell you about what we saw and heard on our trips. We also CONNECT what we learned on our trips to historically oppressed communities and liberation and justice movements in the United States. Three that come to mind immediately for me and for many of us (connections the Chicago trip already discussed on its trip, at least) are #blacklivesmatter, immigration reform and pursuit of economic and social justice for the American Indian community.

2. ACT. Continue to educate ourselves about current events regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, such as housing demolitions and solider-citizen interactions. Contact our government representatives and religious leaders by phone, letters, email, or social media to voice our opinions and concerns about how their votes and actions affect events in Israel and Palestine. And pray amidst these actions that peace with justice would come to all in the land so many call holy.

So. Let’s try those two out.

1. How do we CONNECT?
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On our way back from cooking class in Aida refugee camp, as we were walking along the wall, we ran into a man who had bottles of spray paint available for people walking by to use. As I stood before the wall and watched our co-leaders, UB and Janelle, paint #BlackLivesMatter and the names of American cities whose residents all also suffer the effects of segregation and discrimination, it was one of the first times where I realized the striking similarities between occupied Palestine and systemic oppression in the United States. Throughout our trip and since returning home, including in conversations at the presentation that the group gave about our trip at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, we have continued to lift up these connections:

– #blacklivesmatter and the connection to state violence
The following image of Fadi in Palestine and his message is from the following mic.com article by Zak Cheney-Rice, which opens “The connections between black people protesting state violence in the United States and Palestinians fighting occupation in Gaza and the West Bank have been well-documented.” The article goes on to feature screenshots of tweets from Palestinians advising Ferguson residents on how to deal with tear gas.


On the night of a Chicago protest of the death of Freddie Gray in police custody this past spring, students from my seminary and others who marched from downtown to the southside of Chicago watched police officers form a line on the western border of the Hyde Park neighborhood (at 55th and Cottage Grove streets) and block protester entrance to the wealthy neighborhood where my school and the University of Chicago is located. It struck me as an example of a human wall marking an invisible wall in Chicago between lots of money and not as much money, between a wealth of diversity, abundance, resources and safety and a lack of wealth in these areas. A human, physical wall that echoed the “American Apartheid” in housing that still exists today. (For a thoroughly educational read on this topic, click on the link text to a book by that title by Nancy Denton and Douglas Massey.)

The wall in Palestine is also a wall between two groups as defined by the categories above. All of these walls must crumble for the kingdom of God to be realized, for us to truly know each other.

-Another wall we discussed was the border between the United States and Mexico, which is as difficult to cross for Mexican and Central American immigrants as the wall between Israel and occupied Palestine is to cross for many Palestinians. (The following picture is from the wikipedia article on US-Mexico relations and is a picture of the border near El Paso, TX, USA.)


The stigma that surrounds immigrants in the United States is scarily similar to the stigma that surrounds Palestinians in Israel and Palestine. Mass business raids and deportations in the United States come to mind. Both groups are often racially profiled and treated differently, often more harshly and scrutinously, by government authorities than others would be because of their physical appearance.

-One book we read before our trip was Blood Brothers by Elias Chacour. This book, along with our visits to refugee camps in the West Bank, makes me think of the connection between American Indian communities in the United States and Palestine. As American Indians had communities decimated by Europeans 250-300 years ago and are on reservation lands today, so are many Palestinians confined to refugee camps, the land that they first lived on taken from them by Israeli forces. and their children grow up today in these camps.
We owe it to ourselves, to our children, to all who died because of persecution, to tell the truth about the past and to work for peace with justice and an equitable future for all.

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What other connections do you see between occupied Palestine and the United States, or other parts of the world? Let me know in the comments!

PS. While it felt like a good release (at least for me) to paint on the wall, we later learned that the gentleman was selling prints of the art on the wall for double the price at the Banksy Shop just up the street. This made me sad and angry. Moral of the story – support the Banksy shop. The owner has a great collection, is very nice, and charges very reasonable prices.


2. What are some ways we can ACT?

a. Do you have a Facebook, Twitter or Tumblr account? One way you can act is to click this link – https://www.thunderclap.it/projects/29588-pray-for-peace-in-holy-land – and support the ELCJHL Thunderclap. The Thunderclap will automatically post the following text (on the social media account of your choice):
“On the 24th of every month, we pray for peace. We ask our brothers and sisters around the world to join us.http://thndr.it/1LZchNz
The link contained in the Thunderclap text will take you to a list of worship resources to pray for peace in the Holy Land in the form of liturgy, prayers and hymns.

The Thunderclap, and the other online actions I’ll go on to describe, may seem like a small step. But one small step at a time is a step farther ahead then we were before we took the step. Online activism does raise visibility of causes and raises hope for those whom the cause benefits.

b. Contacting our government representatives – housing demolitions and the Gaza blockade
There has been an extremely discouraging rise in Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes in the past few weeks. The village of Susiya, south of Hebron, is one village that has been targeted: http://www.turkishweekly.net/2015/08/27/news/palestine-what-if-your-school-is-demolished-tomorrow/
There are other areas of the West Bank where housing demolitions are occurring at alarmingly rapid rates as well: https://www.lutheranworld.org/news/surge-israeli-demolitions-palestinian-homes-condemned-31-international-organizations

There is also a call sponsored by the Lutheran World Federation and 34 other international aid organizations to end the blockade on Gaza: http://lwfjerusalem.org/2015/08/lwf-joins-34-organizations-to-call-for-the-end-to-the-blockade-on-gaza/
Click on the article to read about the call and sign the avaaz petition. You can also do that by clicking here: https://secure.avaaz.org/en/gaza_blockade_aida/?1440413696

We can continue to inform our representatives in Congress about our views on the situation in Israel and Palestine, and ask them if they are going to the region and who is sponsoring their trip.

d. BDS – Boycott-Divest-Sanction – and investment in Palestinian businesses
Illinois was the first state in the US to pass legislation regarding the BDS movement. In May 2015, a unanimous vote by the House and Senate and a signature by Governor Rauner made it illegal for IL’s pension fund to invest in companies that boycott Israel. This is a scary situation because it suggests a reinforcement of Israel’s actions.

There are many companies that one can boycott or ask to make a statement on its activity in Israel. Sabra and Tribe Hummus and SodaStream are two big ones that come to mind, but there are others. I’ll let y’all do your own research on that.

Another way to support those in occupied Palestine is to support Palestinian businesses online for Christmas and birthday gifts, or gifts for yourself! Here are links to a few of our/my favorites from the trip:
– gift shop for the Diyar Consortium in Bethlehem: http://www.annadwa.org/ecommerce/
– Santa Maria souvenirs in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem
– Hebron Glass and Ceramics – find their glass products at Ten Thousand Villages in store and online: http://www.tenthousandvillages.com/hebron-glass
– http://lwfjerusalem.org/projects/olive-oil/

e. Educate! We can share stories about our trip with our family members, friends, and communities (schools, churches, workplaces, etc). The more we talk about positive stories out of Israel and Palestine, the less negative imagery about the region will dominate everyone’s head space.


I feel like I could write forever on this. But for now, I’ll end with a reflection on our visit to Yad Vashem “The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority” museum and monument, which makes me think about both connecting and acting.

I was reading the exhibits about the period in the early 1940s when European Jews were beginning to be moved into “ghettos”, smaller neighborhoods in the European cities where they lived. And it wasn’t until then, on one of the last days of the trip, that it hit me. Israel is doing the exact same thing to Palestine that was done to Israel, to Jews in Europe. It’s perfect family systems. Israel, the young nation, is scared of being treated again like it was in the mid-twentieth century…so Israel is occupying Palestine, illegally, in the same way.

At the end of the museum, you walk out and see this view. This Anna has done much more work in this area then mine and I was lucky to stumble upon her work and words. http://www.annainthemiddleeast.com/
“Museum visitors step out from the traumatic experience to a panoramic view of Jerusalem. The symbolic message that settlement of Jerusalem and Israel is the climactic and victorious end to a history of persecution of Jews is disturbing to those who know what that means to the non-Jewish indigenous population of the land.” The land that this view overlooks was once Palestinian land.

Let’s break the system. Let’s talk about how we can talk together about growing together, co-existing together, positively. I don’t mean to be naive here – I confess to not being up-to-date on where we are with the two-state solution, for instance. But let’s continue to name and denounce oppression when we see it and call for peace and non-violence. In this way we make a choice to better and save lives.

Thanks to all who have read our reflections on our trips. Looking forward to the future.

Shalom, ssalaam, peace.

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PS. This is a document which I have yet to read but will very soon, which is a call from Palestinian Christian leaders for us to recognize the situation of the people in Palestine and take action. It was written in 2009 and there was a five year commemoration of it’s writing last year. “Kairos” means, basically, God’s time. I know this document will be a motivating force for me as I continue to think about how I can support peace with justice in Israel and Palestine.

Ramallah and Hope

Ramallah is, without a doubt, one of the craziest, busiest cities I have ever been to. And I’ve hung out in Times Square a bunch of times. There are people EVERYWHERE. In the streets, in the sidewalks, in the stores. At least on that Friday when we visited, that was the case. It was an hour and a half taxi ride through some VERY up and down hills from Bethlehem.

The traffic was also incredibly backed up – we noticed that more on the way out. There is a checkpoint that you have to go through to get out of Ramallah. Janelle pointed out that the 45 minutes or so we spent in traffic was indicative of the time that many residents of Ramallah have to spend on a regular basis to get in and out of their city.

Our main destination in Ramallah was Hope Lutheran Church and conversation/Bible Study with Pastor Imad. He is incredibly brilliant and his words caused lightning sparks of connection and knowledge to flash in my head, and so I will just let some of his words that I journaled speak for themselves.  Photos by UB, again.

-“We are not ‘perfect’ but we are called in, with and for society. The minute we close our doors from society is the minute you can call us dead.”
-“We choose” [to exist] “a choice out of faith.” (This made me think about the church’s narrative of decline in the US. We can choose to think abundantly instead!!!)
-It would be “more dangerous if we live the occupation in our hearts.”
-“We need the church to be with the people wherever the people is.” That’s why Hope’s community center, where we were gathered in the above picture, is open every day from 4 – 11. People can come and watch soccer there, get snacks, hang out.
-“Love is not always emotion. Love can be anger.”
-“It is a community journey to live God’s image.
-“I say hello to people with guns. They are human beings.”
-“Whatever actions religious leaders take or words they say affects people in the Holy Land.”
-“There is no theology without context.”
-talking about vine and branches: “Sometimes we need to be cut so we can grow. Ministry and mission…you cut, you give power, you grow more, and you spread…If you cut a good branch, it will grow and give fruit. This is what a church is. A vine.”

Pastor Imad is also a brilliant drum player. We were blown away.
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Bulletproof Glass – Hebron

Hi, Anna here from the Metro Chicago trip, back for three more posts. (Told ya I wasn’t finished!) Here’s the first.

When we went to Hebron, I was just a little nervous, as I knew it was one of the cities in the West Bank that is under lots and lots of tension. I wasn’t really nervous for our safety, though. Just more nervous about what we might see.

We parked the van and walked with our tour guide from Alternative Tour Group (ATG) down to the market street on the way to the Ibrahimi Mosque and Temple. We were going to see the tombs of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca – people who are significant for Jewish, Christian and Muslim religions.

On the way there, we heard the story about how an extremely far-right American Jewish settler had shot and killed 29 worshippers and wounded 125. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cave_of_the_Patriarchs_massacre) We went into the mosque – all of the women had to wear these grey poncho things to cover up. Photos by Ulysses Burley, who did not have to wear a grey poncho thing.


I walked over to the tomb of Abraham, and saw it, and the bulletproof glass that separates it from the temple.

Then we walked over to the temple side. Palestinians are not permitted access to this side anymore, and Israelis are not permitted access to the mosque.

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I think what strikes me about the bulletproof glass is that it is such an incredibly vivid marker of separation. Like the wall, of course. The word alone makes me sad in this context. The glass is up so that nobody shoots at each other. Because people want to kill each other because of who they are.

And at Abraham’s tomb. Abraham who, the stories say, God told would be the patriarch of many great generations, a chosen people.

Your chosen people really are not so great sometimes, God. I’m praying for us. We need you.

Final Day

We made our way to the old city in Jerusalem this morning for worship at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. Pastor Carrie preached on the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish. Can we expect a miracle in Palestine? It seems like the only things multiplying here are settlements and checkpoints. We made our way to the Western Wall of the Jewish Temple. There are places for men and women to pray separately. (The women’s section is smaller.) Security was tight because it is a Jewish holiday mourning the loss of the first and second temples. After falafel for lunch we got in line to see the Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa mosque. It is still not clear to us what we witnessed when entering the grounds. There were lots of riot police and a group of Muslims chanting “Allahu Aqbar.” There also appeared to be Jews attempting to get onto the grounds which is usually not permitted. We were hustled past the chaotic scene to the exit. We returned to the guesthouse on the mount of olives where we have been staying to hear an Israeli widow and a Palestinian mother each describe losing a loved one in this conflict. It is easy to see an enemy as less than human. Palestinians and Jews need to realize that they are neighbors and need each other to build a secure society for Israelis and a free society for Palestinians. After a final group meal and closing reflections we are all going our separate ways. What a wonderfully complex experience our time in Israel and Palestine has been!


The Right to Live Abundantly

Today was an intense and emotional day to say the least.

We started off by going to a thoughtful service in the Redeemer Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was a slice of home in a foreign and complicated place. Pastor Carrie led the sermon by connecting to her wide range of audience members with questions about loving thy neighbors and what is truely important. One of our own group members, Tim, accompaned the congregation with the piano throughout the entire service. Overall, it was a beautiful morning.

After church, we walked down to the Western Wall and got to stick some of our prayers into the cracks of the rock. It was facinating to see how others pray at holy sites such as this one. The wall was much smaller than I had imagined; there was a large area for the men to pray and the women’s area was about a fouth of the size of the men’s.

After the Western Wall, we stopped at this wonderful resturant in the Old City and had some of the best falafel anyone in the group had ever tasted! All the food on this trip has been delicious, but this was by far my favorite.

This is the part where the day got really intense. After lunch we walked around the Old City and went to a rooftop to lookout over all the building, which was really lovely, but then we made our way to the Dome of the Rock. We walked through multiple security points and found ourselves waiting in line to enter into the Temple Mount. Apparently this area is only open from 1:30 until 2:30 so we were running out of time since the line was so long. We finally reach the front of the line and they tell us we have two minutes left to look around. As we entered onto the Temple Mount and turned out heads, there they were. Hundreds of Israeli soldiers armed with machine guns, masks, shields, gas masks….the list goes on. We had to walk through these soldiers and exit immediately. It was one of the most terrifying moments I have had, not even on this trip, but in life in general. I am still having a hard time processing everything and understanding exactly what happened, but it made me really sad to think that one of the most beautiful and monumental holy sites is being surrounded by violence. That thought also makes me sad because that is basically what is happening to the Israel/Palistiane area.

After the trauma at the Dome of the Rock, we had an awesome opportunity to speak with an Israeli and Palistianian woman about their experiences with the conflict. They both had experienced loss and pain, but also recognized that they were both human and that violence is never the answer.

It was a perfect way to end the trip. Lots of emotions and confusion, but that was kind of what this trip was all about- learning and recognizing that we are all human, and we all deserve the right to live abundantly.


A God of Resurrection, Healing, and Reconciliation

Relaxing day. Our plans were to tour the Augusta Victoria Hospital, the rest of the Lutheran World Federation grounds, eat lunch at the guest house and have a conversation about how to share our experience as we transition back into our “normal” lives. The late afternoon was set aside for free time and then order some pizza for dinner. This schedule, if you’ve been following along with our trip, was considerably less busy than our previous days and appeared to be less emotionally overwhelming.

It held true to these expectations, except for my time in the Garden of Gethsemane. For my free time, i joined a small group that was going to check out the holy sites just down the road at the bottom of the Mount of Olives. When we got to the garden, I was overwhelmed with the peacefulness of it. Most of the holy sites we had visited were filled with tour groups, huge chapels, and an overwhelming sense of a need to go with haste. This site was different, there was no pushing to get to the front, no loud speeches on the history and importance of the location, no entrance fee, just an atomosphere of sacredness.

This feeling continued as I made my way into the chapel, or The Basilica of Jesus’ Agony. As I entered my eyes had difficulty adjusting to the dark but then the incredible beauty hit. The floors, walls, and ceilings were done in gorgeous mosaic, the windows were each a simple yet elegant stained glass cross, and the altar space was indescribable. The point that grabbed my attention and centered my toughts was the image of Jesus clinging to a rock as He prayed in agony to God. I’m not Jesus , so i can’t explain what he experienced in that place. But I was filled with comfort and reassurance as I sat and meditated on the fact that Jesus also experienced agony. Jesus sought out a place to be in agony, to sit and process/feel the emotions that He was experiencing. This fact comforted me as I sat with my heart broken open from this experience, in sadness and maybe even agony for the people i had met, for the stories I had heard. From the Palestinians, the Israelis, the tourists, the diplomats, the Muslims, the Jews, to the Christians, all of their stories layed heavy on my heart. In that moment I felt comforted in the knowledge that God is heartbroken over this also.

I can’t recall where I heard it, but i have learned that the definition of sin is anything that breaks apart the unity of humanity. I am unable to fully grasp the brokeness in these lands, but I hold firm to the belief that it is not something that pleases God. But rather peace, community, grace, compassion, and unity are characteristics of a healthy person, a strong humanity, and a pleased God. My prayer will continue to be that these values soon replace conflict and become defining features of the Holy Land and even the Middle East. It seems utterly and almost stupidly optimistic to be hopeful. But I believe in a God of resurrection, healing, and reconciliation and I know in my heart that conflict and hate are not a part of that and must be eradicated from our lives, here and back home. As we continue to work and pray for peace, I must remind myself that dwelling in agony is a necessary part of the process, that a heart that is broken is difficult to close and become hard, and that God is good, loving, and full of grace and peace.