Brad Jersak, a pastor and writer from Abbotsford, British Columbia, recently attended the Christ at the Checkpoint conference sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College, on assignment for Plain Truth Ministries. Following is a report filed immediately after the conference.
This report comes as my rich and intense week in Bethlehem winds down. I’m writing while the bombardment of charged experiences, emotional interviews, and eyewitness stimuli churns raw and semi-processed in my heart. Greetings in Jesus’ name less than one mile from where our Saviour was born in this not-so-quiet, yet precious town.
The Lord’s simple instruction for me was just these words: “surrendered lenses.” We all see the world through our own cultural and religious lenses. These often blur our vision of reality, so I pray for Spirit-washed lenses to sharpen my focus and cleanse pre-conceived assumptions about the situation here. I have tried to listen attentively and non-judgmentally to the people’s hearts and to find Jesus amidst a cacophony of conflicting narratives.
Narratives are the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our world. Our stories necessarily revolve around us – our beliefs and our emotions. To cope, we often compose self-contained tales out of our deep fear or hatred of other actors in our drama. Our stories may justify or minimize our agendas. Yet even in our broken narratives, Jesus enters the mess of our unstable stables. Christ at the Checkpoint has shown me God’s presence even here on the tumultuous ground we call the Holy Land.
I will now share some snapshots of what I’ve seen and heard this week. They represent the spectrum of contrary narratives this conference facilitated and the beautiful consensus that formed as we gathered only one block from the ugliness of the wall of separation.
Contrary Jewish Narratives
First, I heard different Jewish-Israeli narratives. We met and heard the personal narrative of a ‘Settlement Jew’ named Arvi. He referred to the ‘Defense Wall’ as a necessary evil, protection from violent Islamists who once regularly bombed Israeli markets. He made it clear that ideological settlers use violence because “Christianity is based on love, but Judaism is based on the law.”
But we also heard a representative from ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions), arguing that the wall really functions to grab fertile farmland, lock down communities, and divide Palestinians from their families, workplaces, and markets.
I also met a writer from a Jewish media outlet hostile to this conference. He nevertheless wept when we visited a Palestinian family farm (titled since 1916), surrounded by Jewish settlements, the occupants driven into rocky caves through physical pressure and legal injunctions banning construction.
Last night I became friends with a former Israeli soldier. He shared his frustration with taking part in injustices of the occupation (his word) of Hebron. Out of his guilt and trauma, he founded Breaking the Silence, an opportunity for Israeli soldiers to confess their complicity in oppressive acts that inevitably happen when “children are ordered to control a civilian population by force.”
A Messianic Jew spoke today – a grandson of the holocaust – who believes in the Jewish Messiah, in the Jewish state, and very much in Christ’s Road to Reconciliation. He promotes the Messianic Jews’ role in peacemaking. He openly disagreed with the ‘anti-Zionists,’ but insisted that marginalized Palestinian Christians must be encouraged to share their painful story.
Contrary Palestinian Narratives
I began my week at a Catholic Palestinian service, followed by an enormous feast with local Orthodox Christians. They live in unity with the evangelicals and Muslims of their village, mourning and celebrating together as a community.
But I also witnessed contradictory Palestinian narratives. It began with a surprise visit from Prime Minister Salam Fayad of the Palestinian Authority. I was astonished when he welcomed us “to the birthplace of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.” Then the mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batareth, welcomed us in “the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – born in Bethlehem, died on the Cross, rose on the third day. Welcome to all who really believe in the message of peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
But then I befriended a Palestinian advocate for Palestinian women and fair trade. She explained divisions among Palestinians – between political parties, and between Gaza and the West Bank. She described the Palestinian Authority as illegitimate, corrupt, and ineffective, implying these rulers are puppets of the Israeli government.
From both the Jewish and Palestinian side, I heard vehement critiques condemning the viability of a two-state solution, of a one-state solution, or of the current ‘managed hostility.’ Some believe the only hope for peace is a total system collapse when something so far unimagined might emerge.
Contrary Christian Responses
The breadth of Christian theology was also here. Palestinian Christians were present as Bethlehem Bible College hosted the conference. Their leaders gave many stirring messages on the tension of living in daily affliction while resolving to love one’s enemies.
Western Christians taught a theology of Messianic fulfillment, not to be confused with ‘replacement theology’ (where God replaces the children of Israel with the Christian church). They preached Christ as the fulfillment of the Jewish promises, through whom all of God’s people come into one flock.
But contrary to those who declared the conference anti-Semitic, Christian Zionism was also articulated from the pulpit with clarity and charity. Advocates for this view ignored those who warned them away, and I witnessed many warm encounters, shattering old walls of misunderstanding.
With all these contrary voices, I was delighted to witness God’s Spirit weave diverse opinions together around a common consensus on how we must live. As we worshipped and listened and broke bread, we came to harmony with specific resolve on these points:
First, it is God’s will that we should love one another as Christ loved us. We must obey Christ’s commandments to love our brothers and sisters, our neighbours and our enemies.
Second, Christ would have us hear one another, especially acknowledging the real suffering of Palestinians and Jews through this conflict, while recognizing that their situations are different and not symmetrical.
And finally, every single speaker issued a call for nonviolence in the spirit of the Sermon on the Mount, overcoming evil and resisting injustice only through the Jesus way of radical forgiveness.
Copyright Plain Truth Ministries. Reposted with permission.