A New Kind of Holy

Excerpt from Julia Newton’s blog – Jules Around the World (Malone University, OH)


On Monday we got back from a twelve day trip to Israel/Palestine.  To say it was overwhelming would be a definite understatement; we spent every hour of every whirlwind-day listening to speakers, going on tours, meeting amazing people, and spending time with our homestay families.  It was very educational, in almost every way possible, and at the end of the trip I found myself reeling from what I had seen and heard.  And somehow, amidst the craziness of everything, we also got the perk of seeing some “Jesus sites.”

We started out at the Western Wall, but we saw many others as well: the Church of the Nativity, the Shepherd’s Fields, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (where Jesus was crucified and buried), the Garden Tomb (also where Jesus was crucified and buried, apparently), the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Galilee, and others as well.

Western Wall

Garden Tomb

Sea of Galilee

How wonderful, right?  How magical to walk where Jesus walked! How holy the sacred streets must have felt!  What an honor to have bent down to enter the tomb where his body was raised 2,000 years ago!
Please don’t take me as a heretic, but that wasn’t my reaction at all. In fact, instead of feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit wash over me as I waited with giddy anticipation for Heaven on earth, while tears filled my wide eyes – instead, I felt numb.

I had expected tears.  In a way I wanted tears – because that’s what’s supposed to happen in the Holy Land, right?  Your life is supposed to be changed because of the religious significance of the place.  But something else was filling up my heart, and it would not empty.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s a lot going on in Jerusalem right now.  My group was completely safe the whole time, but I heard stories and saw evidence of horrible things happening to both sides.  In a place so torn by conflict and hatred, I entered churches with new feelings inside my chest: where is God in all of this hate?  God, where are you…?

Part of the answer came when we visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  The church is amazing.  It is rich with history and ornately decorated by three different church associations: Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Catholic. Unfortunately most of the church was under renovation, but what I saw was beautiful.

Above are the steps leading down to the cave where they claim Jesus was born.  At about this point, I started getting uncomfortable.  I’m not personally used to all of this grandeur in a church setting, and it felt almost fake and tourist-y. A few moments after I took this picture, I started praying.  Jesus, where are you in this?  Is this place holy?  Should we treat it as sacred?  

And immediately I heard a gentle whisper say: I placed my holiness in people.  So treat people as holy.

Snap. Suddenly I saw the entire land in a completely new way.  This is why God came, isn’t it?  The gospel’s entire message is wrapped up in this idea of Immanuel: God with us.  He came for people.  He lived for people.  He bled and died for individuals and communities and nations.  And then, after he was raised from the dead, he went back to Heaven so that the Holy Spirit could come to be with us forever: teaching us, comforting us, making us holy.

I can’t speak for everyone, obviously, but I know that for myself I am just lazy.  It is easier hopping from metaphorical Jesus site to Jesus site, from conference to church service, from missions trip to service project, from tithing to Bible studies without really diving into the lives of people.  And yet Jesus said this: And the king will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'”  I habitually ignore the beggar on the street, the single mother with obnoxious children in grocery stores, the creeper who lets his eyes linger too long; I separate my pretty Christian life from the reality pushing at my cushioned borders. Are we looking for Jesus and forgetting that he is all around us?

I’m not minimizing the importance of the Jesus sites in the region. I think they can be great reminders of what God did when he came down to Bethlehem 2,000 years ago.  But I can’t take pictures of ancient churches and forget why he came to the land.  If we treated each other as holy, what would this world look like?  If we took up the mission that God gave us to love each other, would it be different?  Would the situation here in the Middle East be different?  Would there be peace if, instead of coming to take pictures of ancient buildings, we started looking at the people surrounding us?

I went to the Garden Tomb. I went inside the empty grave.  I saw where a skull marked the side of the crucifixion hill.  I had communion with my classmates in the garden where Mary mistook our savior for a gardener.  Was it beautiful? Yes.  Was it special? Absolutely.  But I will end with what our tour guide told us; it doesn’t matter where the tomb is; it matters that the tomb was empty.  Jesus came to love and save us all.  Can we follow in his footsteps?  Can we honor others more than spiritual photo-opportunities?
I believe we can, if we are willing to try
.

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Food and Fun in the Middle East

An Excerpt From Hope Zigterman’s Blog: Jordan Journal — Ecountering Culture


I had no idea this would be turning into a food blog when I started the semester, but it turns out that one of the big adventures of the week once again revolves around cooking! On Tuesday, our landlord showed us how to make Maqlube, which means upside down in Arabic. Maqlube is the Palestinian national dish, and it receives its name from the way it is served: after being cooked in a pot, the dish is turned upside down onto a platter so that it comes out like a sand castle. The dish is made up of rice, meat (we made beef and chicken), fried cauliflower and eggplant, and carrots and onions. The different ingredients are layered on top of each other and then set to cook upon the stove for twenty minutes to a half hour. Once ready, it is flipped onto a platter to be served. The Maqlube that we made that night is probably the best thing that I’ve eaten on the trip so far! (Apparently we had Maqlube our first night here, but I don’t remember it at this point.)

The Maqlube about to be flipped
The Muqlube turned “upside down”
The finished product, ready to be eaten!

Earlier that day another cultural experience was provided at my service project. To thank the ladies for teaching us how to cook the previous week, Elizabeth and I taught them how to make bracelets. The bracelets were typical friendship bracelets, but with much thicker cording. Trying to explain how to make one of these bracelets can be difficult enough in English; however, giving instructions to ten women all at once who speak little to no English was a whole different matter, especially since we know hardly any Arabic. It was still a lot of fun, and a great time to practice colors and numbers in Arabic. The women enjoyed themselves, and we loved the cultural interaction!

Towards the end of the week, a few of us were getting antsy about spending so much time back at the apartment. Instead of heading straight home after Arabic, we decided to go exploring. We found a delicious shwarma place for dinner, but the real find was this giant bakery! It had both sweet and savory items. Each of us got a snack to go and decided we would have to come back to try out another of the many options. The food adventures didn’t stop there, though! At night a few of us ventured out to the new downtown area being built in Amman. There we enjoyed ice cream that was frozen directly in front of us using liquid nitrogen.

Liquid nitrogen being used to freeze the ice cream

The week finished off with a perfect day of relaxation. On Saturday we spent the day at a resort on the Dead Sea. After living in the desert for five weeks now, nothing is more inviting than the sight of an infinity pool overlooking the Dead Sea. However, before we got to enjoy cool, fresh water, we had to take a dip in the Dead Sea. Now, most people will warn you to not get any of the water from the Dead Sea in your eyes because it will sting like crazy. Our Program Director is not most people. He managed to lead a majority of us in “an experience not to be denied,” in which we dunked our heads under the water. And for those of us who hadn’t had enough, we then proceeded to cover our bodies in Dead Sea mud. A significantly fewer amount of us decided to wash the mud off by diving into the Dead Sea because we couldn’t get enough of that delightfully painful experience where you can’t open your eyes for five minutes because they sting so badly from the salt water. Despite the pain, the day was near-perfect with a buffet lunch and an afternoon of swimmingly lazily in the fresh-water pools. Before heading home, we watched the sun set over the Dead Sea.

Dead Sea fun
Covering ourselves in mud
One of the pools at the resort
Sunset over the Dead Sea

Travelling Mercies: Facing Gender and Race in the Middle East

An Excerpt From Judith Milay’s Blog: Travelling Mercy


My experience in Jordan thus far has been wonderful. I am true to my words when I say Jordanians are indeed hospitable people. They are warm and inviting, constantly “Welcoming” us to their country. They are curious to know about what I am studying, my family and things that we in the West would consider personal, Jordanian are willing to ask and share. With that said. What I am about to share is my own lived experience as a woman of colour in my three weeks in Jordan. Sadly, my experience is very different, simply because I am black.

To those who continue the argument, ‘I see no colour,’ “Race doesn’t really exist for you because it has never been a barrier. Black folks don’t have that choice.” (Adichie) Many of us are uncomfortable to talk about race. White people are afraid to talk about it, because they don’t want to be perceived as racist, and black people are tired of talking about it because well we are just tired. I am realizing that I do need to talk about it. Because sadly, we live in a broken world, we mistreat each other, hurt each other, often times unintentionally, or we are ignorant on the subject because we are far removed from it. This blog is to help people understand that, the reason I work so hard, try to be best, because at the end of the day, my skin tone speaks louder than any Masters, Ph.D.’s I might hold. (Yes I know, I shouldn’t feel this way, however, the reality is there is much work be done).

Just like in the West, although we may deny it, there are social, economic and racial hierarchies that exist. I was a bit naïve coming here in the Middle East to think that race would not be an issue. This is due to the long historical interaction between the Arabs and Africans, especially before and during the Slave Trade. Also, most Middle Eastern countries are in the continent of Africa, such as Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt just to name a few.

Although some Middle Eastern countries were able to escape European colonialism, the idea of Eurocentric still lingers in the thoughts of some of the people I have encountered. Not all Jordanian think this way. It is important I highlight this because I’ve met amazing people who value me and respect me. However, at times, I find that those who are “white” will always be respected more than me.

Several times throughout the semester where we were in large groups interacting with Jordanians, I often got the sense that I was dismissed, overlooked.

I am an introvert, which in many ways has allowed me the opportunity to be observant. I began to notice, how Jordanians treated me, and two other students who are not white, differently. Often times we felt ignored. Being in Jordan, we are already living in a culture where as a woman; there are certain restrictions set in place. Being a women of colour makes the adaptation to this culture even more challenging. I see myself fighting against something that I cannot win against. I will never be white, nor do I want to be. I am happy in my gender, my skin tone as it reflects the creative genius of my Creator who took the time to craft me together in His secret place. And yet, I cannot escape this skin, I find when people meet Judy, all they see is black, and depending on their knowledge of black people (which is not much), that is how I am judged. That is how they determine if I deserve to be respected or ignored. The optimist in me tries to see the bigger picture, learning as much as I can. However, this past weekend, I was hit with racism in a way I was not expecting.

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We had a wonderful opportunity to visit Petra! What a beautiful, historical site. I would encourage everyone to visit Petra. As we were hiking up to the Treasury,(pictured in Indiana Jones, the Last Crusade), I kept hearing words like “Brown Sugar,” “Rastafarian,” and “Blacky” as a means of trying to get my attention to buy something, or take a donkey or camel up to the monastery. I personally lost it when I was called a word which I choose not repeat, due to long historical implications. I was shocked to hear these names be directed towards my other coloured friend and I. We tried our best to ignore many of these the men, however, it seemed that in some ways, they didn’t understand what they were saying except it was a way of them attracting our attention. I personally had enough and would speak up, telling them not use such term as it was hurtful. Once I explained to them what it means to me, many felt terrible and asked forgiveness, for sincerely they did not know. Others simply didn’t think it was a big deal and continued calling these names. (Sadly, they lost my business).IMG_6939

We did in fact meet a different Bedouin man, who we chatted on our way to the monastery, telling us, to ignore his fellow Bedouin friends; most are ignorant about black people. He proceeded to tell us about how his friend who was adopted in his village is black and he has great respect for black people.. After a long conversation learning about him and his family, he showed us the cave where he was born, he offered to let us ride his camel for free! Riding a camel is another adventure in itself, especially when the camels decides that it wants to go for a run. We took the donkey up to the monastery, a hidden gem from the treasury. We had traditional Jordanian tea with some Bedouins, and watched sun set over the Petra Valley. What an experience!

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Last week, Diplomats from U.S. embassy came and shared with us about U.S./Jordan relations. One they pointed out that U.S. government has invested billions of dollar towards education. Jordan has one of the highest literacy rates for a the Middle East, along with one of the highest educated rate of women. I guess my concern is, what are we educating people on? Education is not simply the enlightenment of the mind; rather it is the transformation of the human heart. If we can’t educate people on race, gender, and how to treat one another with dignity and respect, I personally think we’ve missed the mark.

We need to teach each other to see the beauty of all races. A rainbow isn’t a rainbow without all its vivid colours. The human race cannot survive when ignorance of race and gender is overlooked, simply because we have not experienced certain things that others experience. It is frustrating when colour is all people see when you are trying to learn and understand their customs. Unwanted staring, men shamelessly taking pictures of my friend and I, because perhaps they have never seen a black person. Whatever the reason, this should not be. This is the result of racial hierarchy we have crafted through history.

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I am not angry or bitter, rather I am frustrated, these experiences only add to my learning. We have a wonderful support system with our program directors. I feel loved and cared for I am having a wonderful time serving Syrian refugees, learning Arabic, and mastering the art of hailing a taxi. This isn’t taking away from my experience, rather adding to my experience. I am culturally aware of the class system that is not just on monetary value, rather colour as well. I am going to use this as an opportunity to learn as much when the opportunity presents itself; I hope I’ll be able to share my perspective on race with those I encounter. I know God wants me to be here, for such a time like this, there is purpose in my pain.

I simply wanted to share these stories to challenge the way we see the issue of race and gender. I am reminded, “the harvest is plentiful, and workers are few.” My only conviction is how will we respond to this statement? And what role do we play in the human narrative?

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Three weeks in, while some people are getting homesick, I, on the other hand, am dealing with issues of how to navigate the issue of race within the Middle Eastern context. Lived experience speaks volumes to the human heart.

“Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign. But stories can also be used to empower, and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

As I continue to travel. I hope to show traveling mercies to all I encounter because I am not perfect, I have hurt people in past, and will hurt people in future, due to my own ignorance and pain. After all, I too am human. The same way God extends grace and forgiveness to me, I too in return must extend grace and forgiveness to those who wrongfully hurt me intentionally or unintentionally. That is why I am changing the blog to travelling mercy.

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In šāʾAllāh, till next time!

Judith