It was nearly a year ago when I traveled to the Holy Land for the first time along with several other area pastors. Ever since Jesus called me to church ministry, I have wanted to visit the places where He walked, taught, healed people, was crucified, and rose again. I was tired of looking at pictures and hearing second hand accounts; I wanted to see it for myself.
But our purpose was more than sightseeing and reading the biblical accounts of what happened in those places. We also went to meet the people who lived there and hear their testimonies so we could better understand the conflict between Israel and Palestine today. One person we met was Charlie Saada who works for World Vision. Born in Palestine, he is married, has three children, and earned his Ph.D. from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.
But Charlie is also part of a group of people who have been heavily persecuted and are quickly decreasing in number. He is a Christian. As our tour guide, he traveled with us throughout the region until we came to any one of the 99 checkpoints located throughout the West Bank. That’s when we had to leave Charlie behind.
Talking about Israel and Palestine can quickly become an emotional and controversial subject. Israelis bear the scars of the Holocaust and centuries of anti-Semitism. Palestinians have been displaced from their land and long for their voices to be heard. Most of us know some version of one or both of these narratives. What we don’t know is the way this conflict affects our Christian brothers and sisters in the West Bank. Charlie’s ancestry dates back to the early church.
The West (Europe and the U.S), he told us, did not bring Jesus to the West Bank. It was the Palestinian Christian Church who spread the Gospel and brought Jesus. Charlie’s story showed us what it is like to be a Palestinian Christian living in the Holy Land. So why stay?
Palestinians are free to leave the West bank at any time and resettle somewhere else in the world. However, they will never be able to receive the proper documentation to re-enter the country if they want to come back and live in the West Bank. They can only obtain a VISA to visit. Charlie said, “We (Palestinian Christians) carry a heavy cross. We must stay and witness to the love, forgiveness, and grace of Jesus Christ.”
“We (Palestinian Christians) carry a heavy cross. We must stay and witness to the love, forgiveness, and grace of Jesus Christ.”
His statement floored me; the call to suffer is non-existent in the U.S. To stay when you are free to leave; to endure hardship and poverty despite your education that would allow you to live and flourish anywhere else. Suffering to me feels like having to endure heavy traffic while trying to get to church on time. When I suffer, it isn’t something I feel called to by God. Instead, I take it as a sign that God doesn’t care. The situation that Palestinian Christians find themselves in shows us that God allows suffering. In fact, He may even call us to suffer.