Journey to the Holy Land

Last year, I traveled to Israel/Palestine with BelPres members, Overlake Christian Church members and a Muslim couple. Our primary purpose was to learn about multiple perspectives on the current conflict there.  Our good fortune was to have Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon (Churches for Middle East Peace, Washington D.C.) as our sponsor and guide.  She arranged for us to meet with people from Israel and Palestine to hear what life is like and to learn how things became so very complicated ‘first-hand.’

Our two guides, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Muslim from the West Bank, were wonderfully qualified to provide rare, multidimensional views of two ongoing, diverse perspectives.  They were with us throughout the trip explaining their respective histories.  Together, Israel and Palestine are about the size of New Jersey, so we covered a lot in 11 days.  There are two stories to share.

The first involves two fathers who lost daughters in the conflict and whose stories are heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. One is Jewish whose teenage daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber and the other is Palestinian whose young daughter was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier.  The pain these two men have experienced is unimaginable. The temptation to react violently must have been overwhelming.  However, neither chose to respond with violence.  Instead, they chose peace.

They met after their respective tragedies and became very good friends.  Now, telling their stories together, they’re advocating for reconciliation.  The two men, like many we met, are weary of war and in sharing their heartbreak, their strength and determination, they are making a difference.

The Palestinian father said he believes people hate each other because they fear each other and they fear each other because they don’t know each other. For example, he didn’t know about the Holocaust until he was an adult.

The Israeli father said, after his daughter was killed, he asked what had happened to Palestinians to make them so angry they would destroy their own lives and the lives of children. As he uncovered answers to this, his heart was softened to the history and pain of Palestinians. The Israeli man closed by saying that occupation is not a Jewish value and standing against it is not anti-Semitic. Both men agreed the best place for Americans to begin understanding is to become informed.

My second story involves a man who served in the Israeli Army. During a quiet time in our travels, I asked him what he thought about U.S. presidential administrations’ actions related to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  He responded with regret and sadness that it doesn’t matter who the U.S. President is; none of them has had the courage to stand up to the Israeli government.

My heart breaks for the horrors Jewish people have suffered, especially the Holocaust.  I have been to Dachau, Germany (a Nazi death camp) where many Jewish people were murdered.  I‘ve been to The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and to the Holocaust museum near Jerusalem – Yad Vashem.  While both memorials show the stark detail of unspeakable crimes committed against the Jews, anti-Semitism still exists in much of the world today.  I believe Israel has the right to have a State and to live in peace within the pre-1967 borders.  So, I am pro-Israel.

I am also pro-Palestinian.  On our trip, we spent a great deal of time on the Palestinian side of the “separation wall.”  The contrast between the Israeli side and the West Bank side is startling: limited access for Palestinians for basics such as water, health care, jobs and roads, is all controlled by Israel.  From what I saw, both sides continue to suffer and Palestinians seem to bear a greater share of suffering.  My heart also breaks for them.  I believe for Israel to prosper, Palestine must also prosper.

Our group continues to meet and act with a pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-Jesus narrative at the heart of our work.  We pray for peace and we act for peace.  We invite you to join us.

The “Tia” the Lord wants me to be

Buenos Noches from Cochabamba, Bolivia! For those who don’t know me, my name is Lizzy Blake. Last year, I worked in Cochabamba as a volunteer with Niños Con Valor (Children with Value). NCV is a wonderful organization with 40 kids in 3 homes. We have Pedacito de Cielo which is full of boys 13 and under. We also have our girls’ home, Corazón del Pastor. Once our kids turn 18 years old, they move into our 3rd home, the Transition home or Sendero de Esperanza. NCV is a home for those who don’t have a family, suffered abuse and/or have been abandoned. NCV turns something so negative into a wonderful future for each of our kids.

Working with 40 kids, I get to experience everything. One of my favorite moments is the excitement of the kids when they see me as though it’s been ages instead of just a day. As someone volunteering full time, I see the frustration when they don’t get what they want or when homework doesn’t make sense no matter how many different ways it’s explained. I also see arguing over the smallest things – like having to share toys or crayons. Sometimes the boys just can’t stand peace.  They act like siblings who slowly push the buttons of their brothers until fists are flying! However, there are reminders that it is worth it – like when a kid is so sweet or leaves a note in your bag saying they love you.

God has really opened my eyes here and removed the blinders which keep me focused on a narrow path. We get used to seeing the same things in our life that we sometimes can’t see anything else. Kids here have seen me as the “easy and fun Tia (Spanish for Aunt),” which is both good and hard.  I adore them and love spending time with them.  However, sometimes I can’t see what problems are really happening and limit my ability to help.  With the help of those around me, I have been trying to find a middle zone where I can be both the “Tia the kids want me to be” and ”Tia the staff members want me to be.” I have had blinders on; I see the beauty of Bolivia while not seeing all the pain too.  There are societal problems causing challenging environments for children to grow up in.

One day, I was out celebrating a birthday with some other Tias when one told us that she also works part-time with kids who use drugs. The drug problem is different here than it is in the States: there is not much help for those suffering from addictions. In the States, there are recovery centers, shelters, places like Eastside Academy and others that strive to bring hope and healing. In Cochabamba, we lack that certain hope. The place where Tia Lilian works is mostly a shelter for teens with very few resources. I met a few of the guys (ages 16-17) at the shelter later that night. They were hanging out on the side of the street listening to music and sniffing glue (the easiest access to getting high).  As soon as one of the guys greeted me with a hug, I felt this need to do something. God’s ways are mysterious, and he has placed this need in my heart.  I have been thinking, praying and looking more for his directions. I don’t know where God will take my time serving NCV, but I do know my heart is big enough to sustain heartbreak and add more love to those around me. Jesus longs to bring hope to all his children.

I feel so blessed living out my dreams with people I’ve come to love and learn so much from. All that I am and will be is in the Lord, and I can’t wait to see how my story with Niños Con Valor continues!

 

Lizzy has finished her one year mission with Niños Con Valor.  She feels called to return to Bolivia, so she will be leaving in March for two year mission.  If you would like to support and pray for Lizzie Blake, please contact her at dblake1812@earthlink.net

Bangladesh Hospital of Faith

Last year, a huge wave of violence spread through eastern Myanmar bordering the hill tracks of southern Bangladesh.  About 3 hours south of the major Bengali port city Chittagong Deep in the remote region of Cox’s Bazar district, is the village of Malumghat and Memorial Christian Hospital (MCH).  As survivors trickle into the hospital, Laura and I receive Facebook posts from our resident medical friends serving with Samaritan’s Purse and the Association of Baptists (AOB) at the hospital.  Burn, gunshot and traumatic amputation prayer requests come in for the victims, many of whom have also witnessed the killing of their family and village community.   The trickle becomes a stream until the hospital’s resources are overwhelmed.

I have served with my wife Laura on BelPres’ DivorceCare leadership team over the past four years.  We are grateful for the many opportunities at BelPres as we’ve found that we receive exceedingly abundantly above all we could ever ask or think.  We want to share our experience and solicit prayers for the nationals and expats serving there now.

For the past few years, Laura and I have prayed to use our vacation time for medical missions.  I do diagnostic x-rays and Laura is a Doula (birth coach).  Through Samaritan’s Purse, we found the answer through a call for short-term x-ray training at MCH-Bangladesh as they move from film to digital-based imaging.

Samaritan’s Purse staff were terrific and connected us with medical volunteers that recently visited MCH-Bangladesh.   We got our vaccinations and flights to the capital city of Dhaka, Bangladesh by way of Tokyo and then Bangkok.    After an overnight stay in an AOB guesthouse, we caught our final two-hour flight south to Cox’s Bazar.

Bangladesh is the size of Iowa with 164 million people, 50% of which are 15 years old and younger.   Our first experience was the amazing press of people everywhere!  We were met by our wonderful jovial hospital staff driver who loaded us and our bags in the hospital van for a two-hour trip to MCH.   The two-lane road was filled:  pedestrians, bikes, rickshaws, tuk-tuks, cars, motorcycles, vans and several full-size tour buses.  And no traffic lights … at all.  What seemed like insane traffic mayhem eventually revealed itself as a complex, cooperative system of amazing efficiency.   It is wise to hire a driver in Bangladesh.

As a doula, Laura helps moms and their Songee through the birthing process.  On her first full day (entering the woman’s ward small labor room), she encountered a very young weeping woman who immediately clung to her in terror.  This is her story.

The recent popularity of smartphones, with nearly country-wide connectivity, has caused havoc in the traditional separation of the genders in this huge agrarian, predominantly Muslim country.   In her village, a nineteen-year-old boy took an interest in her a year ago, and after texting, they met alone and were caught.  Her father is one of many thousands of men working as laborers in the Middle East, so it fell upon the village elders to handle the crisis.  The decision was quickly made that the young man must marry the girl or go to jail.  While child marriage is illegal, it occurs with sad frequency as a result of social crises like this.  Moreover, if the young man decided to make a run for it, the custom in Bangladesh is to simply go to the family and incarcerate any other male they find from that family.  They were shortly married.  Now, about a year later, she is a tiny 14-year-old girl at full term and terrified.  Simply too small for the size of her baby, the C-section quite possibly saved the young woman and her baby’s lives. 

The largest Christian congregation meets a quarter of a mile away from the hospital.  As a new country, Bangladesh gained her independence in 1971 after a brutal conflict involving Pakistani military killing of Bengali Hindus.  During this terrifying time, a core of Christian doctors, nurses, and nationals elected to trust the Lord by serving at the 8-year old hospital while the war raged through.  The government and people of Bangladesh did not forget, and MCH continues to serve today.

Please commit to praying daily for the long-term doctors, nurses and support personnel serving in MCH alongside their national partners.  Please pray for healing and peace in the present refugee crisis as well as provisions of funds, equipment, and personnel to complete the new hospital building targeted to open sometime next year.

Finally, thank you so much for your prayers and support that allowed us to serve.  There is no fear in love as perfect love casts out all fear.  Our prayer is that you find new courage in love serving among our brothers and sisters at BelPres.