People Building Bridges

“We refuse to be enemies.”

 

These words greeted us as we approached the Tent of Nations, a farm on a hill near Bethlehem, in Palestinian West Bank territory. The words are inscribed on a stone at the entrance to the property owned by the Nassars, a Palestinian Christian family, for over 100 years. Generations of Nassars have grown up on this land adorned with olive, apricot, and fig orchards as well as vineyards extending across rolling hills.

When the BelPres Israel/Palestine Peacemaking Team visited the Tent of Nations last February, we met around a conference table inside a cave in the hillside where Daher Nassar spoke to us about the farm’s history and ministry and taught us just enough Arabic to join him in singing a song of praise to God. The family then served us a delicious traditional Palestinian meal.

Daher told us about the family’s 26-year struggle to retain ownership of their farm. In 1991, the Israeli government threatened the Nassars with confiscation of their land. He said they were successful in opposing the move in court because his grandfather had registered the property in 1916 with the Ottoman government, which was in power then. They have retained documented ownership of the property spanning the Ottoman rule, the British Mandate, the Jordanian administration, and the current governing arrangement.

At this point, it seems the odds are stacked against them. In 2001, the Israeli government closed the road that leads to their property, and six years ago they gave them “demolition orders,” which means they cannot build anything on their property and they cannot have access to water or electricity.

According to Daoud, once when the Nassars told settlers who were trying to take their land that they had documents showing their ownership since 1916, the settlers responded by saying, “You have papers from here, but we have papers from God.” Over the years the Nassars have endured many types of intimidation, including damage to their property by settlers with heavy equipment and destruction of hundreds of olive and apricot trees.

The Nassars believe this action is designed to provoke them to respond with violence or give up and leave the country, leaving the land open to be taken over by Israeli settlers. Instead, they have responded based on Matthew 5:14 and 16. “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden…In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The Nassar family says they believe in justice and refuse to be victims, but they also refuse to hate. Their goal is to respond not as expected, but in what they call “the Jesus way,” which is “to overcome evil with good, hatred with love, and darkness with light.” They admit that it is much easier to say this than to live it.

I grew up on a farm and understand the challenges of operating a farm even when you have access to electricity, running water, and waste removal. I am fascinated at how the Nassar family has used this extremely difficult situation for good by creatively solving the problems that arise. They have made their farm self-sustaining by harnessing solar power to generate electricity, collecting rainwater to use for running the farm, composting and reusing much of the waste the farm generates, and by recycling wastewater.

Tent of Nations also provides education to children of the villages and refugee camps in the area. They hold summer camps where children learn about the farm, participate in arts and drama classes, play soccer, and take part in discussions about non-violence as a solution to the problems they face every day.

The Tent of Nations has become a model for how to respond to threats and violence with love. It is a center where people from many nations and religions gather to learn, share, and build bridges of understanding and hope. The Nassars invite Israelis to come see their land and hear their story. By simply working the land and inviting guests of all faiths and nationalities to participate, they have made their farm a symbol of peace and hope. Despite the difficult circumstances, the Nassar family continues to live and act based on their conviction: “We Refuse to Be Enemies.”

Christ In the Middle East

By Rich Leatherberry, Mission Pastor

Reports from the Middle East fill websites, newspapers and television news stations with bad news about terrorist groups and uprisings. Our own government rightly strategizes and builds coalitions to bring peace to the region and protect national interests. But true peace is not established through military dominance or economic sanctions. True peace is found in a person and His name is Jesus. Forgiveness and Reconciliation are only possible through a relationship with Him. This is the message of the Christian church today in places like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine. These Christians trace their ancestry back to the first church born at Pentecost. Sadly, many are forced to flee their homes, neighborhoods and work places in order to find refuge in safer places. But some Christians are staying. They refuse to be enemies with those who persecute them. They choose to love rather than hate. They have faith that their Christian witness will point to the only one who can bring true peace. As hard as it is for us to imagine here, they believe that staying rather than leaving, enduring persecution and suffering, is what Jesus is asking them to do. It is the cross they are being called to carry.

On June 18, Muslims around the world will begin 30 days of fasting during a season called Ramadan. 23% of the World’s population is Muslim with 20% of those living in North Africa and the Middle East. This season creates a great opportunity for Christians in the West to join with Christians in the Middle East in solidarity and mission. Through prayer, we engage in an act of love for Muslim people, understanding their concerns, learning about their customs and praying they will discover Jesus as the true object of their devotion.

I invite you to pick up a copy of 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World in the lobby or at the Welcome desk. This guide will help you learn about Islam, what God is doing in the Muslim world and how you can pray for them. You can also find the guide and more information at www.30daysprayer.com. Our hope and our peace are in a person. Prayer is our most effective way of bringing change to the Middle East and supporting our Christian brothers and Sisters who are still living there.