Entering Conflict to Learn the Practices of Peace

I deeply respect my friend and guest blogger, Jon Huckins.  Here he describes what motivated him to pursue the path of peacemaking and to invite others into that journey.
by Jon Huckins
I remember our conversation like it was yesterday. Standing on top of a hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem overlooking Herod's Palace, my new friend Milad looked into my eyes and began to weep.  He said, "I'm a Christian.  I believe Jesus is the Messiah just like you.  Why do your people think I'm a terrorist?  You all pray for your breakfast every morning before going to visit the holy sites, while just five miles away your brothers and sisters in Christ live in daily oppression in the West Bank."  Milad is a Christian Palestinian who lives in the West Bank town of Bethany, but crosses through Israeli checkpoints each day to work at a hotel to support his family and non-profit organization. 
Not only did my worldview extend and deepen in this moment, but I also began to view following Jesus differently. If I truly was to follow the Jesus Way, it meant that I couldn't simply march around the Holy Land like it was a theme park, remembering the ancient narrative.  It meant I had to be fully engaged in the modern narrative of Jesus being played out in this place.  It meant not only walking in the footsteps of Jesus, but following his footsteps into the real life relationships that he would have been so passionate about.
This led my wife and me away from the security of our university walls in which we had been studying in Jerusalem, and into the very center of the modern conflict behind the Separation Wall in the West Bank.  Milad and his wife Manar had invited us to see and experience everyday life with them in their town.  We came to find out that Milad wasn't simply a hotel employee, but a symbol of hope and reconciliation in a place that had been riddled with narratives of violence and brokenness.  
Milad and Manar ran a non-profit in Bethany that taught peace and reconciliation to the children of Palestine through the arts and vocational training.  Everywhere we walked townspeople smiled and waved at our friends, and we began to realize we were being invited into the lives of modern day heroes.  This couple was taking the way of Jesus so seriously that they found themselves in the hotbed of conflict as agents of hope, peace and reconciliation.  In this West Bank town of Bethany where Jesus brought about new life in Lazarus, new life continued to burst forth today!  We began to tangibly see and be transformed by the values of the Sermon on the Mount being played out in real time and space.  
Milad and Manar were (and are!) everyday peacemakers who taught us far more than we could ever have learned in a book or classroom.
One of the beauties of the modern story being told through the inhabitants of the Holy Land is that the gritty and subversive work of peacemaking transcends Separation Walls, faith traditions and geographical locations.  Another friend that has invited us into his story is Rabbi Eliyahu McLean.  As a Jewish Israeli, and director of Jerusalem Peacemakers, Eliyahu is a living and breathing presence of reconciliation. 
Whether in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank or the home of a Muslim Palestinian in Hebron, Eliyahu is greeted with warmth and a spirit of partnership.  He once shared, “For the People of God to be the People of God, we must be a people of righteousness and peace.”  Walking the streets and entering relationships alongside Eliyahu forced me to evaluate the presence I create back at home in my neighborhood.  Do I run away from conflict or move toward it with the practices that make for peace?  Do I have mutually beneficial relationships with those that don’t believe or live similarly to myself?  Am I a presence of division or reconciliation among the conflicts in my family, neighborhood and world?
What an honor it has been to build relationships with amazing people—true experts—like Milad and Eliyahu.  I wondered what would happen if we invited other people to come learn from THESE peacemakers, who aren't just spouting theory, but living out the everyday practices that make for peace in one of the most volatile regions of the world?
Out of experiences and relationships like these came the birth of The Global Immersion Project.  We seek to stand with our friends in the Middle East and invite them to teach us what it means to follow Jesus into the places of conflict (relationally, socially, politically, etc.).  To do that, we choose to go far off the beaten path of tourism, pull into driveways rather than parking lots, and share tables rather than conference rooms.  We go to be transformed, so we can better live, love and lead back in our neighborhoods as agents of reconciliation.  Because when change happens in our local context, such change ripples positively into our global village.  And in so doing, Jesus is made famous.  
You’re invited to join us as we give access to places that seem inaccessible, so we can learn together from the most dynamic instructors in the world: everyday peacemakers who are practicing the way of peace in the center of global conflict.  Together, may we be equipped to faithfully follow Jesus into the places of conflict—both near and far—as  agents of peace and reconciliation.  
Lynne: The Summer 2013 Global Immersion group will be in Israel/Palestine June 25-July 6.  You can read regular updates during the trip here. (Or, I'm told that if you're a Storify user, you can follow their feed directly here). You can also follow on Twitter @globalimmerse, or like their Facebook page, where they'll provide frequent updates as well.