The third BridgeBuilders reconciliation conference was held in western Norway August 3–13, 2012. Twenty-nine young adults from Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Norway took part in the conference.
All believers living in the Holy Land face the realities of the conflict every day. Jewish believers, Arab believers, expatriate believers—we all need to relate to the various political and theological views regarding the Land and God’s will for the peoples living here. And with no political solution in sight, it is difficult for believers from the different sides to find a common theological understanding of the conflict.
In this situation, the challenge of maintaining fellowship and unity among brothers and sisters in Christ is very difficult. And yet, as followers of Christ we are called to love our enemies and live at peace with all. Whether we like it or not, we are one with our fellow believers, and we need to find ways to express this unity, even in the difficult situation in the Middle East.
Many young Jewish and Arab believers have little or no contact with believers from the other side. Most only view “Israelis” or “Palestinians” through the stereotypes the conflict creates, and so the BridgeBuilders program exists to bring them together—not in order to solve the conflict, but in order to share fellowship, build friendships, listen to each other, learn each other’s cultures and life stories, study the Word of God together, and pray and worship together. As they do these things, they are challenged to see how their common faith in Messiah Jesus binds them together, how this affects the way they relate to each other in the context of the conflict, and how they together can be witnesses for Christ and the unity only he can give in the midst of conflict.
The process of reconciliation is a long and difficult one, but one that has the power to change hearts and lives, as many of the participants have experienced.
“The only Israelis my own age that I have met have been soldiers,” says Tania from Beit Jala. “And then I came to the conference and I realized that all the Israeli participants here have also served in the army. But here I got to know the people. I come from a pacifistic family and I had a hard time accepting that someone who believes in Jesus could be willing to serve in the army and bear arms. We talked a lot about this and I understand better now. I know that I love these brothers and sisters of mine, despite their being Israeli and having served in the army. They are wonderful people. We have really formed some deep friendships here.”
Angelica from Jerusalem is a Messianic Jew and participated in the previous BridgeBuilders conference. This time she was one of the leaders. She, too, was very touched by what took place. “The participants have been so good at listening to each other and accepting each other’s life stories, while at the same time challenging each other’s views. For me, meeting one of the Palestinian participants who had hated Israeli soldiers so much was a powerful experience. At one point, he used to throw rocks at the soldiers. I discovered that this was at the same time I was one of the soldiers at the checkpoints. He had thrown rocks at my unit, perhaps even at me.
“I was really challenged and shocked by some of his stories about being harassed and humiliated by Israeli soldiers. He saw that I was listening to him and taking him seriously. And I felt that he listened to me and took me seriously. I thought I already had the ‘right’ attitudes to the conflict, but now realized I needed to reexamine them once more. It is a difficult thing, but it feels good. He was also really transformed by the time at the conference. He was part of my small group and we had a wonderful fellowship amongst us. We shared our views on the situation and how we view each other—and we could laugh and experience deep love for each other. BridgeBuilders is such an important work.”
The Caspari Center is one of six partnering organizations organizing the BridgeBuilders conference, including the Norwegian Church Ministry to Israel, the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church of Norway, the Palestinian Bible Society, Musalaha, and Grimstad Bible School. The conference takes place in two parts. The second part will be held in Jordan during Easter 2013. Read more about BridgeBuilders at www.bridgebuilders.no.