December 4, 2009
This is a special year for Musalaha, as it marks the 20th year since Musalaha began bringing Israeli and Palestinian believers together for meetings and for training in reconciliation. The following is a letter from Evan Thomas, the Chairman of Musalaha’s board and leader of the Beit Asaph Congregation, commemorating the 20 year anniversary:
In the latter part of 1988, while studying together in a program designed to sharpen ministry skills among indigenous leaders, Salim Munayer approached me with the details of a 'vision' he sensed God had given him. As he shared in 'broad strokes' the biblical call of reconciliation between our two conflicted peoples, something resonated with me deeply. When asked to join with him in developing the concepts into practical initiatives involving our respective faith communities, my answer was almost an immediate – yes! Shortly following, "Musalaha" was brought into being, with basic infrastructure established with Salim as Director and an equal number of experienced leaders from both the Palestinian Christian and Messianic Jewish communities forming a Board of Oversight. This same balanced model of leadership was to quickly become the 'hallmark' of all Musalaha initiatives until today.
Twenty-five year ago, the term reconciliation was not a central issue for the local Body of Christ. The Arabic and Hebrew-speaking communities enjoyed some minimal fellowship interaction; however the challenges of the first Intifada (Palestinian uprising) changed everything – young Messianic servicemen were embroiled in the civil unrest and young Palestinian Christians who suffered the frustrations and indignities of checkpoints and military occupation, became involved in the resistance. The polarization between the two groups deepened and Jesus' call to his Body for unity became more and more apparent.
Musalaha responded with its first desert encounters – firstly among the young adults from both sides, then with older experienced ministry leadership, both men and women. Stepping out of the comfort and safety of our homes, the harsh environment of the desert became our 'classroom' where we faced one another (often for the first time) 'on level ground'. These earlier days presented a very steep 'learning curve' for us all as we learned to worship, study and pray together and form the relationships that would become a vital basis for the manifold ministries that Musalaha now represents.
The three and five-day desert encounters and various seminars held during those first years would hone our skills at providing a safe environment for these new relationships to withstand the inevitable challenges as we attempted to deal with the hard issues such as the theology of the land, conflict and the obstacles to peace. Those that chose to 'hang in' would in time form a broadening circle of leaders, committed to the vision and being willing to stand in the face of intercommunity opposition to unity and peace. People from both sides were now willing to take the courageous step from being involved in the conflict to being active in reconciliation and peacemaking. This new dynamic provided impetus to Musalaha staff to produce literature and develop a leadership training curriculum in reconciliation that is specifically suited to our 'conflict zone'. This in itself is bearing immediate fruit in all branches of the ministry.
Youth leaders from both communities receive high quality professional training together. Musalaha summer camps and youth initiatives (including missions abroad), are among the best the local Body has to offer. Children that have participated in the camps often return to serve as counselors, creating a healthy continuity. The women's department has grown quickly into the largest and most active department. Many women are reaching out into their own communities and organizing a variety of outreach activities, impacting young children and youth and now a successful Muslim-Christian women's program that hopefully will include Jewish women by next year, 2010. These same initiatives continue to grow significantly and now have a measurable impact on the communities they benefit by offering relationship, fellowship and bridging of communities.
It has been a tremendous privilege to see Musalaha's credibility steadily develop in the eyes of the international Christian world. The testimonies of our successes (and heartbreaks) and the methodologies that have been tried and tested in the 'fire' of one of the world's most complex conflict zones are now providing models for others. As a result, we are able to invite foreign study groups from time to time to come to learn from us and to raise awareness of our conflict by encouraging people to partner with us in reconciliation activities.
For all this, God alone deserves the glory as he demonstrates the power of his grace in our lives and the truth of his Word to change our lives and that of our communities. The Middle East is volatile and the New Covenant community here in Israel/ Palestine is not immune to its painful struggles. Has Musalaha risen to the challenge of providing an alternative paradigm? I sincerely believe so and the fruit of these labors together will lay down solid foundations for the generations to come.
Evan Thomas (Chairman of the Board)
Young Adults Department: The Young Adults department is busy planning a number of events, including a follow up meeting in January for the participants of last summer’s Bridge Builders conference with NCMI, ELFCN, and the Bible Society, and the upcoming trip to Washington, U.S. next summer with Chapel Hill Presbyterian Church. Please keep all these activities in your prayers as they require months of preparation and planning.
Youth Department: The Youth department is starting a new Youth Leader’s Training program in East Jerusalem and in the Palestinian Authority. We are trying to find a leader for this program, so please pray that we will find the right person for the job. There is also a Youth Desert Encounter Trip being planned for March 31st to April 3rd and a trip to Switzerland this summer in cooperation with Open Doors. This trip will take place August 20th-29th Please pray that we find the right leaders for both of these trips.
Women’s Department: There has been a lot of movement recently in the Women’s department, as last month saw our national conference bring around 40 Israeli and Palestinian women together. Please pray for the clarification of vision and strategy as the Women’s department continues to grow. Everyone moves through the process of reconciliation at their own pace, and in order to meet everyone’s needs we need God’s wisdom. There are also a number of regional women’s groups that are being established, and the planning of the women’s summer camps has begun, so please remember to keep these women in your prayers.
Publications Department: The Publications department has been very busy in the past few months with grant applications and writing projects, and there are no signs of this frenzied pace changing any time soon. We are also in the process of working on three different books which will come out in the next year, the Second Edition of the Bible and the Land, a book on the Theology of Reconciliation, and a book of narrative accounts of reconciliation in the lives of Musalaha participants. Please pray as we work to finish all of these exciting projects, and as we search for publishers for them. Another, very important project the Publications department is working on is the curriculum of reconciliation that is being compiled. This is a huge project, but it is much needed and will greatly benefit Musalaha once it is completed, as all our experience and teaching material will be gathered into one manual on reconciliation. Please pray that God will continue to bless our efforts on this project.
Contributions to Musalaha can be sent to Musalaha directly, or to the following organizations in the USA and Europe. Please write the checks to the name of the organization (e.g. The Andrew Christian Trust), and in a letter designate the funds to Musalaha.
P.O. Box 52110
P.O. Box 238
Medina, WA 98039-0238
Tax ID # 91-1960797
CH – 4153
PC – Kto. – 40-33695-4
D – 79541 Loerrach
Sparkasse Loerrach (BLZ 68350048)
The Andrew Christian Trust
Rockwood, Storth Road
Cumbria LA7 7PH
Registered Charity Number: 327845
Contributions can also be made online through PAYPAL on our website, www.musalaha.org. Thank you.