Musalaha: Strength through Weakness

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This summer, July 7-11, Musalaha hosted its sixth-annual Children’s Summer Camp at the Baptist Village. This was the largest camp to date, as close to 70 children, ages 8-12, came from all over Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We were also blessed by the addition of a group of volunteers from Calvary Community Church. In all, we numbered around 110 people! All the regular camp activities took place such as arts and crafts, sports, water games, as well as Bible verse memorization, and Bible teaching. Our theme, The Life of Moses, was chosen and prepared for months before the camp, but it turned out to be incredibly relevant in ways that we could never have imagined.

The majority of the children came from the Palestinian Christian and Israeli Messianic communities. As expected, their interaction with each other was tentative at first. However, by the end of the camp the initial divisions along national and linguistic lines were barely noticeable. Much of what divides these children simply disappears at camp, where all the eating, sleeping, and playing is done together for nearly a week. This exposure to those from the ‘other’ side, especially at such a young age, is crucial to the development of the attitudes of these children. Instilling biblical values and principles of peace, tolerance, and reconciliation are Musalaha’s central goals for this camp, and these were all evident among the children this year.

There is much to say about any camp that brings together Israeli and Palestinian children. However the focus of this report is on a different aspect that was new to this camp, and separated it from our previous camps in a significant way. Because of the addition of a group of 10 Sudanese refugee children who came up from Eilat, a new and positive dynamic was added to our camp. These refugees who escaped the terrors of genocide and war in their own country had a lot of joy and inspiration to offer. For the Israeli and Palestinian children to hear their stories, and to be exposed to their reality was an eye-opening experience. They were amazed when the Sudanese boys instantly threw off their sandals to play soccer barefoot on the hard ground. Getting to know these children personally helped all of us understand the tragedy of their experience in a human way. Although they were a small group, their impact on the camp was felt by all.

Having to constantly deal with our own conflict can leave us blind to the suffering and struggle of others. As a result, we can start to think of ourselves as the world’s only or most important victims. Extensive media coverage of the Middle East conflicts can feed this misperception. Having these wonderful children at our camp was a reality check that helped us regain some perspective.

For centuries and all across the globe, people seeking freedom have been inspired by the power and significance of the Exodus narrative, and by the voice of God, spoken through Moses, crying “Let my people go!” As we studied the life of Moses, this story took on unexpected significance. We realized that these Sudanese children who we had come to know and love had suffered through virtual slavery in Egypt, and journeyed on foot to Israel, retracing much the same steps Moses took in the Bible. Like Moses, they came here seeking freedom from oppression, on a long and difficult journey that took years. Most of the Sudanese refugees came to Israel through Egypt on a trek that is nearly as perilous as the biblical Exodus of the Israelites. Many did not make it alive. Many more are still in Egypt, waiting to cross the border.

Sadly, these refugees have found that their arrival in Israel has not freed them from the racism and hatred that made them leave their own land. Their situation is still very difficult, and their status in Israel is not yet settled. But they have, for the time being, found a refuge from the physical violence by which they were threatened. Local believers have taken the lead in helping these refugees physically and spiritually, demonstrating God’s love in a concrete way. Understanding all that they have been through has enhanced our understanding of the story of Moses, and made it real to us in a whole new way.

It is easy to view these Sudanese refugees as weak, as their physical needs are very visible on the surface. Outwardly, they seem dependant on others, unable to defend themselves, speak for themselves, or represent themselves. However, we must avoid treating them, and others we view in this same way, paternalistically. We know nothing of the inner strength these survivors actually have, and most of what we assume about our own strength is actually illusionary. Additionally, weakness is not something to be afraid of – a difficult concept for many of us to accept. In the words of Henri Nouwen, “Because of our strong cultural vision, it is a huge challenge to look at vulnerability not as a negative thing but as a positive thing.” He asks, “Do we dare to look at weakness as an opportunity to become fruitful?”[1] The example of Jesus is clear; He humbled Himself and gave Himself up to death. But through this weakness, the strength of God was manifested in Him. In truth, “The experience of peace and reconciliation comes when people are very honest and compassionate with one another, when they are vulnerable and open about their mistakes and weaknesses.”[2]

Too often, we think we alone are capable of accomplishing great things through our human efforts. While we have to work hard, and cannot accept complacency, when we put too much confidence in our own capabilities, we are only slowing God down. “The more confidence we have in our own strength and abilities, the less we are likely to have in Christ. Our human weakness is no hindrance to God. In fact, as long as we do not use it as an excuse for sin, it is good to be weak.”[3]

This principle was at work during our camp. With nearly 70 children in attendance, the counselors had to make an enormous effort just to be heard over the noise. Perhaps symbolically, many of us lost our voice by the end of the week. This was mirrored by Moses himself, who was chosen to be God’s voice, and deliver the powerful message of freedom, but was a weak orator. In a sense, he had no voice. But God spoke to him through the burning bush, and chose to use him where he was weakest. God also provided Moses with a “voice” through the miracles, the ten plagues, and through his brother Aaron.

God can only work through us when we are willing to trust Him, and listen to His voice. Then there are no limits to what He can accomplish through us. But more than simply channeling His voice through us, God also helps us find our own voice, and empowers us to speak on behalf of peace, justice, and love.

Written by Joshua Korn

Musalaha Publications Manager

[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, Finding My Way Home, Pathways to Life and the Spirit, (The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2001) pg. 142

[2] Nouwen, Finding My Way Home, pg. 144

[3] Johann Christoph Arnold, Preface by Thich Nhat Hanh, Seeking Peace, Notes and Conversations Along the Way, (The Plough Publishing House, 1998) pg. 51