If anyone is looking for an amazing summer experience for 2011, or know of someone who might be interested in traveling to the Middle East, I would highly recommend the Palestine Summer Encounter program. Many of you know that in the summer of 2005, I went and lived in Beit Sahour (a small town right next to Bethlehem) and spent the summer living with a Palestinian family, working for a Palestinian non-profit and learning (or attempting to learn) Arabic. I was able to afford it because of my grant from the Fund for Theological Education and will be forever grateful for that grant (primarily because it was at the first FTE conference that I met my wife Sarah…).
Today I received an email from my buddy Keas Keasler, who is currently on a study trip in the Middle East with Princeton Seminary. The email directed me to a post he wrote entitled “A Pilgrimage (of many sorts) to Israel.” Reading through Keas’s post, as he was exposed to the stories and lives of Palestinians, reminded me of my time spent in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour in the summer of 2005. It seems like such a long time ago and I’m realizing how easy it is to forget. I made friends there. Lived with a family (I recently found out the husband of the couple I lived with passed away a few months ago). I hung out with youth who are probably in their late teens now.
My life went back to normal upon returning to the US. I certainly thought a lot about them…for the first few months. I did a few events on campus at Princeton Seminary…but it was too easy to just let my life slip back into my regular routine and not remember and think about my friends who continued to experience suffering and politically-backed (by both the Israeli and US governments) oppression.
As you know, I haven’t written much about politics during this election season. I don’t tend to talk much about politics on this blog, but it does come up from time to time. As we are now about a week past the election of our first African-American President, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on some of the things that have made me hopeful, angry and filled with mixed emotions.
I’m hopeful. I voted for Barack Obama. I doubt that is any surprise to you if you’ve been following my Twitter/Facebook comments throughout the past few weeks. It was never a question for me that Obama would get my vote. I first heard of Barack Obama during a family reunion in Illinois, summer of 2004. My grandpa (and all of my other Mennonite cousins and aunts and uncles) were talking about how this was a politician that we could actually put some hope in – that he was someone who cared about social justice, the poor and was someone to keep an eye on. I figured if he’s good enough for my Mennonite relatives, he’s someone I should try and keep up on.
Of course, I forgot about him a few months after that until his name started coming up for the Presidential race. Once he received the nomination, there was no question in my mind, I would vote for Barack Obama.