Pilgrimage is Discovering Hope

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Rev. Greg Klimovitz is curating a series featuring those who made their pilgrimage to the Holy Land with NEXT Church from May 19-27, 2019. So much of the biblical story, especially the narratives that surround the work and witness of Jesus, occurred en route somewhere and in a context of political occupation, social, ethnic, and economic divisions, and conflict with religious and political powers that be. This month, contributors will contemplate “pilgrimage is…” as they ponder: where did you sense “God with us?” Where was “God with Us” more difficult to claim? How did you imagine leaning into “God with Us” as you returned home? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, even as you make your own pilgrimages this summer and beyond. After all, life is pilgrimage.

by Jessica Tate

Saint Jerome called the land “the fifth gospel.”

The main exhibit of Yad Vashem, the World Holocasut Remembrance Center, concludes with guests overlooking the Promised Land.

A family of Palestinian farmers fight in Israeli courts to hold onto the land that has been registered to their family for generations.

The land where ancients wandered in wilderness is vast and dry and harsh and rugged.

A Jewish settler in Shiloh tells us of the power of prayer in the land believed to be the site of the ancient tabernacle and Hannah’s prayer for a son.

A 26-foot wall divides the land in pursuit of security, separating people from each other, their land, and access to education, jobs, and medical treatment.

The land encroaches on the Dead Sea, as the water recedes at a rate of four feet a year due to change in climate.

From the Mount of Olives, one looks across the land to see the Old City of Jerusalem, the Dome of the Rock, and the Garden of Gethsemane.

From the Mount of the Beatitudes, the land whispers the promise, “Blessed are those who are meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Photo by Ben Kane

We set out as 35 pilgrims to explore Israel/Palestine in a pilgrimage of learning, laughter, and tears. We encountered stories of promise, hope, and struggle in the Holy Land. We “walked where Jesus walked” to gain greater biblical insight for preaching and teaching. We learned from NGO leaders to gain insight into one of our world’s most vexing struggle for peace and justice. We met with Christian and Muslim leaders to explore future mission partnerships. We forged bonds of friendship that will offer support for years to come. We heard disparate perspectives so that we might make informed opinions regarding present realities in this land.

The NEXT Church blog this month will share practical and theological reflections from the participants on the pilgrimage. Through the posts you will catch glimpses of the itinerary of this trip, but this blog series is not a travelogue; rather, the posts are offerings, based on encounters or confrontations with God on the journey. We hope they will invite you also into the journey, the learning, and the pilgrimage. The posture we invited pilgrims on this trip to take was one of a guest, entering the spaces and places to listen and to learn. We invite you into that posture in reading these reflections.

Over the course of the trip we saw images of great beauty — from olive groves and vineyards, to prayers at the Western Wall, to the quiet of the Garden Tomb. We saw images that haunt — from public buses searched at checkpoints, to images of horror from the Holocaust, to settlements commanding space on lush hilltops. What stays with me the most — what is inspiring me and giving me hope — are the snapshots of tenacious hope we saw in the people we met.

We visited Tent of Nations at Daher’s Vineyard, a Palestinian farm, where the Nassar family is fighting (legally and non-violently) to keep their land, despite the Israeli settlement that is growing up around it. The family is engaged in an extensive and costly legal fight for their land, despite having documentation of ownership. They have endured increasing isolation — destruction of the road to their property, cut off of fresh water to the land, orders not to build on the property. The family’s response has been to learn sustainable farming practices, to convert to solar energy, to turn the caves on the property into proper living spaces. When the trees of the vineyard were destroyed in 2014 by the Israeli military, the Nassar family took grief and anger and channeled it into new life. They worked with Jews for Just Peace and friends from around the world to replant 5,000 trees on the land. And beyond that, the Nasser family opens the farm to teach non-violence to Palestinian children who live in the midst of trauma. They host a women’s empowerment project, teaching English and computer skills to support the local community.

There is a rock that marks the entrance to the Daher’s Vineyard. On it is a hand-painted inscription that reads, “We refuse to be enemies.”

And in the wind rustling through the trees I heard the promise, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”

Jessica Tate is the director of NEXT Church and lives in Washington, DC.