06 March, 2018


I can’t believe it is already the “back half” of this YAGM year. Time has flown by, but I truly believe the best is yet to come. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t freaking out a little about “what’s next” once I’m back stateside. A wise friend and YAGM alumni told me to stay present in every moment here and focus on this community. I’m finding the deep importance of this, and hold onto these words and as my mind wanders to the future, I have been much more intentional about focussing on what my eyes are seeing in the present. Leaning into community continually reveals more about the complexity of this Holy Land, and deepens my understanding of love through the people who have welcomed me into their lives here. I say with confidence that my experience here in Jerusalem and the West Bank will drastically shape my future.  Again, I am deeply and abundantly grateful for this community and those in my sending community. I am blessed to be here alongside our Palestinian brothers and sisters, and continue to listen and carry their stories close to my heart.
Our midyear retreat to Jordan took place during the the last week of February. While leaving my community was more difficult than anticipated, I am so grateful for the privilege of visiting Jordan. It is a beautiful country, and home to a flourishing and diverse Arab society comprised of Jordanians, and a majority of refugees from Iraq, Syria, and Palestine (according to the Lutheran World Federation) . As a YAGM group, we spent the week exploring sites in Petra, Amman, and Aqaba. Petra, a wonder of the world, was one of the most incredible places I have ever visited in my life and I am still attempting to wrap my head around how it was built over 2,000 years ago. I’ve been very vocal about how cool Petra is, and my YAGM cohort has enjoyed (lovingly) mocking my enthusiasm. As my roommate and fellow volunteer Katharine put it, “I have never seen you this excited about anything, ever.” Wait until she sees how excited I am to go back to school once we’re back from retreat… because that definitely tops Petra.
The devotional theme of the week was “Baptism”, and it was intentional for the setting and time of year. We visited the recently excavated Jordan River baptismal sites one afternoon. It was a surreal experience. At one point we had the chance to walk down to observe the current site of the river(it’s a meandering river and has moved as time passed). Between the banks and in the muddy water stood a flooded police barricade and caution tape. Our group peered through the reeds at various groups on the Israeli-monitored baptismal area. There was a group actively being baptised, while a Jewish group sang and read devotions, and further down the steps along the shore was a group of Muslims- sitting and standing.  In the background were Israeli soldiers and surveillance cameras. We took our chacos off and stepped into the muddy waters from the Jordanian side. We made jokes about remembering our baptism as we splashed water on each other. I found a pair of eyeglasses. It could be a metaphor for the muddy waters of the world and the lens of our vocation as revealed through the vocation of baptism. It seemed heavy at the time. I left them in case the owner returned.
Thoughts and metaphors like this popped up all over the place as we continued to listen as a group and explore the meaning of vocation, discernment and how this year has already invited us to listen and see where God meets us in the world. I am so thankful for this time of reflection. One question on my heart is “where does trauma fit into this?”- trauma of people, trauma of an individual- I am challenged in my thinking. Is this part of God’s plan, or is it a reminder that the world is imperfect and we need baptism? Perhaps this is where God meets us, rather than where we meet him- in the mess. He finds us in these muddy waters with glasses- a reminder to have two big eyes as we explore vocation.


One of the places God continues to meet me this year is at school. In the spirit of gratitude, baptism, and vocation, I would like to share a running list of some places God has met me through my students over the last few months:
-when they say hi in the hallways
-when we laugh about inside jokes
-when they ask me to help them
-when they interrupt class to tell me there is an impromptu basketball game happening outside and they want me on their team
-when girls began participating in basketball because I was there supporting them
-when they want to tell me more about themselves, and their families
-when they keep copies of things I’ve written
-when they come to another class I’m leading during their off-periods because “the one earlier today was a lot of fun”
-when they help me struggle through Arabic phrases
-when I help them struggle with English phrases
-when they show up to class early to talk
-when they ask me to be in their snapchats
-when they insist on sharing their snacks with me
-when they make weird faces at me and dance around
-when they challenge everything I know
-when they frustrate and disappoint me
-when I frustrate and disappoint them
-when they forgive me despite my shortcomings
-when they smile at my bad jokes
-when the walls come down and we talk about frustrations, and if peace exists
-when they share their experiences with oppression
-when they’re sad to see me go for a week
-when I can’t wait to see them the next day even though today isn’t even over yet
-when we sit in silence, together
-when they teach me more than I could have ever imagined or will ever teach them
-when I feel my heart and mind growing in accompaniment with them

15 February, 2018

Mutuality, or "oh sh*t I don't want to leave"

I promise I am not emotionally unstable- moody, maybe… expressive… sensitive, definitely. I’m pretty comfortable owning how I’m feeling, though.

...Which is why none of you will be shocked to hear that I cried.
Yeah, again.

It wasn’t a feeling of homesickness- in fact that hasn’t really happened, much to my surprise. (sorry mom- it’s not that I don’t miss you)
It was the opposite.

Staring out into the Palestinian landscape during a school break, I felt a deep sense of dread and kinda “lost it”.
Don’t worry- nobody knew.

The trigger?

“I don’t want to go back to America.”


It’s a rock (more like a boulder) in the bottom of my stomach.

Time is working in a strange way. August feels like a year ago, but July feels like tomorrow. Yes, it’s only February, but I guess the sentiment here is pretty simple: I don’t want to leave, ever, and thinking about it hurts. I want to hold onto every single day a little longer and all I want is more time. I love this place, and the people here.

Processing this year is already more complicated than I have words for right now, but I suppose I’m writing because this particular realization is a small glimpse of accompaniment. Building relationships has been messy, awkward, and a lot of work. It’s uncomfortable putting yourself out there in any situation, especially not knowing if it will be a failure or success. Add elements of a new culture, being slightly shy/awkward/not knowing what to do with my hands when talking, and a language barrier… and we’re beginning to paint a picture here.

At some point, things shifted. I am still navigating this community every day, but I’m also starting to feel a little relief and think “hey this is getting somewhere- beyond how are you I am fine.” People are sharing stories, thoughts, experiences, and DETAILS. The best part? I get to LISTEN and LEARN more. The stories my community shares are frequently heartbreaking, deep, thought-provoking, confusing, upsetting, uplifting, positive, inspiring, frequently hilarious, and an honor to carry wherever I go next. And I want to carry them, but the problem is I don’t want to leave. Maybe I was crying because this is what mutuality feels like.

19 January, 2018

18 January, 2018


On December 6th, Donald Trump made a major announcement regarding the status of Jerusalem. He announced the United States will be moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is viewed by many as a controversial decision because of the political implications concerning the status of Jerusalem and peace agreements. President Trump then said Jerusalem was the capital of Israel. In a two-state peace solution, Jerusalem would serve as a capital for Palestinians(East Jerusalem) and Israelis(West Jerusalem). Both groups of people have deep religious connection to the city. The Palestinians in my community were saddened by the decision of the United States. A lot of Palestinians aren’t allowed to travel to Jerusalem, even to worship and visit holy sites, due to militarized control. The United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as part of Israel would further prevent Palestinians from visiting the city.

Over the next few days, my students made comments like:
“Bashar has never been to the ocean.”
“Izzat will never go to Jerusalem.”

It is difficult for me to understand what it is like to never leave a city. I have been blessed with the opportunity to serve a community halfway across the world. My privilege is apparent every day: I am able to cross through a checkpoint and visit Jerusalem at will- something which isn’t even an option for many people I care about here. This entire year abroad is a privilege, as I have a freedom of movement many Palestinians don’t have.

The response from my community was confusing. I felt the need to apologize for a decision the president of my country made, seemingly out of nowhere. I felt, and still feel a deep sense of guilt. The community I serve responded by trying to comfort me, and let me know it’s okay. Many of the students said they understood it wasn’t a decision I personally made, so it doesn’t change their view of me. When they could have responded with anger, my Palestinian community responded with forgiveness. When they could have blamed me, they instead comforted my guilt. Why then did I direct anger and blame on myself? The best answer I have is I feel shame for the political decision that was made- seemingly without the people of my community, whom I love, in mind.

As a result of this announcement, many Christmas and New Years’ festivities were toned-down or cancelled. The Christmas tree in Bethlehem remained unlit for a few days in response. Protests spotted the landscape of the West Bank- I haven’t felt unsafe since arriving in the Holy Land in August, and even during this time of political unrest, I feel very safe and supported by the Palestinian community I serve.

Christmas was still a time of joy and community with my host family, school, and congregation. On Christmas Eve, I wandered around the old streets of Bethlehem and Nativity Square. Many people were there for the entrance of the Patriarch, and marching band scouts from near and far communities played carols which added to the jubilant and brisk atmosphere. That night, I attended Christmas Eve church and exchanged gifts with my host family. We shared a meal and spent time playing a few rounds of UNO. The next day, we spent more time together eating and playing even more UNO (it’s a cross-cultural classic).

As heavy as the implications of this political decisions are, the community here remains optimistic and steadfast. Living under restricted movement can be difficult, and I am constantly reminded of how life continues and looks to the future with hopeful eyes, even through dark days. Romans 15: 5  “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had.”

Virgin and Child, ink and watercolor on paper, Dec 2017


I've always felt oddly connected to the disciple Peter- mainly, he struggled with faith at times, as do I. During our autumn retreat to the Galilee, we visited many holy sites- one of which symbolizes the calling of Peter as a disciple.
The site itself is a gray brick church with stained glass windows resembling tree branches, overlooking the Sea of Galilee(it's really a lake....). The weather was warm with a light breeze. As someone who is admittedly almost always underwhelmed by holy sites, I was pleasantly surprised with the atmosphere of the grounds of this sight overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It felt easy and in a way I felt a connection I hadn't felt in some time while overlooking the gentle waves on the water.  The audio is taken from my walk back through the grounds- passing various groups from around the world (including Nigeria!), and back to the car. I think it perfectly captures the lightness of the site.

Banksy Interpretation, Ink and watercolor, Dec 2017

Poppy, ink and watercolor on paper Jan 2018

Ayda Camp, January 6, 2018

This afternoon, I spent time in Ayda(Aida), a Palestinian refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem. Pictured: A brightly colored street to commemorate a child martyr. It is the street of friend, Khaleel Abedallah.

At the entrance to Ayda is a poster of Aboud Shadi, a 13 year old who was shot in the head and killed by an Israeli soldier. His cousin, Khaleel Abedallah stands next to the place Aboud was shot. A stencil memorializes Aboud at the end of the family’s street. The illegal separation wall is very close to the family’s flat- as seen from the rooftop. Tear gas canisters were littered across the roof, and Khaleel said they often break the solar panels the refugee families use for heat. They also must replace their water towers at least once a month because the gas contaminated their supply, making it non-potable. At the entrance to Ayda is also a large archway with a key on top- the key is a symbol of the Palestinian refugees belief in a right of return to their homes from which they were displaced. It is a symbol of hope and ownership. When asked if they remember the war of 1948 after all these years, a woman working in the Ayda (Noor Weg) school for the disabled replied, “We remember everything, every single day.”

07 January, 2018

Resources for the Holy Land Context

Every day, I'm learning more about the conflict and context here in the holy land. Often times, I am asked questions about what it's like and how my views have changed since arriving. Experiencing the context is shaping me, but so are the resources I've been engaging with for a few months. It's a lot to take in, and there is still a lot to learn. Lately, it has been difficult to find words because there is so much to share and I often times don't know where to begin. Family and friends, you may not be here, but I encourage you to explore the following resources to inform your knowledge about the context of the holy land. Here is a brief list of resources I suggest as a starting point:

There are links at the end of each recommendation to help you access the book or film.

If you plan to read only one book on the context.....
Israel/Palestine, Alan Dowty
- A dual-narrative look at the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Get it on Amazon

If you prefer a faith-based perspective....
Faith in the Face of Empire, Mitri Raheb
-"A Palestinian Christian theologian shows how the reality of empire shapes the context of the biblical story, and the ongoing experience of Middle East conflict."(Amazon)
Get it on Amazon

If you connect with poetry.....
Victims of a Map
-"A bilingual volume of poetry presenting the work of three award-winning Arabic poets from the past forty years."(Amazon)
Get it on Amazon

If you prefer reading something between poetry and journalism....
Absent Presence, Mahmoud Darwish
- "This illuminating book explores the meaning of life, the impact of exile, and an existence spent in companionship with the specter of death. "(Amazon)
Get it on Amazon

If you're into documentaries....
5 Broken Cameras, 2012
-"A documentary on a Palestinian farmer's chronicle of his nonviolent resistance to the actions of the Israeli army."(IMDB)

If you have access to Netflix....
Disturbing the Peace, 2016
"A group of former enemy combatants embark on a transformational journey from soldiers to non-violent peace activists." (disturbingthepeacefilm.com)

15 November, 2017

Prayers of the People

at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City, Jerusalem during the 500th anniversary of the Reformation service.


I break bread daily. Sometimes(usually) multiple times a day. If I’m being 100% honest, I’ve gained some weight since arriving here in August. It’s fine. And not surprising, because food is at the center of socializing here in the Holy Land. So I’m adjusting well in that regard.

Food is the social means of “hanging out” and meals can last anywhere from an hour to three. During my time in the Holy Land I've come to find meals aren't about eating for utility, but feeding the soul.
And my soul starves for these relationships that develop over shared meals.
It’s not about time or convenience. It’s connection.
This is part of the reason why Jesus shared a meal with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion- beyond the symbols of bread and wine is the connection of a shared meal to the soul. Soul food.

Admittedly, it has taken me longer than it should have to realize the importance of a shared meal within my community. I’ve been figuring a lot out during my first few months of service. One of the hardest things has been recognizing the interplay between time, obligations, and relationships.
Not long ago, a typical routine would include grabbing some shawarma(شاورما) and stuffing my face while running to my next destination. This is pretty congruent with my behavior back in the states. I’d like to publicly acknowledge I was a regular at the local Dunkin' Donuts drive-thru, which I frequented(every morning at 4:30am sharp) for coffee on my way to my coffee job.

After multiple incidents(a graceful way of saying I was bordering on a shawarma habit) of running and stuffing my face, I realized: Nobody else is eating and running. Nobody is eating on the street. Nobody else is even running. Food isn’t a transition, it’s a destination. People sit down to eat. It is something I need to be making time for because it’s important. It’s important to sit at a table and talk to who you’re with, or make small talk with the person behind the counter. I should’ve recognized this after five years as a barista, but I’ve been too focused on what I thought was more important- whatever’s next, and not what’s now. Sharing is the key here, not consuming.
October and November have been an exercise in slowing down, staying present, and making time to share bread.
I am passionate about carbs here in the Holy Land, and the options are endlessly delicious.

Bread has become a symbol of building relationships with people in the community. In the teacher’s lounge I am constantly offered coffee and cookies and crackers and pastries and candy bars and fruits and vegetables… I could go on.
Yura, one of my students, always insists on sharing something from the school canteen when we spend time together during breaks. Almost daily, we commune over my favorite pastry, a cheese-filled triangle of bread heaven, which Yura has sarcastically informed me is called a “cheese sandwich” (ساندويتش جبن) in Arabic. Sometimes we pair it with a grape Capri Sun.

At times, I’ve questioned my worthiness of these communal relationships- whether with those around me or with God. Who am I to receive this hospitality? I am a stranger, I am privileged, I am far from perfect.
Jesus meets us at the table- whoever we are, and wherever we’re at in our faith.
The table is our relationship, and the bread and wine are reminders that we are worthy no matter where we are at. This bread, this soul food, gives us life.
Upon thinking of this concept of bread as food for the soul, I considered the image of 12 disciples at the last supper. I have the tendency to lump the disciples together as one unit, and indeed we are all one body, but they were also individuals coming from different perspectives and points in their faith journeys. I've been thinking a lot about the different tables I’ve sat at, the different points in my own faith I've carried to the table, and those I've communed with. Sometimes the table is full of sinners, myself included. Sometimes I'm not listening to the host, and sometimes I can't understand the host but desperately seek to find connection. Sometimes I'm happy. Sometimes I'm frustrated. Sometimes I feel unworthy. Sometimes the table is full of strangers. It doesn’t matter where we are “at” because Jesus meets us at the table over and over and shares bread with us. This is the image I encounter daily with my hosts. It is important to engage in this meal, these relationships, and share in the feeding of the body and soul.

Here is my body.         Luke 22:19
I am the bread of life. John 6:35
I am with you, I am present. 1 Corinthians 5:3
Be present.         Psalm 46:10