Snapshot of Youth Ministry in Israel and Palestine

Youth Specialties
July 8th, 2010

Even when I am traveling, I can't seem to avoid seeing the world (or at least parts of it) through the lens of youth ministry.  My wife and I have had the opportunity to study at Jerusalem University College this summer as part of some graduate studies I am completing.  On the exceedingly long and uncomfortable flight from San Francisco to Tel Aviv, I sat next to a young Jewish man named Michael.  He had on all the typical Jewish garb (skull cap or “kippah,” black and white clothes, etc…) that distinguished him from a shorts and t-shirt California ocean lover like myself (I must say that my currently long beard was quite fashionable in that context). 

At different times throughout the flight, my aisle mate would pull out a little pouch containing his Tanach (Hebrew Bible) and a few other prayer accessories that were somewhat foreign to me.  He would recite the Scriptures, pray and kiss each item before putting it back into the small pouch.  As I looked around the plane, I could see that about 40% of the men were doing the very same thing.  For each of them, this was simply part of their daily routine and devotion to their faith.  For me, this was fascinating(and a bit convicting as my main focus was getting my headphones to work in both ears). 

I asked Michael his story, being specifically interested in his upbringing as a Jewish boy and young adult.  He said that he had left his parents home at the age of 14 to study to be a rabbi.  He spent the next 7 years of his life devoted to studying the Tanach, Talmud and Midrash along with other aspiring rabbi's.  I asked, “Does everyone want to be a rabbi when they are a teenager?”  He replied, “Of course!  But, most of us don't actually make it to be rabbi's.  It is very hard, even if you just want to be a rabbi who does circumcision or manages Kosher laws.  I didn't make it to be a rabbi, so now I am a jewler.”

While it is easy for us to write off the values of other religions because they are different, I believe we have alot to learn from my Jewish friend.  What would the lives of our teenagers look like if our youth ministries instilled such devotion to our Rabbi, Jesus?

Since being here in the Middle East, my wife and I have been intentional about spending time with Palestinians in the West Bank.  It has been an eye opening, hope-filled with tears-kind of experience that I will share about in more detail later.  Seeking the story of these often forgotten people, we met Milad and Minar.  They are a Christian Palestinian couple who were raised in Jerusalem and Bethlehem before much of the current political tension (i.e. building of “the wall”) came to a head.  While Milad is able to enter into Israel for work (although his 5 minute commute is now closer to an hour through check points), Minar is not.  As they served us a homecooked meal at their parents home in Bethlehem, they had just entered their 12th day without fresh water.  They could be filled with anxiety, fear and tension(and at times they are), but instead they have chosen to participate in the hope of Jesus. 

Three years ago they started a non-profit organization in Bethany that promotes peace and reconciliation in Palestine.  Everyday they have 80-90 kids come running through their doors as they teach music, art and the value of community.  As my wife and I stood in a room filled with kids (whose stories shattered our hearts and narrow worldview) grinning from ear to ear as they sung songs (in Arabic) of hope at the top of their lungs, we saw Jesus. 

What is it about living in oppression that stirs the hearts of Christians?  How can we keep from domesticating our youth ministries in the West so as to miss out on the life that Jesus called us to embody?

Although there are plenty of tensions in the Middle East, specifically Israel and Palestine, youth ministry has the ability to trancent the differences and develop devotion and hope.  Cheers to youth workers across the globe!!

Youth Specialties

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