Perhaps the word that sums up life in Bethlehem best is “paradox.” It’s a world of bewildering contrasts. As you walk down the ancient streets you encounter Arab music and Rihanna, and contrastly women covered head to toe so that you can only see their eyes walking past young women in dressy tank tops and skinny jeans. In twenty minutes you can walk from the Church of the Nativity to the 8 foot tall, cement Separation Barrier and a checkpoint. In any given day, I can be reminded how lovely jasmine smells and how horrible skunk water and tear gas smell.
Bethlehem has been steeped in paradox for thousands of years. It is the beginning of the greatest paradox, the birth place of a being that was fully human and fully divine. Every year we celebrate the paradox that a helpless, vulnerable baby born to save us; the king was born to inconsequential parents in a manger in a small town. The sky above the tiny town once attracted people from near and far, Jews and gentiles, rich and poor to worship the tiny God-become-human.
Bethlehem continues to embody this paradox. Every day I come to a fuller understanding of the poignancy that the birthplace of the Prince of Peace has not known a just peace in at least 65 years. Every day, I am confronted with the reality that the Messiah that came to tear down the walls between humans, heaven, and earth and yet, the town of His birth is now almost completely imprisoned and encircled by the Separation Barrier. Every day, I am comforted by the paradox that we worship a God that created the universe, and yet came to Earth to dwell amongst the poor and oppressed.
And “paradox” describes my journey of the last year. Within this past year, I have settled into Bethlehem and celebrated holy days in the original location of the event. I have been told that I had less than 1 week to leave Israel and Palestine, and to not to return till I had a year-long visa. I have been in exile as I waited for my visa in Jordan. I have had endless cups of sweet sage tea and Arabic coffee with locals, foreigners, and refugees. I have made new friends, learned a new language, and doubled the amount of stamps in my passport. There are moments when I lose all hope and want to pack up and go home. There are moments when I marvel in joy at this place and see nothing but possibilities for my life here. I have felt the contrast between what I wanted and what God was calling me to do. With the blessing of hindsight I can give thanks for the paradox in that the things that have made this journey so hard are the exact things that have made it so worthwhile.
If you are looking for a transformative experience that will challenge the way you see yourself, the world, and God, consider applying to be a Generation Transformation Global Mission Fellow. You will be confronted daily with contrasts and paradoxes. If you are seeking a deeper relationship with God and a better understanding of the Church’s role in our world, these paradoxes are a blessing that will inspire you to learn, force you to grow, and often reveal the wonders of God’s grace.
Wi’am Conflict Resolution Center, Bethelehem
Mission Intern, Class 2013