10 Things I Learned in the Middle East
Over the past four years I have had the opportunity to spend a significant amount time in the Middle East. I no longer approach the time as a tourist, but instead seek out relationships and experiences as a listener who has much to learn about the way God is at work in contexts much different than my own. In that posture, it has been remarkable how much I have learned and begun to integrate into the way I live, love and lead back in my neighborhood. Theologian Paul Knitter describes it well when he refers to ones inherited worldview as a telescope.
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"No matter how objective we may think we are or desire to be, we all see the world through a specific telescope/worldview. When we choose to look through the telescope of people who are “different” than us, we begin to get a more comprehensive picture of the world and the way God is at work within it."
Leading our first Learning Community to the Middle East apart of The Global Immersion Project I recently co-founded, I was invited to take a look through the lens of friends’ telescopes who live amid conflict in Israel and Palestine. Here are some of my key learnings:
1. Stories Over Facts: No matter how many stats we present or information we disseminate, there is nothing more powerful than being invited into and experiencing one’s story — especially a story that shatters our stereotypes, prejudices and understanding of justice.
2. Learning Happens Best Through Exposure: Those of us in the West have unprecedented access to information for learning. One step of exposure into lived (experienced) history brings about far more learning than read/heard history.
3. Stereotypes Aren’t Broken Unless We Are Willing to Listen: The posture of a learner makes ALL the difference in what they learn. If we choose not to be transformed by the reality around us, we won’t. Two people can actually listen to the same story and come out with two different responses based on their willingness to set aside their own presuppositions for the sake of humbly listening and learning from those of different persuasion.
4. Being a Presence of Reconciliation is Only as Real as Your Weakest Link: When walking the streets and into the homes of those living in conflict zones, you are not viewed as individuals, but as one community. It only takes the words/actions/disposition of one within a community to compromise the presence of reconciliation we are committed to representing.
5. Being Present And Returning Matters: People who experience daily injustice often have people come see and experience their story. These people often “feel sorry” for them and say they’re going to go home, bring attention to their situation, and some even say they’ll come back to help their cause. This rarely happens and does more harm that good. Having advocated, stayed in constant contact, and returned multiple times to my friends experiencing injustice in Israel/Palestine I can see in their eyes a building sense of partnership, care, and belief in us and our work.
6. Living, Loving, and Leading Differently is Contagious: Rather than pull into parking lots, our Learning Communities pull into driveways. Rather than isolate ourselves from the areas of conflict and tension, we fully expose and immerse ourselves in it. We wander far off the beaten path of Holy Land tourism. People both in the States and inhabitants of the Middle East notice the difference and want to know more of why we’re doing what we’re doing. Rather than follow in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land, we seek to encounter the people with whom Jesus footsteps led him towards. That’s Good News, and that’s contagious.
7. Art of Peacemaking Requires Living in Radical Tension: To be a peacemaker requires holding conflicting narratives in tension so we can be a presence of reconciliation in the middle of it all. We compromise our ability to be peacemakers in the way of Jesus when we lose our ability to stand with people despite our differences.
8. Sharing Tables is the Beginning of Sharing Humanity: There is something sacred about sharing a meal with people who we have been taught to hate or disagree with because of the portrait we have been offered by the media, leaders, or information in the West. It is in the conversation and shared life that exists around a table that we are exposed to the humanity of “the Other.”
9. How I Act in My Neighborhood Informs How I Act Aboard (and Visa Versa): I don’t know how many times we heard from locals in Israel and Palestine that our life, theology, and politics in America have direct implications for their everyday life. Some went as far as saying, “Until your theology and corresponding policies change, there will be no change here.” As a Learning Community, we have also been radically formed by our exposure and experience in the Middle East. We see people, conflict and social realities differently so as to allow us to better live, love, and lead like Jesus back in our neighborhoods.
10. This Generation is Hungry to Live Differently: Both the difference makers who participated in our Learning Community and the vast majority of the Israelis and Palestinians with whom we interacted are committed to live out a new reality. It’s a reality that transcends blind prejudice, false assumptions, and conflict that is based more on the fear of the past than in the reality of the present and future. Amid the pain, violence, and injustice there are individuals and communities that are offering a grassroots movement that is stirring up great hope and a new future.
Jon Huckins is on staff with , a collective of missional communities who foster leadership and community development. He also co-founded which cultivates difference makers through immersion in global narratives. Jon has a Master’s degree from Fuller Seminary and writes for numerous publications including, theOOZE, Burnside Writer’s Collective & Red Letter Christians. He has written two books: (Beacon Hill) and (Zondervan). He lives in San Diego with his wife Jan, daughter Ruby. Jon blogs here: