Winter 2011

Come and See
John 1:46

Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt

The old Chinese proverb, "May you live in interesting times," always applies to our journeys, particularly this past winter. In addition to the usual eye-opening experiences for which our journeys are known, this winter we witnessed first hand the historic event of Egypt's popular, non-violent revolution. We had conversations with Egyptians about their aspirations for democracy in their country and about the role of Christians in the work of building civic and social institutions there. We met with a wide range of Israelis, Palestinians and Jordanians, too. We met with Israelis from Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers who oppose Israel's military occupation of the West Bank. We met with Israeli settlers who believe that all the land from the Nile river in Egypt to the Euphrates River in Iraq is their birthright. Our travelers often remark that they will never read their newspapers or listen to the news in the same way after having seen with their own eyes the realities in the places they visit. This is part of SBS' goal, because the world we live in badly needs a relevant, transforming biblical faith, a gospel of reconciling love. Study of the Bible without studying how to apply it in our world is is a default of Christian responsibility. Biblical study the way SBS does it is not an armchair exercise. It is a life changing, world moving experience.

This, of course, is one of our goals, because it is not enough to know our Bibles by chapter and verse, if we do not also know how to put the Bible to work in our world. Mission is the application of the biblical faith in and for the world. When you travel with SBS, you are in mission. SBS's distinctive, contextual, experiential approach to Bible study, Bible teaching and Bible learning enables our travelers not only to walk where Jesus walked, but to walk where Jesus is walking today. Until we are doing that or at least endeavoring to do so, we are not really studying the Bible at all. In so doing, we also transform the perception of Western Christians in the eyes of local people. Accustomed to seeing hoards of Christian tourists bypass and ignore local people and their concerns, our travelers express their care and solidarity with local people. We stand side by side with them. This itself is mission and is it one that is badly needed.

This winter, a number of our groups visited Al Sira, an unrecognized Bedouin village in Israel's Negev desert. In Israel, "the only democracy in the Middle East," over 100,000 Bedouin villagers live in "unrecognized villages." These villages have no legal running water, no legal electricity, and no legal sewerage. They are full citizens of the State of Israel which is trying to force them off their ancestral territory into tiny reservations, just as in Apartheid South Africa, black south Africans were forced into bantustans.
Israel's so-called "security fence" is plainly a wall, 35 feet high carving through Palestinian neighborhoods. It separates farmers from their fields, neighbors from each other and effectively completes the cantonization of the West Bank.

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Our groups often visit Al Arub refugee camp, south of Bethlehem. 12,000 Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war live in an area 1/2 mile square. The Women's Society equips women in the camp with skills they need to seek jobs outside the camp. They also market embroidery products hand made by women in the camp. SBS travelers often purchase these items as souvineers. Responsible shopping is one small way we can make a difference in real people's lives.
Several of our journeys took us to Egypt this winter. We engaged Egyptian Christians and Muslims in conversation about Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt, democracy and opposition groups there and the role of the Church in providing social services and in contributing to the development of civil institutions in Egypt. While it was not part of our itinerary, one of our groups happened to have been in Cairo when the Egyptian Revolution broke out.
The Tents of Nations is a Palestinian Christian project to draw attention to the crisis of expropriated Palestinian land. Many of our groups visit there to learn about the problem and about how Christians are contributing to non-violent resistance to Israel's military occupation of Palestinian territory. Our presence there is an act of solidarity. It is a ministry of Christian presence and it makes a difference. We also send many volunteers there to help with a variety of projects. This is part of our Plant a Tree in palestine program