Happy August! I apologize for being somewhat silent on the updates for the past couple of weeks. Every time I think about writing one experience, God seems to be doing something else simultaneously before I can fully process what has already happened. How does one make sense of everything and put into words what accurately reflects the experiences of life? It feels like words haven’t quite been enough; nevertheless, I will try my best to share a portion of what’s been going on since I have arrived and where I am now. Sorry if this one is a bit lengthy! There is a lot to cover. I hope you are keeping cool in the August heat!
Departure Since my last update, I have made many more connections with locals, and international travelers throughout the Land. I’ve strengthened relationships with those who are in my sphere of influence and many of my new found friends have become like my brothers. I’ve been familiarizing myself with navigating the Land, finding quicker ways to get around the driving and walking routes; I’m still not one-hundred percent in love with driving here, but definitely better off then when I first arrived. I found some of my favorite places to purchase fresh fruits, the best places to enjoy fresh falafel and hummus, and freshly baked pita--all in walking distance. In my personal experience, many of the family businesses here feel like less of mere monetary transactions. I watch the man making the bread, we exchange smiles every morning, or every time I happened to walk by the bakery. If not too busy we can make conversation. Mint tea is an everyday treat, (or coffee if you’re into that kind of thing--not my personal favorite). From my personal perspective, and what others have expressed to me, the vibe here is more of a communal effort. Everyone seems to at least know of each other as I have expressed in a previous update, and people seem to work together. This is a stark contrast to my experience in the West. In western culture we have competitors. Businesses are constantly thinking of ways to be better than their competitors and be the very best on the market with competitive prices and new upgrades. Here in Bethlehem, you can expect a falafel sandwich is going to pretty much be five shekels wherever you go. If you are a local here, it is possible you may be a merchant at a souvenir shop one day and helping your cousin at the jewelry shop the next day. If you go into a city like Jerusalem where the tourist attraction is much higher that may be a different story. I guess I could talk forever about the different subcultures. Also, Sunday is the beginning of the week, Thursday is the “weekend”, and about ninety percent of businesses close on Friday so that people can rest and spend time with family and friends. Just recently, I had a visitor who is originally from Poland come to visit The Father’s House in Bethlehem. It was her first time here in the Land and she’d be staying for ten days. I was happy to be able to host her at the Father’s House and take her on a little tour to see a few of the must-sees and historic sites in the city. Oddly enough, we both had similar ambitions, things to consider, and perhaps God was moving our hearts in a similar way. Anyway, I say all this to say that it actually feels very homey here, and I will deeply miss this feeling as I get ready to leave in the next couple of days. After my first week here, I was having doubts that I would even last for a month; although, the Land started to grow on me as quickly as wildfire, and the force of gravity that kept me grounded seemed to become stronger as the weeks moved forward. It was sort of a sink or swim moment (seemingly a recurring theme in my life) and it pushed me to fully rely on God.
It seems I’ve unexpectedly managed to gain favor in the Land from those that live and grew up here, and many have expressed their hopes for my return. Some were even offering me to work with them or were telling me of the things they thought I’d be really good at. I’ve been nicked-named Abu Samrah by some (which I guess translates to something like Father of Blackness). I’m not completely sure how I feel about this yet; yet, these are the facts. A couple of weeks ago the cousin of my Arabic tutor Moad had unexpectedly passed away due to a tragic accident. I had met him once at Moad’s shop and we were talking for a little while and took a picture together. He was shocked that I was learning Arabic. About a week later I got word that he had passed.
“Inshallah (In hope to God) his soul will be at rest”, Moad said somberly.
“How old was he,” I asked.
“Wow, I’m so sorry Moad.”
He began to show me videos on facebook that his friends and family had made--a compilation of music and pictures of Moad’s cousin. As I was looking at the video he was showing me, my heart nearly skipped a beat when I saw the picture he and I took together.
“Wait what? That was me?? Go back.” “
Oh wow, I didn’t even realize that. There are so many videos.”
“I’ve somehow managed to be a part of that video?”
“Yeah, everyone in Hebron knows you, Milo.”
“What? What do you mean everyone in Hebron knows me? I’ve only been there one time.”
“He posted that picture of you two on his facebook and was talking about how great you were.” He is from Hebron.
I was shocked to see how that one small encounter made a difference, humbled to be a part of his last moments here, and considerate of the state of his consciousness. The simplest details and interactions seem to speak the loudest: from getting a full tank of gas for free from someone I didn’t even know by name, (I’m still confused as to why this happened)-- to the facial trim from my new friend and barber Safwan (I’ve never actually shaved before until then, and I haven’t been to a barber in years prior to this).
Last Remarks Overall, my heart quivers for the people here, the Jew and Palestinian alike. I’ve cried twice since I’ve been here--once during my first week here and once today shortly before I wrote this and was expressing my thoughts to God which I truly was not expecting. That may not seem like a lot, but really this is a big deal for me because nothing really seems to break my emotional wall as I’ve been incredibly numb for the last couple of years. Last summer I lived in Richmond learning about injustices throughout the city, seeing them first hand, and although I learned and grew so much and am thankful for that experience, not once was I really able to grieve anything (Side note: I truly believe that experience paved the way for this one. Ask me about it later). My level of compassion for the people of this land is really shocking to me. I also found a small community here that is willing to go deep in scripture while exploring its cultural context and in relation to the modern-day nation of Israel--something that I’ve really been craving and asking God for the last few years. Somehow I’ve been considering staying here for a longer time, which truly was not my original intent; yet, I see that there are very many opportunities here for me that I believe encompasses my interests and many areas where I could thrive and perhaps be a blessing and a resource to others. For example, for a long time now I have considered ways to channel my love for learning languages into something that I do on a professional level. Here I was able to use my Spanish with a priest in Jerusalem who didn’t speak any English, and I ran into a woman who spoke Portuguese in Beit Sahour which is currently my favorite language. I can now read and write in Arabic (very far from fluency, but with dedication and motivation I know that I could eventually get to a level of proficiency). Recently I was introduced to the idea of teaching English as a second language as there is a high demand for native English speakers here. English is necessary to learn if you want to further your education, yet there is a huge influx of students and no one to teach. I also thought about being trained and licensed to do guided tours. The political tension here is heavy, of course every day is not always rainbows and sunshine, and not everyone is always the kindest, but within my current headspace the silver linings are much greater. There is a great portion of my heart that’s willing to be on the frontline for such a cause.
I’m not sure what version of Milo this is writing to you right now. He sounds a bit insane, but I’m kind of into it. I love to see God doing things here. They are the kind of supernatural stories perhaps you only read about in books. Truly there is much more that has been on my heart and stories I could tell, but it’s best expressed in person. I want to thank you so much again if you have supported me through this experience financially and or prayerfully (funding actually ended up working out perfectly). I hope I can continue to have your support in the future as I am expectant God will open more doors for me, and eventually show me where I will be and what I’ll be doing long term. I’m down for whatever God wants to do, wherever-- but the Holy Land has stolen a chunk of my heart that I’ll probably never get back.
Until then, please continue to keep me in your prayers. Also, a special shout out to The Father’s House International Family. Thanks for making this possible! I’m looking forward to heading back to the States soon. If you are in the 757 area, I would love to meet up with you and share life over coffee (actually tea or better yet smoothies; I’m just trying to be culturally sensitive to the dense population of coffee enthusiasts in that area, y’all are a handful love you though ☺ ).
Scripture On My Heart Leviticus 19:34 “The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God.”
Matthew 12:46-50 “ While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”
Matthew 25: 35-40 - “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Favorite Quotes: “Muhyeelow, I love youuu.” - “I love Sia!” -Al Asmar “روحي انت ,مایلو) “Milo, You are my soul). -Safwan “You are welcome.” -All of Palestine “Yalla!” (let’s go!) -All of Palestine “I’m mad at you... you keep saying I’m your friend. I’m not your friend I’m your brother. Come eat!” -Hisham “تحبني) “do you love me?) -Mohammad “Your hair is like macaroni.” -Abed “Milo, what does your name mean?” “Umm, the origins of the name are unknown so the exact meaning is unknown. There are many meanings. I was once read there is Polish root where it means soldier. I like to claim that one sometimes.” “It suits you, you are brave.” -Tita, grandma “So do you know when you're coming back yet?” -Paul “It’s always safer to be where God wants you, then to be anywhere else.” -Vicki “Favor! Favor! Favor!” -Celia
What I Have Learned Thus far
● There are many opportunities for me to get involved with.
● Being able to read, pronounce, and write Arabic letters/ vowels and consonants. Basic conversational Arabic.
● The basic geography of the area in relation to where I am in Bethlehem. Now, A few areas outside of Bethlehem.
● The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is more or less hidden/ uncovered in the mainstream media and not many westerners, religious or not, are aware of it.
● A bit of the way of life/ culture: Education/ Family Structure/ Cultural Norms & Values of the Muslim community & the general Palestinian population
● I have met a handful of foreigners from the US who have moved to the Holy Land in the Palestinian territory and have been living here for an extended period of time. (Some have been living here for months. I’ve also met a couple who have been here for 10+ years but originally from the states). This is surprising to me and also inspiring.
● The emotions and perspective of some of the Palestinian Muslims and the small population of Christians here regarding the political conflict and how it impacts their everyday lives.
● Primarily Muslim population where I’m living in the West Bank (a landlocked and disputed territory controlled by Israeli enforcement but population to millions of Palestinians who aren’t allowed to enter the recognize state of Israel yet feel entitled to the land and recognize it as Palestine).
● Religious persecution still exists: (Although I knew this before, it hadn’t really impacted me all that much until now that some of these faraway people have become my friends and are quickly moving into the territory of family)
● Although it's a heavy burden to carry and complex situation, God is using faithful and brave people here to build bridges and change lives.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."