Recently I talked to several Friends who wondered about making a 2-year + commitment in the Middle East. I want for them what I have had: a home church that loves them and stands ready to discern, prepare, pray, give, teach, encourage, and listen. Friends in a gathered community who say “yes” to extending local ministry on the other side of the sea – not as something exotic but as something genuinely personal, sustained over time.
The love and efforts of Friends in a gathered community make ministry possible – there and here. God gives us this love for the “world” and asks us to embody it in particular places, to particular people.
For three years I’ve been in Ramallah. And as I learn, love, live, and serve, I see my communities coming closer together. Perhaps reading this will help, but probably the best I can do is to share pictures of some of the Middle Eastern Muslims and Christians I love. They help tell about being a Friend of Jesus there and, I hope, invite us to be steadfast in the face of distraction, struggle, and disappointment.
Since October, visa requirements meant I needed to return to Oregon for six months.
Among other things, I learned to knit. As I think about people I know and love in Ramallah, I knit and pray—18 “shoulder cozies” (something between a scarf and a cowl) to give on my return. Isn’t it amazing that two knitting needles, yarn, steady effort, and knitting mentors can bring something new into being? Nate Macy wrote a prayer song about God’s work in knitting. It speaks to my condition, asking God for tender-hearted resilience.
Knitting is quiet, and I thought a lot about how we “landed” in Ramallah four years ago to explore, discern, and seek the road to long-term ministry and the blessings that have already come: laughter, learning, community building, faith, hope, and love. Along with the practical parts of my job, I’ve been learning what it means to be a Friend of Jesus in the Middle East, in a context of distress, trauma, grief, hopelessness, bitterness, rage, and anger.
I don’t want to minimize the challenge of what we have done and are attempting. And it is clear we need God’s help and the beloved community to find our way forward.
This work requires divine intervention to open doors and the muster of people who want to see God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Here are some things I pray.
1. When I return April 11, I will face into a transition to long-term presence with decisions about visa, assignment, and team to emerge over time. I believe God calls us to the place where the world’s need and our deep gladness meet. I need to find that in a context that also allows me legal residence.
2. The change in the U.S. envoy to Israel may change the access we have and the level of violence in the area. I pray for our leaders to have wisdom and act with justice, mercy, and humility.
3. While there, I usually feel safe and welcomed as a guest. Yet I also drive through flashpoints of contention that are sometimes violent and/or roads close, so I’m not able to get where I want to be. It isn’t safety and security alone I need, but God’s help with peace, courage, and wisdom.
4. With the challenges of Northwest Friends these days and ones in my own church, it is easy to feel disoriented and wonder what will come. I need to release this to Friends at home and trust my community to find their way forward.
Overall, despite the trouble in the world, I want to keep my balance or at least, like a weeble-wobble, return upright with some buoyancy. And it encourages me to have Friends who, in a world of uncertainties, join me in setting a rock of Ebenezer: thus far has the Lord helped us. Then we go forward with all the gumption and grit God gives us.