Children’s Israel-Palestine Study is a Road to Peacemaking
▲ Memphis Conference children's mission study participants count their special offering for the Wi'am Center, an organization teaching non-violent conflict resolution skills to women, children and youth in Bethlehem. Wi'am, which means cordial relationships in Arabic, is a Mission Giving-supported program. Photo credit: Sandra Mauney
by YVETTE MOORE*
Children will get a taste of Palestinian and Israeli cultures along with a new respect for the human dignity of both peoples in United Methodist Women Schools of Christian Mission convening around the country this summer.
This year marks the second and final year of the Israel-Palestine geographic study offered in Schools of Christian Mission attended by more than 25,000 women, men, youth and children each year. “I Believe in Jesus” is the focus of the 2008 spiritual growth study, and “Giving Our Hearts Away: Native American Survival” is the 2008-2009 mission issue study theme.
Mary Davies, a retired United Methodist missionary to Palestine and Cyprus, wrote From Palestine to Seattle: Becoming Neighbors and Friends, the storybook-style text for the children’s geographic mission study.
“My point in my little book is that Palestinian children are human just like American children, just like Jewish children,” Ms. Davies said. “It’s trying to get away from the propaganda that says all Arabs are terrorists.”
The story revolves around Seattle siblings, Allison and Matt, who, upon their clergyman father’s return from a trip to the region, become e-mail-pals with a Palestinian boy, Tarek, and an Israeli girl, Miriam. E-mails about favorite foods, TV, school, and playing soccer and basketball “when there is no trouble” fly between the youth. The U.S. children are puzzled by their new friends’ e-mail references to “passes” needed to travel to another city and fear of “a bomb” going off in the neighborhood. Their father explains there’s conflict between the peoples in the region – and that Tarek, Miriam and their families are part of a group of Palestinians and Israelis working non-violently for peace. The U.S. children travel to Palestine to meet their new friends and participate in a children’s march for peace.
A teacher’s guide that accompanies the children’s storybook text is filled with Bible studies, songs, dances, recipes, examples of Muslim, Arab Christian and Jewish holidays, and other activities that enable students to “walk alongside families who call the Holy land home and to participate in building bridges by praying and working for peace,” wrote guide author Faye Wilson, Ed.D.
From there, study leaders’ imaginations take over.
“Our thought was to immerse the children into the cultures,” said Barbara King, lead teacher of the 24 4-11-year-old participants in the 2007 South Indiana Conference School of Christian Mission’s children study.
A big pop-up tent – one with a ceiling and no sides – took up quite a bit of classroom space, but it’s message was clear: this study is about the people of Abraham, Ms. King said. The children learned Bible stories, heard the story text, cooked, ate and did activities in their classroom-tent, and took a field trip to a local synagogue. Ms. King and the other teachers also painted sheets of wall insulation brownish-beige and used them as Jerusalem’s famous Wailing Wall one day and as the wall separating Palestinians and Israelis the next.
“We poked holes in the insulation so the children could put their prayers in it when it was the Wailing Wall,” Ms. King said. “When it was the dividing wall, the children each got a pass to see who could go through the wall and who had to stay on the other side. We tried to compare that experience to things that happen at school, getting blamed for something you didn’t do. We tried to show both sides and keep it to feelings: ‘How would you feel if you were treated this way?’”
West Ohio Conference children’s study with 10 5-13 year olds featured worship, story time, crafts, Israeli folk dancing and water play in the facility’s swimming pool, said study leader Barb Brooks. Older children helped the younger ones with the craft projects. The group also saw a documentary-style video about Palestinian and Israeli children getting together to talk about their lives, likes, dislikes, schools – and to play.
“We talked about comparisons between Muslims, Jewish and Christian religions and ways they are the same,” Ms. Brooks said. “‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ can be found in all three religions.”
The 23 first through sixth graders in Red Bird Missionary Conference’s children study played games and made crafts, but also spent a lot of time talking about the conflict in Palestine/Israel, said study leader Lucinda Schneider. The group saw excerpts of a video about a Palestinian refugee family who visits land that belonged to their grandfather. The young people talked about the refugees who had no other place to live. They talked about second and third generation Israelis who also had no other place to live. And, they talked about the many Palestinians and Israelis working non-violently for peace in that land, Ms. Schneider said.
“I think if there were easy solutions, it would have been reconciled long ago,” Ms. Schneider said. “The whole story was based on making friends with both peoples and understanding both situations. At the children’s level, what you want them to come away with is that the situation of the Palestinians is unbearable, and it’s increasingly fearful for the Israelis.”
Study planners hope that knowledge will help make the difficult work of peacemaking in that region an imperative for all.
“This wonderful mission study is part of our United Methodist Women outreach to help our church family understand some of the ways God-loving and God-fearing people are trying to make peace in Palestine/Israel,” Ms. Wilson said. “One approach of the storybook and leader’s guide is: ‘Let’s expand the information about Palestine and Israel with information that is not readily available in the media. Let’s show people who believe there should be greater efforts for peace in the region.’
“I pray United Methodist Women members will continue to want to know more than what they see on the front page of a newspaper or hear in a television report,” Ms. Wilson said. “I pray that United Methodist children will be able to examine life experiences from various angles. Might does not equal right – that’s biblical.”
*Yvette Moore is an executive secretary for communications with the Women’s Division of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: May 29, 2008