Made known in the breaking of bread
April 11, 2015
Dear Grace Presbytery friends in faith,
On Monday, April 13, four of us from Grace Presbytery are headed to Israel and Palestine to be in conversation with PC(USA) mission partners and to explore a likely Grace Presbytery trip in the spring of 2016. Participants in this initial trip are staff: Joanna Kim, Mike Thompson, me and Princeton Abaraoha (vice-moderator of presbytery and pastor at Midlothian). We will return on April 24.
For many of you, issues related to Israel and Palestine have focused in these last 9 months around the General Assembly actions related to divestment – only one of the issues which has sparked discussion in PC(USA) congregations and across the denomination. The purpose of our trip is not to be involved in those discussions but to see for ourselves the complex political, social, and religious realities in Israel and Palestine.
We will be joined by 6 others from across the country, and 2 group leaders. One of the participants will be a former GA moderator. Your team from Grace Presbytery represents a good deal of racial and language diversity. I have thought and prayed about just that dimension and the witness it makes on your behalf to say that the life of Christian community is diverse both by God’s hand and by the ways we live into the global community.
You may remember that during my first trip to Egypt, we were present during the constitutional referendum of the former Morsi regime, while there was still some activity daily at Tahrir Square. We discovered the growing conversations among Muslims and Christians about the future of their country and collaborative efforts for government reform.
I believe a similar discovery will be part of this trip – where we will discover that there are Muslims, Jews and Christians who are deeply committed to dialogue, to building a society where people are not marginalized economically or socially, and where conversation replaces distrust and reaction.
In Israel today, many people are saying that the question is whether Israel will choose to be a democratic state or a Jewish state, and that the two are in conflict with each other. Daily I read in Israeli papers about that ongoing debate. So, with the recent election, and the ongoing leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, the question of whether or not a two-state solution is realistic or could be viable remains an open question. Some of you may know that our General Assembly took a position several years ago that we would support a two-state solution. However, at the last General Assembly, commissioners voted to engage a new special committee to explore whether or not that is still realistic. It is expected to report to the 2016 GA in Portland, I believe.
It is my intention to post pictures to Facebook, as I have with previous trips. If you would like to see them as we travel, please feel free to “friend” me as Jan DeVries on Facebook.
When I travel internationally with PC(USA) colleagues, I am always reminded what a remarkable mission history we have as a denomination. And I am enormously grateful for the world community of Christians of which we are one part, and often an important voice. With this trip, we all take you with us – in our hearts, in our prayers, and with deep gratitude for your witness in this presbytery to Jesus Christ and his presence in your lives and ministry.
I cannot help but be reminded in this Eastertide of the Luke 24 Emmaus Road passage, which is one of my favorite stories. On one wall of my home hang several depictions of the breaking of bread moment – Rembrandt and Caravaggio. In the story, dialogue and hospitality lead to recognition and awareness of the lessons of faith. And, what seemed like a walk to a village near Jerusalem instead leads back into the fray of a city rocked a few days before by the crucifixion, women’s stories of an empty tomb, and the political realities of a Roman-occupied society for Jews looking for a Messiah to overturn the situation. In many ways, we ourselves live in this post-resurrection moment, challenged by the realities of our own lives, communities, and country. Where is our moment of recognition when Jesus becomes intimately real for us, and where the transformation of his abiding presence gives us courage?
We covet your prayers not only for us but for Israel and Palestine.
With expectation and hope,
Janet M. DeVries