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Posted July 12, 2016 by
Tags: My Wheaton Global and Experiential Learning

Student Ministry Partners: Bethlehem

When I heard Wheaton wanted to send a group of Student Ministry Partner (SMP) students to Bethlehem for the first time this summer, I immediately was interested because of the rich history, complicated and ongoing conflict, and a desire to better understand life in Arab culture.

Now that our team of six students is here partnering with the Palestine Summer Encounter program at Holy Land Trust, an interfaith NGO that seeks peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land, we have experienced more learning and meaningful conversations than we ever could have imagined.
On a typical day, after enjoying Arab breakfasts with our host families, we set off to service projects. They vary each week -- we have painted a YMCA building, taught English, worked with disabled youth, and farmed. We then spend the remainder of the day taking Arabic lessons, hearing lectures about the history of Israel/Palestine, doing cultural activities, or touring historical sites. 

While all of these activities have taught us a lot, the most impactful part of our trip has been the relationships we have formed. The staff and participants at Holy Land Trust, our host families, and other people we have met living here have taught us more than a classroom ever could have.
One such example was during our first week here when we were invited to a new friend’s grandmother's house for the afternoon. After a warm greeting from people we had never met, we were overwhelmed with hospitality, being offered cucumbers, tea, coffee, pita, and cookies. We felt incredibly welcomed into their home, and had hours worth of meaningful conversations about family life in Bethlehem and how the occupation and intifadas have personally affected their lives. They allowed us to enter into immensely emotional stories while also showering us with love and comfort—something that has sparked further conversation amongst our group that couldn't have happened in a classroom.

It's also the simple encounters we have daily with shopkeepers inviting us to coffee, people buying us medical supplies and water when we fall in the street, and friendly faces who are genuine when they say they want to get to know us that make us realize that Bethlehem, and all of Palestine, is a place of incredibly kind people who teach us what hospitality and loving people well looks like.
While many things we have seen and heard here have challenged us, we continue to seek truth and pray for peace. We are leaving in less than a month, and until then, we look forward to continuing to learn, serve, and see God at work by living side-by-side with our friends in Bethlehem who yearn for peace.

“Peace is not contemplation, but active hunger and thirst after righteousness.” -Abuna Elias Chacour 

Jackie Westeren ’19 is an international relations major participating in Wheaton’s Student Ministry Partners project in Bethlehem this summer. Learn more about Student Ministry Partners on their website. Photo captions (from top): SMP participants cook a traditional Palestinian dish together; a view of Bethlehem; SMP students listen to Sami Adwan, co-director of the Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME) and professor at Bethlehem University, deliver a lecture.