Discovery in the Desert

Meeting ‘the other,’ and finding them like ourselves

By Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service (www.assistews.net)

WADI RUM, JORDAN — Ronza Saba, West Bank Women’s Coordinator for Musalaha, a non-profit organization that promotes and facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, writes: “We started our trip early in the morning on a Thursday in March, when the weather was still cool enough to enjoy the desert.

mi Musalaha desert camp 07 07 2017 “Our two buses moved from Bethlehem to Jericho passing all the checkpoints: the Palestinian, the Israeli and the Jordanian ones. We finally arrived at the Wadi Rum camp, where we would stay for four days. The mood on the bus was quiet. Everyone had mixed feelings, concerns and excitement about the days ahead.”

When she arrived and saw the tents and the sand around her everywhere, Ronza felt the enormity of the challenge ahead.

“It was a challenge for many in the group, to live in the desert for four days, and for me personally,” she said.

“This was the first time for me to live without the comforts of city life, with no internet and very far from normal amenities. There was nothing to do except think about life, the group and the environment around us. Wherever you looked, all you could see was sand and tents.”

Ronza said that in our normal lives there is not enough time to reflect and sit with ourselves.

“Sometimes, because of our busy lives we do not even sit and talk to God. And also because of the invasion of technology, there is less time to form or develop friendships. However, this desert trip provided us with the time and space to sit with ourselves, sit with God, and contemplate our lives and his creation. There was also time for forming friendships with people from both religions, Muslim and Christian.”

This was the first experience for Ronza to be with Muslims.

“I have never had a relationship with the other, a Muslim, although we live in the same place and same country. However, our education and our upbringing have given us a lot of incorrect beliefs and misconceptions about the other in our minds. We often assign labels and stereotypes that are false,” Ronza said.

This desert trip was the ideal opportunity for the group to discover the other and learn about them.

She continued: “I am used to seeing Muslims in the street, taxis and in shops, but I never had a close friendship with a Muslim before this trip. I learned so much from the time together, and really saw individual Muslims for who they are- good people who are my neighbors. I discovered this when I decided to open my heart to them. I saw them in a different way than ever before. After four days with each other, talking, singing, playing and also discussing challenging topics, I came to know each group member in a personal way, and I became close to everyone. I saw great people, without the misperceptions I had learned from my community.”

Ronza said two leaders from the group had known each other in the past and there was an unresolved problem between them. It was a coincidence that they met again in this group. In the initial stages of the trip they were avoiding each other. However, during an icebreaking activity one of them picked his old friend’s name. He asked his friend to forgive him and he apologized.

“We were all amazed to see this! Then they hugged each other in front of the whole group. After four days together, they really strengthened their relationship,” said Ronza.

Desert music“On the last day, we finally felt we could call ourselves a group. Before this trip I did not feel there was any commitment to each other. We only recognized and knew each other’s faces and names. But after the desert journey we started to know each other in a real and meaningful way. I felt a sense of belonging to everyone; when the group members talked to each other, they forgot whether the person was a Muslim or a Christian. We began to speak and treat others as human beings, without thinking about the background of the person. We stopped thinking about this issue altogether!”

The group participants felt that they had become like a family, and not just a group, she said.

“We created a WhatsApp texting group, and we have been chatting almost daily, updating each other about our lives. We have planned to meet for coffee and kanafeh, an Arabic dessert.

“I can say that this trip achieved its goal in that we have succeeded in forming a strong group. I look forward to all the things we can do together in Palestinian society, and the ways that we can influence our family and friends to get to know their Muslim or Christian neighbors more.

“What we discovered in the desert will not stay there, but will spread through us to our communities.”

Based on the life and teaching of Jesus, Musalaha, which means “reconciliation” in Arabic, was founded in 1990. Since its creation, an executive board of Palestinian and Israeli community and church leaders has led this ministry of reconciliation in taking steps towards unity in our society. Learn more at: www.musalaha.org

Editor’s Note: This reporter has traveled to Wadi Rum in Jordan and concurs that this site is indeed a good place to consider friendships while apart from life’s normal distractions.

Photo captions: 1) The Musalaha experience occurs in a desert setting (Musalaha). 2) Music is part of a Musalaha experience (Musalaha). 3) Michael Ireland.

Michael Ireland small useAbout the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Chief Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ANS since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. Please consider helping Michael cover his expenses in bringing news of the Persecuted Church, by logging-on to: https://actintl.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael

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