Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Hello Peace ... "Hello Salaam, Hello Shalom"

Hello Peace ... "Hello Salaam, Hello Shalom"

Listening & Living the Life of Evangelism

Often when we have the experience of encountering someone whose life seems so completely different from ours, we can almost imagine we have nothing in common. However, if we go more deeply into listening, we might see that we all have many of the same things going on in our lives. It is as though our different lives are in essence the same gift, wrapped in an infinite variety of containers, wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows. We experience some level of loss, grief, happiness, excitement, anger, and fear. Perhaps we have money issues of one kind or another, and most everyone struggles with difficult choices.

Last year, the Evangelism Leadership Team that I chair hosted a luncheon during which Ryan Connell, a recent High School graduate, visited us to share his stories of the time he spent in the West Bank of Israel. As an 18 year old High School graduate from Stroudsburg, PA, Ryan traveled to the Middle East on a peace mission. However, he also had a goal of his own; to "bring the love of Christ without using words, but by using the universal language of love."

This is right in line with sharing God's unconditional love with everyone, which combines all faith traditions.

God's Unconditional Love.

It was there that Ryan visited the tents and homes of people far away from his home in Stroudsburg and listened to their stories. There were times that the language barrier hampered his attempts to understand them, but he knew that those he heard found some sort of relief in being able to talk and to cry as he listened. Some of these stories brought me to tears as well.

This is what evangelism is about ... listening and sharing ... one beggar teaching another beggar where to find food.

That is what we are called to do.

Ryan and his colleugues encountered many angry people and much danger. They encountered aggressive checkpoint soldiers and abgry citizens.

A colleague of his showed a group of angry young boys that their aggressions toward soldiers could be worked out through physical exercise rather than violence. Ryan noted that this was done without his friend being able to communicate in a spoken language that the boys understood.

Ryan's colleauge approached the angry boys with the typical urban American approach of walking toward one briskly with hands held up and palms forward while shouting "What's Up?!", grinning and walking in a side to side step by step.
We've seen that approach in popular comedies and in Budweisser Superbowl commercials ... "WASSUP?!?!"

The end result was that these boys went from hurling rocks and shouting curses at soldiers to running relays and shouting “What’s up?!” at them.

Imagine the perplex confusion as the soldiers attempted to process this new behavior.

It is this sort of "lifestyle evangelism" that St. Francis of Assisi speaks of when he suggests that we "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words."

The idea here is to live the Christian lifestyle with the hope that people will see Christ and God's unconditional love through our actions.

Jesus encouraged his disciples to shine the light for other people to see. He never asked us to be salespeople for lights and bulbs.

If we show our love of God through our lives, people will notice that and follow. People will see God through our actions.

At Morning Prayer, we offer the General Thanksgiving, beseeching the Lord to "give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days."

This lifestyle lives on in another piece which Ryan shared. He also spoke of a single telephone line connecting one side of the wall which separates the Israelis from the Palestinians to the other. It all started with a wrong number. An Israeli woman named Natalia Wieseltier misdialed a telephone number one day and accidentally telephoned a Palestinian living in the territories.

One day in November 2000, Natalia Wieseltier tried to telephone a friend from her home in Tel Aviv. She dialled the wrong number - but it was the best mistake she has ever made. The call went through to a Palestinian man living in Gaza. The intifada had just started and relations between Israelis and Palestinians were at their lowest point in years. But the man spoke some Hebrew, and instead of hanging up he and Wieseltier started to talk.

"I asked him how he was and he said, 'We're afraid - there's a curfew and there's no one on the streets; my wife is having a baby and we can't get to the hospital.' Then he said he was surprised a Jew talked like this. I was saying nothing special, I was just talking. I left him my number, and the next day he left a message on my answer machine."

She called him back, and he passed the phone to his brother and his uncle and Wieseltier spoke to them, too. They handed on her number to friends in Ramallah and Jenin. "I realised it was something magic, just talking to these people like this. It was so direct. Then I realised that they all probably thought there was only one freak in Tel Aviv who would speak to them." So she gave their phone numbers to her friends.

The result is one of the most remarkable stories of hope and reconciliation to emerge from the Middle East conflict.

Wieseltier and a friend, Shmulik Cohen, met with Yitzhak Frankenthal, an Orthodox Jew whose son was killed by Hamas in 1994 and who has become a leading peace campaigner. Frankenthal heads the Families Forum, which promotes dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian families that have lost a relative in the fighting. Together, he, Wieseltier and Cohen set up something even more ambitious: a telephone hotline that Palestinians and Israelis can use to speak with someone on the other side.

Billed as "Hello, Salaam! Hello, Shalom!", which in English is "Hello, Peace!" the hotline was launched that October with two weeks of radio, billboard and newspaper advertising. So far, hundreds of thousands of people have called the line from across Israel and the Palestinian territories, people living everywhere from refugee camps to affluent suburbs. In total, they have talked for more than 1,000,000 minutes.

To use the system, you call *6364 from either side and you are put through to an automated answer system: "Press 1 if you wish to talk to an Israeli, 2 if you want to talk to a Palestinian." You are asked if you would like to speak to someone on the other side and if you want to open your own box so that others can speak to you, and then if you would rather speak to a man or a woman, or to someone of a particular age group. A computer searches the database and patches you through. After that it's up to you - you can talk, end the call and leave it at that, or you can exchange numbers and carry on a relationship beyond the Hello, Shalom! system. Thousands of people have done so.

One of them is Nadim Asmar, a Palestinian student from outside Bethany who heard about Hello, Shalom! on the radio. He has telephoned seven Israelis, four of whom he has exchanged numbers with. "I had been wanting to talk with Israelis but I didn't know how," he says. "Israelis and Palestinians have become increasingly separated over the past few months. We've become very far away from each other."

Making the first call can take considerable courage. "I tell you, my hand was shaking," says Asmar. "I was thinking, what will they say to me? Will they call me a terrorist? But they didn't. In fact they were very nice." It has, he says, transformed his views of Israeli people. "I thought they were selfish, that they didn't understand what was going on here or didn't want to know. But I was wrong. Like us, they want to live, they want to travel without fear of being blown up . . . First of all, they're human beings."

Our lives show up differently for each one of us because we each learn in different ways. We each learn about work and love, with experiences that are tailored to our particular perspective. Even as it appears that some people have it easy while others are in a continual state of struggle, the truth is that we are all learning, and it is very difficult to tell, when looking only at the exterior of a person, what’s going on inside. This is one of the many things that can be so valuable about cultivating relationships with people from all walks of life. As we get to know those who seem so different from us, we get to really see how much of life’s challenges and joys are universal. We begin to look beyond the packaging of skin color, clothing preferences, and socioeconomic differences, hairstyles, and the cars we drive to the heart of the human experience. It is important to honor and value the differences in our packaging, but it is just as important to honor the gift of life inside each one of us, and the fact that, no matter how different the packaging, the gift inside is the same.

Live the life which is evangelism.

With love & light,


No comments:

Post a Comment