Alternative Pilgrimage

I am leading a group of young adults who are tasked with the responsibility of leading other young adults on trips to Israel and Palestine in the next year and a half. These travelers will use their trips as starting points to engage in issues of peace and justice back home as it pertains to the ongoing occupation and violation of human rights happening in Israel and Palestine. Each night, we hold reflections and devotions as we consider what we have experienced throughout the day and how it not only impacts our knowledge, but more importantly how it impacts our calling as people of faith who are seeking to be change agents.

The other night, the young adults leading devotions last spoke about Christian pilgrimage and they got me thinking about this question – What does it mean to reclaim Christian Pilgrimage from being viewed as an internal spiritual experience to an external prophetic journey? Don’t get me wrong, I believe that we are called to deepen in faith and do soul work that better informs our spirituality. However, it seems as though Christian pilgrimage has become mainly about visiting sites and growing in personal faith and less about connecting with a historic narrative that informs how one’s faith should impact their life in the world. Continue reading

Home is Where the Heart Is

I think a lot about home. My work requires that I travel frequently and I have lived in various places. I try to create a sense of community in every space that I inhabit but as I have gotten older, I am aware of the fact that for me, home is where my heart is and my heart is with my family of origin. Even as I have friends who have become like family and who I carry in my heart no matter where I go, I long to be reunited with my flesh and blood.

Yesterday, we had a very unique opportunity to visit Zaatari Refugee Camp, which is located in Jordan approximately 8 miles from the Syrian border. Zaatari is home to more than 150,000 Syrian refugees, making it the second largest refugee camp in the world. It’s a city, a tent city to be exact, one with limited resources, traumatized people and service providers trying desperately to keep up with the demands caused by war and conflict that has left millions displaced. Some come with their families, some have lost loved ones and others left family members behind. Regardless of how they got to Zaatari, one thing became very clear to me as we met with our brothers and sisters – home is where the heart is. Continue reading

Shrines and Stones

I am beginning my second journey in the Middle East as I type this post. I was first here in June of 2013 with a group of young adults who were traveling from the Metro DC Synod of the ELCA. I was able to join them on their journey as an observer and what I saw, heard and felt, changed my life.

The Holy Land has long been a mythical place to me. I am a person of Christian faith and thinking about modern day cities like Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem conjures up images of Jesus and the disciples sharing the radical message that would become the basis of my faith. I am someone who values interfaith dialogue and relationships and the Holy Land always seemed like a utopic place; where those descendants of Abrahamic faith live together. Before coming in June, I was overwhelmed with the thought of walking where Jesus walked, seeing what Jesus saw and of meeting people who were descendants of the heroes and sheroes of my faith. This whimsical, and quite frankly, naive way of viewing my experience was fundamentally altered when I touched down in Israel, Palestine and Jerusalem. Continue reading

Canaries in a Coal Mine

Sunday was a day that answered my ongoing question of, “Why is it important for this place and this conflict to be recognized by Christians and what is our role is supporting the peace process?” The answer came in the form of a mining story dealing with canaries in a coal mine…

Before mines had ventilation systems and we had the technology to detect high levels of carbon monoxide and other gases that can kill a miner, canaries played an important and sacrificial role in alerting miners to the dangers around them. A canary would be brought into the mine in a cage and as they are created to do, would sing. When a canary stopped singing, because they were dead or very close to dying, miners would know that they needed to get out of the mine because of the dangerous levels of CO2. Canaries served as a warning of the impending danger but they also provided songs while miners worked in a very dangerous setting. Stay with me because I am going to connect it all very soon… Continue reading

Be Not Afraid

I write this as I am flying somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean as I make my way to Israel. I can’t believe that this trip is finally here. In typical Rozella fashion, I was running behind this morning and almost missed my flight out of Chicago. I don’t know if it was God, luck or fate, but I made it. The only thing that I forgot was my bathing suit. Considering how absentminded I can be, I will recognize this as a major accomplishment.

I have been so anxious, and quite frankly afraid, leading up to this day. The only other time I felt something akin to what I’m feeling now is the first time I traveled to Africa. This time is different though. When I began what I call my Sacred Travel Journeys in 2004 (experiences that transform the heart, mind and soul and lead to an increased awareness) I was pretty naive. I didn’t know what to expect so any anxiety that I felt was linked to the fact that I had never traveled for anything more than a vacation before then. Now, however, I am more aware. I do not go to the Holy Land ignorant of what’s happening, of the history, of the risks. I go knowing that this is a volatile time. I go knowing that Israel and Syria are on the brink of war. I go knowing that peace talks between Israel and Palestine are to resume with much at stake. I go knowing that I am entering occupied terriotories and that I will see and experience things that have been linked to apartheid and slavery. I go with eyes wide open… Continue reading