Four days in Gaza

Epiphany 7 (February 22, 2009)
Common Lectionary Readings:
II Kings 2:1-12; Ps. 50:1-6; II Cor. 4:3-6; Mk. 9:2-9

This week we were finally allowed to enter Gaza, where we visited MCC partners. We traveled the 25-mile length of the Gaza Strip, viewing areas that were most affected by the 22-day war – Beit Hanoun, Jabalia and Beit Lahia in the north; Gaza City in the center; and Khan Younis and Rafah in the south.

Map of Gaza Strip (BBC News)

We saw dozens of houses near the Israel border that had been flattened by Israeli bombs. All told, some 4,000 houses were destroyed and another 20,000 were damaged.

A Palestinian youth stands on top of his home near the Israeli border

Thousands of Gazans are living in tents or makeshift houses built from tin or plastic. Many government buildings – including police stations and the presidential palace – have been reduced to piles of rubble. Many UN and Palestinian government schools have been badly damaged. The $4.0 million American International School of Gaza was completely crushed.

The American International School of Gaza was built with U.S. dollars and destroyed by U.S. weapons supplied to Israel.

We heard expressions of anger, grief and despair. Many are disillusioned about any prospects for peace. But we also witnessed courage and self-sacrifice. Many are eager to volunteer to help those who have lost the most. Amazingly, we saw smiles and heard laughter. Palestinians are a resilient people.

Cindy with Rifqa, director of MCC partner Al-Najd Forum for Development

Children, who have been traumatized by the attacks, are now returning to schools.

A Palestinian child's drawing of the 22-day war

Teachers and social workers are using art, music and drama to begin the process of trauma healing. We visited one home where a frightened young boy immediately wet his pants. His grandmother tried to reassure him: “These are the Mennonites, they will not bring rockets.”

Young girls at a school near Khan Younis sing about their hopes for a better life

MCC partners have distributed food and material resources and are engaged in trauma healing efforts. Their work is truly inspiring to witness.

The Common Lectionary readings this week focus on transitions, transformation and transfiguration.

The Old Testament reading describes the transition of leadership from Elijah to Elisha (II Kings 2:1-12). Elisha is reluctant to let go of his mentor, Elijah, and begs for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. His wish is granted as Elijah is transported to heaven by a chariot and horses of fire.

The psalmist writes that God gathers and delivers those whose lives have been transformed – all who offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and go the right way (v.23). But God rebukes those whose words are hollow and whose lives are filled with evil (vv.16-22).

In the Epistle reading, Paul writes that the gospel message is hidden from those who have no faith (II Cor. 4:4), but transforms those who have faith by revealing “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (v.6).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus is transfigured in front of his disciples and his clothes become dazzling white (Mk. 9:2-9). Moses and Elijah, who represent the law and the prophets, appear on the mountaintop with Jesus and a cloud envelops them. A voice speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (v.7). Then Elijah and Moses disappear. The message could not be clearer: the way of Jesus is superior to the law and the prophets.

The trip to Gaza was a sobering reminder of the challenges that lie ahead. With Elisha, we wish for a double-portion of God’s Spirit for our work. We desire our lives to be more fully aligned with the way of Jesus. All else is less than what God desires for the entire human family.

This coming week, we plan to visit Iraq.

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