Bethlehem is, above all else, a city of hope and love. This statement should not come as a surprise, especially to those who have spent any amount of time here or remember the city’s Biblical significance, but I forgot this reality. Without realizing it, I had allowed university studies and news of the conflict to supplant my understanding of the city. The Bethlehem of Jesus, hope, and hospitality was replaced by a city of occupation, apartheid, and tragedy.

Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Hebron; all of Palestine is overflowing with hope and love, even in the face of occupation. I am grateful that God reminded me of this fact time and time again through my interactions with Palestinians during the month I stayed. Nowhere was this feeling more powerful and constant than at the Bethlehem Bible College’s “Around the World in 7 Days” English summer camp.

BBC’s week-long summer camp brought in Christian and Muslim children from Bethlehem and two nearby refugee camps. I was initially overwhelmed on the first day of camp as a hundred children poured into BBC’s lobby the once quiet college erupted in yelling, laughing and an abundance of energy. Our team, consisting of Palestinians, Americans, and Brits, made frequent use of the words “nshallah” and “alhamdulillah” as needs arose and God provided for the kids and us throughout the week. I spent my time at the camp both teaching in the classroom and as a floater, helping out wherever I was needed. I enjoyed my time teaching English and interesting facts about the continents in the classroom, seeing the children’s faces light up as we brought out puppets, played games, and sung songs throughout the week. I also really appreciated working as a floater, as it awarded me the opportunity to engage more meaningfully with my team members and the time needed to process how I blessed I was to be a small part of an awesome team and project.

Working at BBC’s camp reminded me of the beauty of the world, God’s kingdom, and His teachings. For a week, the college was filled with more than a hundred unique stories and contexts from Christians and Muslims from Palestine, the UK, the US, and elsewhere. It was a powerful reminder of how God’s kingdom is expansive and inviting. I spent many moments outside of the camp reflecting on this and rejoicing in the care God takes in uniquely creating each of His children, young and old. The biggest takeaway from the camp, though, was how enriching and how much of a blessing it is to love one’s neighbor, living a loving and peaceful life according to the teachings of Jesus. Seeing joy in the children, my teammates, and myself illustrated how life-giving fellowship and love can be in a community and someone’s life. It is my sincere hope that BBC will be able to continue this project and host future summer camps. If you get a chance to participate, it is truly a blessing!  Yalla!