Meet One of Us: Walter Brynjolfson
Walter is one of our favorite and most enthusiastic students and volunteers at Bethlehem Bible College. From the moment he set foot on campus, he connected very well to the Palestinian Christians, his studies, and the conflict; in a way not too often seen among Westerners.
I interviewed Walter to see where he gets all his energy and dedication to BBC and Palestine.
Me: Tell me briefly about yourself.
Walter: I grew up in Canada where my parents were pastors of a local Spanish-speaking church and leaders of a missionary training center. I went from public school to studying at a private liberal arts Christian university in my hometown where I did a Bachelors of Arts in Business Administration and a minor in Philosophy. Around 2012/2013 I quickly developed a fascination for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2014, I came here on a trip with students from my university. I fell in love with Palestinian Christians and decided to learn more about the situation here.
Me: How Long have you been in Palestine?
Walter: For this round of visits, I’ve been here since September 2015 when I first arrived to enroll in the M.A. in Peace Studies program at Bethlehem Bible College.
Me: Why Palestine?
Walter: I chose this region because I realized that the socio-political circumstances here are probably among the most important issues in the world right now. I believe that peace in the world cannot ever truly be manifested if there is still injustice, occupation, and conflict in this region.
Me: How did you know about Bethlehem Bible College?
Walter: I learned about Bethlehem Bible College a few different ways. The first was when Pastor Jack Sara, president of Bethlehem Bible College, came to my university in Canada to speak at chapel in 2013. I also knew about it from my host mother when I visited Palestine in 2014 and stayed with a local family in Beit Sahour; she was, and still is, a professor’s assistant and registrar at BBC.
Me: Why did you choose Bethlehem Bible College?
Walter: As someone who grew up in the Evangelical Church, and has a passion for justice in Israel and Palestine, this college really stands out on the forefront of these issues. With Christ at the Checkpoint and the advocacy and theological work the College engages in, I knew this was an institution that would be ideal to study with and learn from.
Me: What do you do at BBC?
Walter: Well, I started as a professor’s assistant, which would help subsidize my tuition as I was studying here. I worked closely with a lot of the notable and well-recognized professors who taught in the program. It was a great privilege but now that I’ve finished my courses I’ve been transitioning more into a full-time role helping with the Bible College’s online store. I used a lot of my online marketing experience to help build a sophisticated e-commerce platform where the college could gain funds through online sales to support their ministries.
Me: I know that most of our volunteers and international students are having hard times in getting a visa, do you face the same problem?
Walter: Since Bethlehem Bible College is not in a fully autonomous and self-determined state, but is rather in the Palestinian Authority which is beholden to Israeli control in many ways, I could not acquire a student visa. Despite the College is fully accredited by the Palestinian government, Israel’s Ministry of Education doesn’t recognize Bethlehem Bible College. So, suffice it to say, I’ve had a lot of problems with visas.
Me: What main things living in Palestine and studying at BBC have changed your life?
Walter: Living in Bethlehem, Palestine, and studying at Bethlehem Bible College has been a great way for me to understand how people can live out their faith in a way that speaks on behalf of the oppressed and calls for justice. I have found it inspiring to find Evangelical Christians who are so passionately dedicated to helping improve God’s Kingdom in very tangible, social justice oriented ways.
At the same time, I’ve also learned a lot about Muslims and how we can develop better relations with them. An institution like Bethlehem Bible College is at the forefront of these intercultural issues, and it comes at an important time when it seems that Islamophobia is on the rise.
Me: How has living in Palestine changed your perspective on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?
Walter: Living in Palestine has given me a much deeper understanding of what it is like to live as an oppressed minority inside of a conflict region. I think that we Westerners cannot fully understand how to support and advocate for our oppressed brothers and sisters if we never try to experience, listen to and maybe even live with the people of these communities.
Me: What do you say to the Westerners that are afraid to come visit and experience Bethlehem?
Walter: If you’d like to visit Bethlehem but you’re slightly worried, nervous, or afraid, I highly recommend that you go a bit out of your comfort zone, take the risk and come see it for yourself. One of the clearest instructions in the Bible—stated most repeatedly—is, “Do not fear.” And I think nowhere else is this commandment more pertinent, because not only should we be willing to trust the Lord as followers of Christ, but the reality is Bethlehem is one of the safest places I have ever lived in my life.
I have lost my belongings countless times and always had people return them with smiling faces. I have walked around dark alleys at night and never felt even a moment of fright, and I’ve only developed deeper relationships and a growing sense of security with the community.
Me: What is the Hold Fast project that you have been working on for Easter?
Walter: The idea for this project is to try to create personal connections with Christians from around the world by offering them a free gift from Bethlehem. The gift is a cross that is traditionally used by people who are struggling or being persecuted, but anyone can use it in their prayers and in their daily walk with Christ.
We recommend that people use them as a reminder to pray for persecuted Christians, to replace their smartphones during a media sabbath, to give to congregation members if you’re the pastor of a church, or give as a gift to someone as you share the Gospel.
While interviewing Walter we also had the opportunity to shoot this quick video about his experience using a pocket cross to rest from technology on the Sabbath.
If you want to know more about the Hold Fast campaign, or if you want to order a free little cross made by a native Bethlehemite, please click here
Thank you, Walter, for being a light in the darkness of this conflict. Thank you for being a peacemaker, for stepping out of your comfort zone, and for coming here and experiencing the real spirit of Bethlehem. We are grateful for who you are as a good student, a dedicated volunteer, and a great friend.