Christ at the Checkpoint: A Very Personal Perspective
By Pastor Wendall Ward
I must admit that when I was invited to attend the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference I was intrigued by the theme, “The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism”.
I thought that exploring the subject matter in such a unique environment would provide a great opportunity to widen my perspective about preaching the gospel; especially in areas of the world that are less receptive and more reactive to its exclusive truth claims and message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
I was also looking forward to exploring the subject from a uniquely Palestinian Christian point of view. Knowing that the conference would be shaped by the challenges of living in such a unique and conflicted land, I felt that the testimony of the Lord’s people would create an environment of empathy and transformation—I was not disappointed.
What I did not expect in the conference was the brutal reality check of what was happening in Israel-Palestine. (I hyphenate them because I cannot separate them in my mind or heart). My overly simplified and naïve notions about the religion, geography, politics and inter-relationships of the people and the land all came crashing down. I am still trying to crawl out from under the emotional and intellectual rubble.
One of the most profound experiences of the conference, and perhaps the one that created the most inner turmoil in me, was the bus tour by a former Israeli tank commander turned tour guide. As we made our way through the less “touristy” places of East Jerusalem, he began to introduce us to the harsh political and social realities of “The Holy Land”—its settlements, refugee camps, dividing walls and checkpoints created by the pervasive fear and suspicion that cover the land like an oppressive heat. The words of Habakkuk’s lament describe in some measure what I was feeling:
Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted. (1:3-4)
Several days after the conference I was honored to speak in the chapel service at Bethlehem Bible College, the sponsors of Christ at the Checkpoint. As I was speaking I looked out among the Palestinian students and heard the Lord say within me, “They are the hope of Palestine”. As I made that declaration of blessing to them, it became the Lord’s hand of breaking within me and I unashamedly wept before them; utterly broken by the accumulation of all I had seen and heard yet lifted by the hope I was seeing through the eyes of the Holy Spirit.
Christ at the Checkpoint was a transformational event in my life; I will never be the same. I have been irrevocably changed. Now I see the reality of Israel-Palestine more clearly.
In the 15 days I was in the land I witnessed the profound beauty and spirituality of the land. I witnessed and deeply empathized with the passionate desire of the Jews for a secure homeland in which the pain of their wandering and persecution could be assuaged. In contrast, I saw the unjust and dehumanizing ways in which that is carried out against the native Palestinian population. I felt the pain of their humiliations to which they are daily subjected. I witnessed the struggle of my own Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ to maintain forgiveness toward their oppressors and in the grace of that forgiveness call for justice and basic human rights to be recognized and restored. I heard a clear call to the Palestinian Christians and the Body of Christ around the world to maintain an evangelical witness and a prophetic watchfulness in the land—to be salt and light.
Yes, I saw struggle and pain, but I also saw hope and the future. I saw the hope that comes from living-out and preaching the gospel of peace and the future that comes from the “living sacrifice” of God’s people of grace and peace living in the land.
I conclude with the words of Paul from 2 Corinthians 2:14…
“…Thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.
Come Lord Jesus into the perilous harvest of Israel-Palestine and release the fragrance of your life, your love and the reconciling power of your gospel of peace! Blessed are the peacemakers