I would like to begin this report to the church by acknowledging that the land on which our congregation gathers is the unceded ancestral territory of the Syilx (Okanagan) Peoples and humbly recognizing that many of us are settlers occupying this land.
I am reporting back to the church on recent short-term missions activities undertaken with the financial assistance of Kelowna Gospel Fellowship Church. At the beginning of May 2018, I left Kelowna to work for two weeks with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. I was travelling as part of a small delegation, myself and four other guys: a Mennonite, a Quaker, a Presbyterian pastor, and a fellow hesitant to throw in his lot with any denomination. I met them in Jerusalem the night of May 1st; we stayed in Jerusalem for four nights, three nights in Bethlehem, five nights in Hebron, and one more night in Jerusalem before I flew home from Tel Aviv on the 14th of May.
In the application letter I wrote to CPT, I outlined some of the questions I had about the implications of Christian discipleship in our world. What does a disciplined pursuit of Christ’s call to peace look like? If we take Paul seriously in Romans 12:1-2, what does it look like when we use our lives as a test of God’s will against the patterns of this world? Do we accept the prophet’s rebuke in Isaiah 58, and if so, then what does it look like an active posture of fasting looking like when it’s focused towards the end of loosing the chains of injustice? Menno Simons cited 1 Corinthians 3:11 throughout his ministry: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” I suppose I had questions about how well that foundation holds up under strain.
In the week before my departure, I heard a land acknowledgement similar to my opening statement given at Kelowna First Mennonite Church, up the road at the corner of Gordon and Cawston. I was there to hear a talk by the Rev. Naim Stifan Ateek, of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. He's an Arab Israeli citizen, and part of the Palestinian Church leadership which developed the 2009 Kairos Palestine Document as an ecumenical vision of peace and justice beyond the current state of conflict. Ateek is also one of the founders of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem, an important partner there for both Christian Peacemaker Teams - Palestine and Mennonite Central Committee. He was in Kelowna launching a new book, A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict. I had heard land acknowledgements like this before, mostly up at the UBCO campus, but hearing those words in this context gave them a weight I’d not previously felt. As Rev. Ateek talked about the colonial dimensions of the Israeli occupation and its effect on the indigenous Palestinians he introduced a new dimension to the way I think about Israel-Palestine. It has implications closer to home than I had considered before this experience.
“Justice and love are two sides of the same coin. When there is love there is justice, and vice versa. Love entails relationships, respect for the other, and the respect for the rights of the other. Love does not seek the destruction of the other but the good of the other. The Zionists who conquered Palestine did not come with good will toward the indigenous Palestinians. But as we seek justice, we need to connect it to love. To love our neighbour, including our enemy, is difficult but necessary.” (Ateek p.119)