From Tourist to Reconciliation Promoter
Jeff Anderson says all voices need to be heard in Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
By Stan Friedman | Photography by Andrew Larsen | June 25, 2016
Jeff Anderson, superintendent of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Canada, has traveled to Israel/Palestine nine times, including leading groups of Covenanters on several vision trips and to three Christ at the Checkpoint conferences. He is credited with increasing the denomination’s and conference’s involvement with several Palestinian Christian ministries. In this interview he talks about why he hopes Covenanters connect with Christians in Palestine.
How did you become invested in reconciliation in the Holy Land?
I went on a Holy Land tour in the mid-1990s and we got to see the amazing sites and get a feel for how the geography of the region helps a person to better understand the biblical text. Then in 2007, just after the Second Intifada I joined World Vision Canada and a group of Canadian denominational leaders who were seeking a broader understanding of the region. For one week we met with people who lived in the land—something that did not happen on my earlier trip—and heard their stories of how complex the situation is for everyone who lives there.
When we met with a group of Christians in Nazareth I was challenged by one of the leaders who basically said: “Forgive me if I can’t be enthusiastic about your presence. Do you know how many come and say they want to be in relationship then never come back?” So I decided the Evangelical Covenant Church of Canada (ECCC) would host a study tour that would visit all the typical sites but would also meet with residents, especially with the Christian community. Every other year since 2009, groups of Covenanters from the United States and Canada have gone. Partnerships began to grow out of that.
How are those partnerships making a difference?
We have sponsored scholarships for women attending seminary in Nazareth. One group spearheaded an effort to buy a new vehicle for Bethlehem Bible College instructors. Funds have been raised for the Arab/Israeli Bible Society to publish an illustrated “peace Bible” aimed at children and used in homes and schools.
As we have met with various ministries we have run into other Covenant churches and individuals who were involved in supporting the Christian community. Rolling Hills Covenant has given significant support to Bethlehem Bible College and to the Bible Society. Various ministries such as Holy Land Trust, World Vision Jerusalem/Gaza, and Peace Catalysts have significant Covenant connections. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s Covenant Bible College took regular study tours in conjunction with Jerusalem University College, so the ECCC had a steady exposure to the region though our young adult community.
How have you changed your approach to these conversations?
Although we may hear them often, there are no simple or sound bite answers. One thing I have learned from talking to friends in the region is the importance of listening closely to the narrative of the residents. The Messianic Jewish, Israeli Jewish, Muslim, and Palestinian/Arab Christian communities will all tell you this. The truth about most tours is that you typically only hear the Israeli Jewish perspective.
All narratives are important, all have strengths and flaws, but in listening we humanize those whom we have possibly demonized or
All narratives are important, all have strengths and flaws, but in listening we humanize those whom we have possibly demonized or trivialized.
trivialized. Salim Munayer directs Musalaha, a nonprofit organization pursuing reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, and he has said that the key is to understand each narrative well enough to realize that you can’t find the “true” middle point. In letting each narrative stand alone, as brothers and sisters in Christ we allow the Spirit to bridge the gap so we can cross over and embrace the other.
What have you learned from sitting with people and listening to their stories?
A Muslim family hosted our group in 2007 in a small village in the northern West Bank. There was one person in a three-generation family who had a job and we met in his home. They had very few furnishings, but they lavished us with refreshments. I came to understand the concept of hospitality that the New Testament describes in a way I’d never grasped before.
I think the other thing that stands out is the way I have always experienced a sense of safety, especially in the West Bank/Palestine that the reports on the evening news don’t communicate.
How would you like to see Covenanters respond?
I would encourage the Covenant community to go to the land and not only see sites but also listen to stories. You may or may not change your present position. You may become more critical of one side or another, but if you remain in relationship even your initial criticism will become changed. As a follower of Christ you will meet people who have negotiated reconciling relationships in ways that few of us in North America have experienced. They live in the face of intractable conflict, yet as followers of Jesus they continue to pursue peace one person at a time. I personally find that a compelling example.
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