Pastor Gail ... reflections of her experience

On one of our days of Pilgrimage, while our home base was in Jericho, we went to one of the two alleged baptismal sites on the Jordan River.  My friend and pastor, Debbie, did a ritual of baptism renewal with the members of our group who chose to do so.    I acknowledge that there is a part of me that is the rebel that shies away from those traditional, and “everyone is doing it”, sort of experiences.  It was hot and dry that day.  I sat in the “stands” for a while and prayed and witnessed others being marked with water and oil, then I took my camera and went off by myself to pray and to watch and listen to other groups that were worshiping and preparing to come to the water’s edge.  There was a large African group and another group of Eastern European origins.  But one of the gathering places was empty, sans a group of white doves.  I was intrigued by the doves.  First, I wondered if they were native or imported since the whole “the Spirit came, descending like a dove” seemed a bit too coincidental (upon later research, these birds are definitely not native to the area). Secondly, doves as a symbol of peace caused my thoughts to turn to the irony of their presence.  At the viewing site, there is a rope that divides the river in two, and just mere feet away, on the other side, are people coming from the Jordanian side to also be baptized or to touch the same water. But if one were to swim across or breach that rope from one side to the other, there would be guards or soldiers at the ready to remedy the encroachment.  Not such a peaceful image.

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But one of the gathering places was empty, sans a group of white doves.  I was intrigued by the doves.  First, I wondered if they were native or imported since the whole “the Spirit came, descending like a dove” seemed a bit too coincidental (upon later research, these birds are definitely not native to the area).

WRIT -- Recollecting, Dreams, and Other Altered States, Poems by Helen Bruner, Amazon.com.


WRIT

The stories of our lives are written
on the lips of our children -- Arabic Proverb

Jerusalem stone
bleeding
rose on cream
from crevices of black

bleeding
reminding me
from crevices of black
of lives eclipsed

reminding me
of men erased by tanks
lives eclipsed
in Israel in Palestine

of men erased by tanks
like walls
in Israel in Palestine
of gray cement

like walls
homes ground
to gray cement
where children are

homes ground
rose on cream
where children are
Jerusalem stone

©Helen Bruner, 2015

Breast Cancer Project - bringing people together

This past March I had the pleasure of being able to visit the West Bank to meet with some of the individuals involved in the breast cancer outreach project.  Though this was not the first time I’ve visited the area, during this visit I had the wonderful opportunity to spend time outside of Bethlehem.  Much like in any other place, life outside the city is different.  Though of course, some things remain constant no matter where you are; generous hospitality, friendly company, and of course absolutely fantastic food.  In fact, by the time I left to return to Bethlehem, I was swimming in invitations from various families to return.

In many ways, Bethlehem seems like its own unique micro-society.  It is not at all unusual to see foreigners in Bethlehem, but the same cannot necessarily be said of some of the more rural areas.  My first night there, I arrived slightly after dinner and therefore ending up eating alone.  Or at least I was the only one eating, because I was surrounded by a group of children watching me eat (and indeed frequently nudging more and more plates of food towards me) as though they were somehow mesmerized.  I spent a fair amount of time with the children and they were kind enough to show me their favorite spots to climb trees and pick fresh almonds.

The rest of the time, I spent with Sara.  She was one of the first women to go through the breast cancer navigator training.  I had not even been with her family for a day before I could see why Sara was such an obvious choice to be a community navigator.  Sara is very well known in the community; at any given moment we were either visiting other families or being visited by them.

My favorite evening that I spent with Sara’s family was a post-dinner meal with a table full of women and children from the neighborhood.  We talked about everything from marriage and children, to religion, to education and more.  At some point during the evening, I was talked into an arm wrestling competition with one of the boys.  After I defeated him once, the high stakes of a bar of chocolate was introduced for our rematch.  The second time we arm-wrestled everyone at the table was shouting and screaming for me to defeat him.  Of course after I defeated him again everyone wanted to try, so I ended up arm wrestling half of the women and children at the table.

It seems like such a small moment, but perhaps more so than anything else I experienced that moment has cemented itself in my brain.  I think maybe it’s because as Western women we so often view women in the Middle East, especially Muslim women, as in need of rescue from lives that we imagine cannot be fulfilling.  We may see them as either helpless or hopeless or at the least as women who are utterly without agency.  The goal isn’t to save women from their communities or from themselves or whoever, but to offer support from the background when welcome and appropriate.

Therefore, this project is not and could never be made up of women from outside the community coming in.  Not only is there a problem with trust, but there is also a problem with self-sufficiency and it would be doomed to fail from the beginning.  That is why it is so critically important to have women like Sara, women who are known and trusted in the local community, spearheading the outreach process.

The last day I spent with Sara, we went to visit another women in the village who had recently been unwell.  While we were there, the woman shared that she had received a diagnosis of breast cancer and everyone in the room began to cry.  Despite that I had never before met that woman, being a witness to the devastation she and her family felt at the diagnosis was deeply painful.  The challenges the woman discussed with Sara will indeed be difficult to overcome, but from the moment we left her house Sara was already discussing different options on how best to support her.  The diagnosis for this women was fairly early, so despite the obstacles there is hope that treatment can be organized.  Of all her many qualities, I think that is what makes Sara so successful at what she does.

She doesn’t give up, and she doesn’t let anyone else give up either.

by Taylor