I had the privilege of representing the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace (PCAP) at "Pursuing Peace and Strengthening Presence: The Atlanta Summit of Churches in the USA and the Holy Land," which was hosted by President Jimmy Carter and held at The Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia on April 19 and 20, 2016.
This Summit was the first of its kind, bringing together a broad array of church leaders and faith-based organizations. The Planning Committee, led by RBC mission partner Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church of Bethlehem and head of the Diyar Consortium, put together an ambitious program full of information, possibilities, and challenges. It was exhausting, frustrating at times, but enlightening. Even though I wanted and expected more, I came away challenged and optimistic.
During the summit I had the freedom to be an observer. An observer can be defined as anyone who was not referred to as "excellency, grace, or beatitude." As an observer, I saw church and faith-based leaders (not a comprehensive list to be sure, but a great start) in the same room talking about the same subject - bringing peace with justice to the Holy Land. What a great gift! The summit provided attendees who are at different places to learn so they could discern. Having these differences added to the summit in spite of the frustrations they sometimes created. ...
There was a loud and repeated call from church leaders in the United States to build relationships with Palestinians. They expressed a strong desire to learn Palestinian narratives. Some correctly asserted that numbers and statistics about the military occupation are not as moving, inspiring or effective, when compared to knowing Palestinians and their narratives. Getting involved with Palestinians is an appropriate and effective entry point into this heated, emotionally packed, and multifaceted topic, for individuals, groups, and churches.
On a personal note: Meeting President Carter, a fellow Baptist, was the highlight of the summit for me. Even at 92 years old, he continues to be energetically working for peace with justice in the Holy Land. Seeing him and hearing his personal stories about his interactions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and his inspirational words, were well worth the frustrations I felt. In addition, his keynote and challenge to us was the crescendo for the entire summit. He enthusiastically endorsed the Summit Document and told us to be "persistent, faithful and aggressive" in doing justice. I thank President Carter for teaching us how to make lemonade. I am inspired by his faithful and persistent example of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with his God.