Greetings from Jerusalem!
I've learned that everyone comes on this trip for different reasons. For some, it is an opportunity to travel somewhere new. For others, it is an educational experience on history, persecution, and religious conflicts. For many, it is the pilgrimage they've wished to do their entire life.
Similarly, everyone had different hopes about what they would gain from this trip. People were driven to travel this far for reasons such as finding clarity or purpose. Some hoped to have great stories to bring home, while others wanted spiritual guidance and truth. Maybe some just came to buy beautiful gifts for loved ones. But everyone hoped to receive something new.
What we gained was much greater than anything we could have imagined.
Our group has become close in ways I never expected or hoped for, and not just because a stomach bug traveled through us within the first few days. We have shared deeply moving and personal experiences together - which we may never experience again in the same way. We all were overwhelmed by the looming Israeli barrier (the separation wall) that divides and traps Palestinian villages. We all were surprised by the humor and kindness found in the local "cousins" we met here, especially because of the adversity they face. Daily, we all laughed, prayed, and cried in solidarity.
We also bring home the wisdom of how to take action. As Solomon Owayda spoke about during our last evening, we must combat the discrimination we witnessed through small steps. By focusing on making a difference in the life of one person at a time, we can make ripples of change. Each small step affects the big problem at hand.
As we depart from the Holy Land, we are reminded not to take sides, but to be pro-peace for everyone, and to channel our emotions into direct action. Despite the differences in what each of us hoped for, the connections made and lessons learned greatly exceeded expectations. This is truly a trip none of us will ever forget.