Sunday, March 23, 2008

Peace Studies

I was recently awarded the Hazel Steinfeldt Peace Studies Scholarship at George Fox University. This is the essay I wrote for the application:

Peace and Justice
1 February 2008

Peace. It’s a simple word. Five letters, one syllable. And yet, it’s probably the most complex concept I’ve ever encountered. And one of the most controversial.

I’ve been a pacifist for as long as I can remember. Why, exactly, I’m not sure. None of my family members share this conviction, and I was not raised to be a Quaker. And yet, the aggressive pursuit of non-violent justice has always made sense to me—always seemed an intricate part of being a Christian, and following Christ. From the time I was a child I have not been able to read the Sermon on the Mount without believing that Christ was, and is, calling us to a different way of living—a different form of existence. Calling us to selfless sacrifice, and costly, uncalculating, love. And no matter how hard I’ve tried, I have never been able to reconcile these values with war, violence, or force. I believed, and still do, that Christ was giving us the right (and perhaps the imperative) to lay down our own lives for others, but never to take their lives from them.

In tenth grade I was faced with the challenge, and privilege, of grappling with the pursuit of peace and justice in the context of a very specific conflict: the Palestinian-Israeli issue. My parents are anthropologists, and my whole pre-college life was spent in the Arab world, from North Africa (Tunisia) to the Middle East (Egypt and Lebanon). Because of this, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has always loomed very close on the horizon, casting its shadow over much of life. However, it was not until the middle of high school that I truly encountered the issue head on. That year, my father, a professor at Bethel University, created a curriculum for me to study the conflict in depth. And I did, reading books from every perspective imaginable: Christian and non-Christian Zionists, liberal and conservative Jews, Muslim and Christian Palestinians, and Arab Israelis. I was thoroughly confused, thoroughly frustrated, and thoroughly ready to grant apathy my soul.

But then I met the children. I went to Lebanon to volunteer in a refugee camp for two weeks, and I found my passion. I looked into the face of Palestinian children—children who would not cry or laugh or dance or be children—and I saw Christ looking back. By the end of my time there my heart was utterly broken—torn for a people most of the world, and most of Christianity, seemed to have rejected. My family moved to Lebanon the next year, in part so I would have greater access to the camps, and I spent most of my time working with the Inma Center—an NGO created to help restore hope to a desperate people. I returned to my studies, but this time with purpose, seeking to understand the people behind the conflict, and through understanding to somehow restore justice to a broken land. I wrote papers about Christ’s love for Palestinians, and chose to attend George Fox University because of its Peace Studies minor, Quaker heritage, and heart for the oppressed—a heart that I passionately believed mirrored God’s.

And that is why I am here, studying writing and literature, and preparing to return to the Middle East to pursue reconciliation and peace. It is the calling I have felt on my life since I was fifteen-years-old—a calling I do not believe God has released me from. I have no expectations that it will be easy, and I know it will not be simple. But I do believe that love is powerful, and that sacrifice is God’s calling on the lives of believers. And so I go forward in faith, to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. My life is Christ’s, may He do with it as He pleases.

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