By Amy Yoder McGloughlin
Every summer since 2015, I have been leading a delegation to the West Bank with Christian Peacemaker Teams. I value the opportunity to walk with people as they understand the occupation from the perspective of everyday folks. We stay in Palestinian communities, eat local cuisine, and hire Palestinian tour guides and bus drivers. Once we get to Hebron, we join in the work of Christian Peacemaker Teams, as we accompany children to school, and ensure that Palestinian rights are upheld in this occupied West Bank city.
One of the other reasons I go is because this place challenges my sense of hospitality. I always notice, after a trip like this, the limits I have placed on my hospitality. And it is humbling.
In the summer of 2018, on the first day of the delegation I was leading, I got the delegation lost on our way to our first appointment. We were on a public bus, and I asked the bus driver if we were going to Old Anata Road. He smiled and nodded, and dropped us off in Anata, the refugee camp.
When we got off the bus, I very quickly realized that I was in the wrong place. I asked the shopkeepers if they could speak English. No one could but a couple helpful shopkeepers called their cousins in the US and Canada and put them on the phone to help me out.
I asked the helpful cousins on the other side of the world–where is Old Anata road? And they said, “Just walk right up the hill and you’ll find it”. I started up the hill, and very quickly we found the separation wall. And I realized that we were on the wrong side of the wall from our destination. I started looking for anyone else that could help. I ran into a man doing construction and asked again, “Do you speak English?” He shook his head apologetically, but then lit up. He jumped in his beat up Toyota, and gestured for me and the team to follow him.
I wasn’t sure if I should follow this stranger. But I didn’t know what choice I had. It was painfully hot at 9 in the morning, and we needed help.
So I asked my delegation to follow me while I followed this stranger wherever he was leading us. The man began backing his car up the hill, stopping occasionally to gesture to us to follow him. He backed into the driveway of his home, and ran up the stairs to his house, turning to invite us in. We did not know what to expect.
We entered his home, and there sat his entire family in the living room–children, wife, and an aunt. They jumped up, and welcomed us to sit where they had been sitting. They brought us water, then tea, then coffee, then pomegranate and grapefruit juice. And THEN some sweets.
Still no one was speaking English. My delegates were looking at me, asking quietly, “What are we doing here? Are we going to get to our destination?” And I asked them to be patient.
That’s when Islam walked in. Islam Issa is 22, beautiful and spoke nearly perfect English, which she learned from watching Hollywood movies. She greeted us enthusiastically, and we got to know each other. Islam helped me to determine what I already knew–that we were nowhere near our destination. Her father called a taxi company and they sent a van to pick us up. But before we left for our next destination, the family insisted that we return the next night for dinner.
And we did. We came back the next night and the Issa family made us mokluba–a chicken, rice and vegetable dish that is a most delicious treat. They made stuffed grape leaves and baklava and treated us like royal guests. It was so generous; it felt like an embarrassing extravagance.
My Arabic is abysmal, and the only one of the Issa family to speak English was Islam, so our “conversations” with this family involved pictures on my phone, gestures and giggles about language barriers. But despite all the limitations, it was one of the best nights of fun I’ve had in quite some time. We made new friends that night. And these are friends that I still speak to on a regular basis. We “talk” via social media, mostly through emojis with the mom, and with more conversations with Islam.
This summer, I visited with the Issa family again, and we enjoyed another evening of hospitality. I brought them a gift from Frazer Mennonite–a quilted wall hanging. And they fed me nonstop for hours.
We’re already making plans for next summer–I’m going to work on my Arabic in preparation for our next visit, and they plan to teach me how to make mokluba.
The Issa family stops everything when I am in town. They welcome me into their home and make me feel so special. Their generous hospitality always challenges me to look at my own hospitality. What are my cultural limits? What are my personal limits? Why do we make sharing a meal and time with friends (and strangers) less of a priority than tasks and productivity?
I have deep gratitude for the care and hospitality I am shown in Palestine. Given our country’s policies, they could hate me. I wouldn’t blame them if they did. And yet, Palestinians like the Issa family have shared food, time, laughter and conversation with me. It reminds me of the time that Jesus, himself a Palestinian, shared with people. His agenda was a meal shared with friends. His last instruction to us was to eat, drink and remember him.
These yearly trips to Palestine are two weeks of communion. I bring that home, and use that to challenge the ways I spend my time. Is my time about busyness, or is it about conversation, a shared meal and deeper relationship?
Left: Amy with Islam Issa
Amy Yoder McGloughling is pastor at Frazer Mennonite Church. She will be leading a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation to Palestine August 3-17, 2020. To apply for the delegation, visit cpt.org/delegations/palestine.