More than tourism: Holy Land trips advance peacemaking mission

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This sponsored advertising content was made possible by MEJDI Tours.


Left to right, Rabbi Rob Nosanchuk, Pastor John Moyle, the Rev. Elizabeth Hagan and Aziz Abu Sarah of MEJDI Tours have a conversation inside the ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum in the Galilee region of Israel during a MEJDI interfaith clergy tour in January 2011. Photo by Stephen Stern

Left to right, Rabbi Rob Nosanchuk, Pastor John Moyle, the Rev. Elizabeth Hagan and Aziz Abu Sarah of MEJDI Tours have a conversation inside the ruins of the synagogue in Capernaum in the Galilee region of Israel during a MEJDI interfaith clergy tour in January 2011. Photo by Stephen Stern

When Pastor John Moyle conceived of a church trip to Israel and Palestine, he wanted to go beyond the typical Holy Land attractions: Nazareth, Capernaum and the Garden of Gethsemane.

As missions and social justice minister at Oakbrook Church in Reston, Va., Moyle wanted his church group to understand the bitterly contested region as part of the Christian calling to be peacemakers.

MEJDI Tours allowed him to do just that. The tour company, led by co-founders Aziz Abu Sarah, Scott Cooper and Rabbi Marc Gopin, is based in Washington, D.C., and has built a solid reputation for custom tours that allow rare cultural and religious immersion in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities living in Israel and Palestine.

“We want to provide multinarrative, authentic experiences that are socially responsible to the local community,” said Abu Sarah, who started leading tours while in Bible college.

A MEJDI trip might include a visit to Jesus’ birthplace of Bethlehem and worship with an evangelical Christian congregation — but also a meeting with an imam to talk about Jerusalem’s importance to Islam, and a Shabbat meal with an Orthodox Jewish family.

Moyle’s first MEJDI tour changed his life. “We visited the ancient sites but were also introduced to the Arab/Israeli conflict,” he said. “We met many folks on the ground who are working to build peace. The tour was the start of something amazing for me.”

For the past four and a half years, Moyle has been making three-week trips three times a year. He works as a peacemaker in Israel/Palestine, looking for creative ways to bring these two communities and cultures together.

“The core of what MEJDI is about is building shalom,” he said. “It’s enabling the world to hear the stories, understand the conflict and bring people together step by step toward shalom.”

Part of that comes from the way MEJDI guides work with church teams to plan and manage meaningful trips.

“We talk to the tour leader and gather a lot of information about what participants are interested in and what they want to do,” said Abu Sarah. “We’ve discovered that the experiences are almost always the highlight of the tour.”

In working with church leaders, Abu Sarah and his team focus on incorporating encounters and dialogue with local residents.

“I can’t imagine touring Israel and Palestine and not doing it as Jesus would have: meeting people, sharing a meal and talking with them,” said Abu Sarah. “There is a difference between seeing things and experiencing things.”

David Schmidgall has helped organize three teams of evangelical Christians from across the political spectrum for visits to Israel and Palestine. The teams met with groups doing innovative peace work, worked with children in refugee camps and cleaned churches and streets.

“We were able to walk where Jesus walked 2,000 years ago, and walk where Jesus walks today — with the broken and oppressed in Israel and Palestine,” said Schmidgall, Lincoln Campus pastor and missions director at National Community Church in Washington, D.C. “We met with Muslim and Jewish leaders, all in the context of being a Christ follower in places of conflict.”

Oakbrook Church members visited the Palestinian village of Husan, shown here, during a March 2013 peacemaking trip to Israel and Palestine. Photo by Ilana Meallem

Oakbrook Church members visited the Palestinian village of Husan, shown here, during a March 2013 peacemaking trip to Israel and Palestine. Photo by Ilana Meallem

Schmidgall and Moyle both appreciated the many sites associated with a typical tour of Israel — the desert fortress Masada, the Western Wall, the Sea of Galilee, a kibbutz, etc. — but also spoke of the huge benefits of a dual-narrative tour that allowed attendees to experience the real lives of Israeli and Palestinian citizens.

“A MEJDI tour is powerful and life-changing,” said Schmidgall. “The point is not to come back angry at one side or the other, but to come back with a heart for both peoples and understanding that all are made in God’s image and that we are called to serve. Any church that enters that space is going to be transformed.”

Moyle echoes that sentiment. “We are bringing down the walls stone by stone. People are becoming pro-peace, becoming champions for all the peoples of the land. MEJDI is part of that.”

MEJDI Tours provides experiences in Israel and Palestine to about 1,000 people a year, as well as conducts experience-based tours to Turkey, Ireland, Egypt and other places. Visit www.mejditours.com for more information.

PUBLISHER’S NOTE: This sponsored content was made possible by MEJDI Tours; it was not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of the RNS editorial staff. To learn more, email advertising@religionnews.com.