It was a Life

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Every killing of every human is a story and a life that was, that is and was to be. It was a heartbeat that stopped before its time. It was a dream that disappeared abruptly like a television set that suddenly lost its power.

It was a young woman who ate her last meal; it was not her favorite dish, but she did not want to upset her mother for cooking it. “Next time make pizza mom,”
she yelled… then she yelled her last cry. It was a wife who did not know that her husband’s last look into her eyes would be imprinted as her eternal memory of him.

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Jesus was Asian: A Lesson in Faith from Hong Kong

I just returned from my first visit to Hong Kong where I was invited to speak at the annual Justice Conference Asia on the following topics: Persecution, Religious Freedom, Migration and Border Control. I was also invited by the Ray Bakke Institute (who graciously covered all my expenses) to hold speaking engagements in several churches on topics directly related to the situation in the Holy Land, the work of Holy Land Trust, and my own personal journey in faith, nonviolence, and peacemaking.

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View of Hong Kong from the Peak

I have to admit that my acceptance to this invitation was motivated almost purely by curiosity. In all my travels around the world I have never been in “that part of the world”, and Hong Kong—who would say no to that? Who would refuse an opportunity to see one of the most amazing cities in the world known for its record-breaking skyscrapers? A city where beauty, modernity, tradition, hospitality, nature, culture and the future come into one; I simply had to say yes and go.

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A Jesus Based Leadership Development Program

A friend of mine once asked me what I thought was the leadership style Jesus developed and used to bring his vision and message to humanity. It was something I never thought of before. Jesus was Jesus; he did not need to develop a leadership approach, he just did what he did and whatever he did was the right thing and that was that. My friend then opened the Bible to Mathew 3 and 4 and began to challenge me to see that maybe Jesus had actually developed a particular leadership style for his ministry that was smart and practical and that we can actually learn from and practice in our lives, especially for those who are working in humanitarian issues; which seemed to be a big concern for Jesus as well.

First, the vision; Jesus starts out by receiving the call during his baptism (in other words, the vision is manifested). Having a vision is a probably a good first step for anyone who wants to be a leader. Second, Jesus is tested for his commitment to the vision when he is tempted. This is something that not many of us think about in our leadership lives; we start with a passionate vision and as time passes we fall into the traps of temptations and challenges that begin to distract us from the spark of the vision itself. Many leaders end up abandoning or ignoring the vision (maybe not their roles or positions in the organization) when they fall into temptations such as financial perks, power positions, ego, team management, sustainability of the organization, etc. It seems that the greater and more challenging the vision, the greater the temptations to abandoning it. Third, he assembled his dream team of disciples (student leaders). Interestingly he choose from the diversity of society (a very smart move as people tend to connect more with those that are similar to them) and most of the disciples came with no expertise or even any experience with the subject at hand (a leader builds leaders from the ground up).  Finally he goes into practice by actively going “… throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” Mathew 4:23. It was not about sitting in some temple, government building or educational institute, he went out.

What has been the most interesting aspect of this approach from vision to action in my own life has been the last step: teaching, preaching and healing. Looking at it, this is pretty much all what Jesus did; he interacted with people by teaching them, preaching to them and healing them; they either followed or not, that was their choice, but he did very little beyond those three categories.

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When Illusions become Traps

On September 29, 2012, the Palestinian leadership went to the United Nations and overwhelmingly received a “non-member observing state status” in the General Assembly. I was sitting with friends who were glued to TV screens watching intensely, even with tears of joy rolling down their eyes as the green lights flicked on in the General Assembly floor with one state after the other saying “yes” to state #194. It was as if my friends were watching the lottery numbers for the biggest jackpot in history being announced and they were holding on to the winning ticket.

Image: UN-PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL-DIPLOMACY

My arguments as to why I thought this was not the best of ideas and how the energy of the Palestinians and its leadership should be utilized for something more focused on ending the occupation and oppression fell on deaf ears. I heard things like “You don’t understand the significance of this;” “this is a new phase of the struggle,” “now we can do things we never were able to do in the past” (in reference to legal claims at the International Court of Justice), and of course the most common “This is a great symbolic victory!!!” Yes, symbolically winning the lottery is a great thing indeed…

Nothing of any significance happened this past year to change the reality of the Israeli military occupation and Israeli government policy of building more settlements and restricting more the lives of Palestinians. The change that has taken place has been within the Palestinian community, and I feel it is more dangerous to the Palestinians than the occupation itself.

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Being Light in the Midst of Darkness

As we were heading out to dinner last night, our host told us in a simple and loving voice “oh, just take enough money with you for dinner, you never know.. we might get held up.” A gentle smile and we followed him out the door of a high rise structure that can be called “an apartment complex” where the tenants that live here have to go through thumb print clearance in order to just get into the building through the thick gates and security guards with batons. Such a statement is simple for Nigel Branken to say because he probably thinks this every time he leaves his apartment knowing that several times he was held up by men with guns and robbed just around the block where he, his wife Trish and six children (including a new born) live.   This in an area of Johannesburg known as Hillbrow.

Waking up this morning (after an amazing meal last night) but in the midst of what is recognized as the one of the most violent areas in South Africa (the sounds throughout the night were a testimony to that), where extreme poverty, violence, drug use, prostitution, gangsterism are how and who people are, the only thought coming to mind is Jesus’s call to his followers to be light in the midst of darkness.  I reflected on how so many “Christians” (including myself) come up with the most convincing and logical responses and arguments to counter what Jesus calls us to do when he calls us to be a light in the darkness, when he calls us to sell all our positions and follow him, when he calls us to live with, work with, heal and touch those who society has given up on and has even labeled as “untouchable.”

“It can not be done…” “It is too difficult…” “It will not make a difference…” “No one else is doing it…” “I might lose my life…” “It is too dangerous…” etc. etc. etc.

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Then in the midst of this darkness you meet the living example of this light. A family that decided, after deep struggles and doubts for many years, to simply do it… to be a light of love in the midst of darkness. Getting rid of all their position and moving into Hillbrow; following the call in full trust and deciding to suffer with those who suffer and stand “with” them, not “for” them, in the struggle for rights and equality because, as Nigel said “I am not better than them and if they can’t have it, i don’t deserve it.”

Nigel and his family have become fully part of the community and by doing that they are being a light from within, not a spotlight from without that only seeks to expose the bad, judge, condemn, etc. They love and are loved by everyone around.

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Simply said, Nigel and his family have broken in me the myth of saying that it can not be done, that it is impossible. They stand as a light not only in the darkness of extreme poverty, desperation and violence; they stand as a light in the midst of the darkness of heart and spirit that many “Christians” live in and are not even aware of.

They are my new heroes…

Give a Gift This Christmas Season to Peace in Bethlehem

Dear Friends,

I wish you a beautiful and blessed time as we remember the birth of the Prince of Peace. In Bethlehem the busyness of Christmas is apparent, hotels are full, streets are decorated and people from all over the world are here to celebrate the miracle birth. As i write this email I hear in the distance some scout troops practicing their drum rolls for the last time before they head to Manger Square.

Much is said and much has been written about Bethlehem at Christmas; talk of the wall, of checkpoints, of restrictions and of occupation.

Similar things existed 2000 years ago, and in a place where there was war, oppression, and very little hope … the miracle happened… Life, Joy, Peace and Salvation came to earth…

It is time we bring that pure and simple message of peace and love back to the place where it was born. It is time Bethlehem shines again with its message of goodwill and true healing to humanity.

Yes, we may not have the specific answers of “how” to get there, but we will not surrender to the “not knowing”. We will work, study, research and engage in finding the means … and for this we need your help and partnership.

Please take a look at the following Youtube. It is a brief introduction to where we are heading as an organization. We are very excited about this vision to establish a peace and nonviolence research and learning center in the heart of Bethlehem and hope to share more of this vision with you as supporters and partners of this work.

Beautiful greetings to you and your loved ones and my best wishes for the year to come.

For contributions you can contact me directly:  sami@holylandtrust.org or

http://holylandtrust.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=201&Itemid=154

In the name of the Prince of Peace and Love,

Sami Awad
Holy Land Trust