Tour Day Six: At the Home of Bill & Lynne Hybels

Late this morning, we received an update on Yonatan. His small boat was sailing from the island of Cyprus with a small crew heading toward Gaza and into the teeth of a three-year-long military blockade. Joining him on the Irene is octogenarian Reuven Moskovitz, a Holocaust survivor and founding member of the Jewish-Arab village of Neve Shalom, or “Oasis of Peace.” Also on board is peace activist and psychotherapist Lilian Rosengarten, who fled Nazi Germany in the 1940’s.

Author and speaker Lynne Hybels has extended an invitation to join her and her husband Bill for an evening with close friends. The open, family-friendly floor plan of their home offered a much-needed break from the tour bus, hotel rooms, airports, and theaters we’ve grown accustomed to over the past week.

Lynne first met Sami Awad several years prior, in Washington D.C., at the National Prayer Breakfast. She later would travel to Bethlehem with others to visit Sami’s Holy Land Trust. Her experiences in Palestine were transformational and ultimately solidified her role as a peace with justice advocate.

Most of the guests had watched Little Town of Bethlehem together before we arrived. In her welcome, Lynne would share, “I want to introduce you to my hero.” Ever modest, Sami received these words in the spirit they were given. That said, beneath his humble and gentle persona exists a gravitas of conviction, wisdom and courage. What else would one expect from a man who will stand before tanks, bulldozers, and armed soldiers with hands outstretched.

Sami spoke to this directly, ”It is easy to stand 100 yards away with a rifle. It is much more difficult when it is you and your wife and children, unarmed, standing in front of the tank, willing to sacrifice your life to stop it. This is not easy.” He continues, “When people dismiss nonviolence as a cowardly and passive accommodation to injustice, they do not understand that it is direct action engaged in by the brave and the strong.”

During the discussion, Lynne shared her very real concerns that tensions between Christianity, Islam, and Judaism could one day ignite a global war. In the same breath, however, she expresses hope that the words and actions of the three protagonists in Little Town of Bethlehem have the ability to turn hearts away from violence. That the film features a Palestinian Christian, Palestinian Muslim, and Israeli Jew makes the story all that more inspiring.

Sami aims to bridge such differences through intensive training sessions conducted by Holy Land Trust. He explains it very simply, “When you demonize others and treat them as enemies not worthy of human dignity, then you are actually using violence, even though you have no weapons in your hands.” This perspective is designed to encourage Palestinians to choose acts of nonviolent resistance from a posture of compassion rather than anger and judgment.

During the several hours of conversation, Little Town of Bethlehem producer Mart Green and director Jim Hanon shared from their hearts about what compelled them to create such a challenging documentary. From their words it was clear that the three years they spent making this film had had a profound impact on them.

At the close of the evening, Lynne and Bill’s son-in-law, Aaron Niequist, led us in in the song, I Want Jesus to Walk With Me. Like so many negro spirituals, the song is haunting and sad. Yet at the same time, the song carves an indomitable hope from gripping pain.

In my troubles, Lord walk with me

In my troubles, Lord walk with me

When my life becomes a burden

Lord, I want Jesus to walk with me

Speaking with Aaron afterward, he expresses enthusiasm for Little Town of Bethlehem. “It is the most moving film I’ve ever seen about the nonviolent peace movement in the Middle East. It helped me grasp an overview of this messy conflict, but more importantly, it gave me names and faces of people who are actually living through it.” This from a man who “stepped off the tour bus” and had “gotten off the tour trail” to experience a Holy Land few Americans are aware of.

Lynne has obviously been similarly moved. “We Americans hear about the ‘intractable problems’ in the Holy Land,” she explains, “but we don’t hear about the peacemakers who look beyond religion, culture, and history and into the eyes of human beings made in the image of God. She continues, “Little Town of Bethlehem has challenged me to ask on a deeper level: what does it mean to follow Jesus into the brokenness of this fragmented, hate-filled, and fearful world? It’s why I remain pro-Palestine, pro-Israel, pro-peace, and pro-Jesus.”

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  • katherine barry

    This was awesome to read and see all that you are courageously doing for Jesus! I loved the movie too! My life has been forever changed by my visit to Palestine and meeting Sami and others there too. I am so thankful to God for that and now I feel I have a voice to tell the truth. Joining you in love and re-conciliation!