Tearing Down Walls

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By Dr. Mark Poindexter

the spring of 2010, due to the gracious generosity of the congregation I am
part of, I was given the opportunity to spend twelve days in Israel and
Jordan.  It was an amazing experience
spending time in the place that I have spent much of my life learning about.  I rode in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and I
floated in the Dead Sea.  I stood on top
of Mt. Nebo and gazed, just as Moses did, into the land of promise.  I placed a prayer in the Western Wall of the
Temple, walked the streets of Old Jerusalem and spent a day in the town of
Bethlehem.  We celebrated communion on
the Road to Emmaus, plunged ourselves into the Jordan River, and stood quietly
next to the hill known as “The Place of a Skull.” It was a most memorable trip.

The most moving part of
the experience, however, was not in visiting any of the historical places that
play such a central role in my faith.  It
was instead visiting the Palestinian Children’s Hospital in Jerusalem.  There Palestinian children, like the young
girl pictured above, received care for chronic illnesses or were treated
because of accidental injuries.  We were
graciously received by the head doctor of the hospital, by the nurses and the
social workers, and by the children as well.
One aspect of this hospital trip that was deeply disconcerting for me,
however, was the near complete absence of the fathers of these children. Though
mothers were everywhere to be seen, there was hardly a father anywhere.  I asked if this was because the fathers were
at work. I was told for a very few that was the case, but for most their
absence was the result of the family being from Bethlehem and it being nearly
impossible for young adult males to get beyond the wall that Israel had put up
in a proposed effort to stop suicide bombers.

I had seen the wall the
day before when my group went to Bethlehem.
The wall is 468 miles of 25 foot high concrete slabs.  Israel calls it a security barrier. Others
call it an Apartheid Wall.  What I call
it is ugly.  The true extent of its
ugliness became clear to me as I heard that it was keeping fathers from being
with their hospitalized children.  To go
to Israel is to go to a land of deep division.
Division between Palestinians and Israelis, along with division between
Christian, Jew and Muslim.  Even the
church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is divided up among the Roman Catholics,
the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Apostolic Church with each having a section
of the church that they are responsible for. We hear a lot in the news about
these divisions and the strife that results from it; along with the political,
ethnic and religious reasons for it.  I
know the matter is historically very complex.
But on the day that I visited the Palestinian Children’s Hospital the
only division that mattered to me was that a father wasn’t allowed to be with
their child.  It made me deeply sad and very

You see, I have a
daughter with a chronic illness.   Her
illness resulted in one long stay in a children’s hospital and now she is
required to go back every two months for treatment.  Along with my wife, I was with my daughter
during her hospitalization and have accompanied her on many of her follow-up
treatments.  The thought that I could not
be with her during that time is a very difficult one to fathom.  History, religion, politics be damned . . .
you keep me from my daughter then you and I have got a big problem.  One whose only correction is to let me be
with my child.

I suppose the reason I
tell this story is because behind the historical and political landscape
through which we often hear the stories of other places are the very human
stories of  children and parents,
brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends.  People who, in more ways than not, are just
like us. They laugh, they cry, they play, they work, they try to provide for
their families and they worry about their children.  After visiting the Palestinian Children’s
Hospital, I was continually haunted by the thought of living in a place where a
father would not be allowed to be present with his ill child – not because he
was in jail or had done anything wrong, but simply because of who he was, a
Palestinian man.

Of course, I do live in
such a place for I live as a part of this world. As do all of us. Whatever our
race, whatever our nation of origin, whatever our language, whatever religion
we might practice, whatever political system we might be part of,  we all live together in this place. And we
need to find a way to tear down the ugly walls that we too quickly and too
often erect between each other.  We need
to try and understand that we have much more in common with one other than we
realize.  There will always be voices who
say the walls, literal and figurative walls, are necessary for safety and
security and to establish one’s own sense of identity. I fervently believe they
are wrong.  All those walls ultimately do
is continue to breed anger and hatred and, thus, perpetuate the cycle of


For those of us who
happen to be Christian, we have been given, according to the scriptures, the
ministry of reconciliation . . . the ministry of tearing down the walls of
hostility that exist between people (Ephesians 2:14).  It is our work.  It is the heart of the gospel.  And we need to be about our work with great
diligence.  This is so for many reasons,
but one I know of personally is that there are some young Palestinian children
and their fathers who need the opportunity to be together.

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