How the Middle East Taught Me to Love

09/21/2016 05:50 pm ET Updated Jan 24, 2017

If they say home is where the heart is, then I have come home. The sound of horns constantly honking, the smell of cigarettes and cardamom, and the air, it's like my first breath all over again, I even like the near death experiences of driving in the Middle East. It makes no logical sense that some random white girl who grew up in Texas and Canada's heart only feels the most complete in the Middle East. Weird and unnatural, but it's one of the most beautiful feelings I've ever experienced. It could be because I've always loved adventure, culture, hospitality, and amazing coffee is always a win in my life. But more than likely, it's because this is where I learned who Jesus actually is, thousands of miles away from the West.

When I was 20ish, I watched some random documentary on Iraq that for whatever reason deeply impacted me.  Around this time I decided to change my major for the twenty-fifth time and became a history major and being the almost destructive ambitious person I was, naturally began taking as many classes on the Middle East as I could. I even began studying Arabic. I loved everything about the Middle East.

My entire life I have been drawn to social justice so it was pretty natural that I was strongly affected by the involvement of the West in the Middle East.  It didn’t take long for me to discover Palestine and I fell hard into a love affair with a country I had never seen and people I had never met.  My heart hurt for the decades of oppression and dehumanization the Palestinians have been subjected to throughout the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Eventually I found myself boldly resenting the Western church who I felt had undying support of Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. The fire I had for justice was hot and destructive, and looking back I was missing a truer purpose for this fire I had.

At this point in my life, I considered myself a “Christian” but only in the sense that I believed the basics (just enough to avoid the gnashing of teeth scene, gnashing of teeth seriously freaks me out). I lived my life as I pleased and didn’t have a clue who Jesus actually was and I never fit into and pretty much hated religion (honestly, I still am not a fan of religion). 

Things started shifting when I was introduced to a man at my mom’s wedding that ran a well-known organization doing peace work building bridges with Muslims and I was invited to a conference that was being held that weekend called Blessing Muslims. I knew I had to go; however, I was more than a little skeptical of these Christians trying to love Muslims or whatever. I arrived at the conference with walls in high gear, ready to unleash my fiery passionate (unwavering argumentative) side towards anyone who began talking about trying to convert Muslims (which is honestly what I expected to find).  However, what I found changed something inside of me; it was the first glimpse I had of who Jesus actually is.

What I found was a group of people who hung out in Mosques, not to convert, but to love their neighbors as Jesus would, without judgment, without a deeper agenda, without fear. It was a paradigm shift; this idea in my mind that all Christians supported the oppression of the Palestinians and felt Muslims were the enemy was shattered.  Jesus loves the Middle East and Jesus loves Muslims and there are people who actually get that and live their life trying to follow Jesus, not religion.  Holy crap, Jesus is not religion.

At the conference, I was invited on a trip that was coming up that spring, to where? Argentina! Just kidding that would have been and interesting shift though right? Ok, so a trip to Palestine, a trip where we would be exposed to both sides of the conflict ending up at a conference called Christ at the Checkpoint in Bethlehem, Palestine.  I knew that no matter what I had to go, it was not an option, it was vital to my life, to my heart, and to my soul.

When I arrived in Palestine it felt like I had imagined, it felt as if I had come back to a place I had always loved but in reality had never been to. After meeting the most amazing people and having an incredible yet surreally beautiful experience taking every second in like the world depended on it, we spent a day in Galilee. It was sitting on the shore of Galilee where Jesus used to hang out with his buddies where I realized who Jesus actually is.  Jesus is Love, radical bold fearless Love. Not judging, not condemning, and not an excluding religion in which I did not fit in. He is Love and trying to follow Jesus means Loving boldly, Loving EVERYONE boldly...  Following Jesus seemed to mean starting an adventure of trying to let Love win; redirecting that passion and fire I had inside towards Love.

So here I am now, back in the Middle East, feeling as though I am exactly where I am truly meant to be. A place where my heart is overflowing with Love (and Turkish coffee), honored to be sitting a few miles from the Syrian border in order to Love, serve, and learn from our Syrian refugee neighbors.  There are no words to describe how amazing this life is when you truly let go and begin to learn to Love boldly.

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