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Middle East Peace Programs

Reconciling People of the Abrahamic Faiths

The Middle East Peace Initiative trips began in May 2003, with 123 members of the American Clergy Leadership Conference who had gone through a period of reflection about the painful historical relationships between Christians and Jews. As Christians, they had a heart-felt desire to reconcile with people of the Jewish faith. Rev. Michael W. Jenkins, Co-Chair of the Middle East Peace Initiative-USA, gives a dramatic account of the experiences of embracing people of other faiths and seeing doors open during the May, September, and October trips that year.

Pilgrimages to the Holy Land give us genuine and uplifting experiences at the holy sites that are sacred to the three Abrahamic faiths. They also allow us to engage in profound relations with the people of Israel and Palestine. We meet Muslim clerics who respect people of the Book—Christians and Jews. We also engage in dialogue with rabbis who have been transcending many of the traditional barriers that block relations among religions.

We go not as tourists but as emissaries of peace. We journey into areas where tourists never go, but we are safe and welcomed. Arm in arm as Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze, we march for peace through Jerusalem’s Old City. Rabbis, ministers, and imams embrace in prayer and reconciliation at the various holy places. We sit down to eat with both Arabs and Israelis. In symposiums on world peace, guests and hosts alike share their insights. We bring gifts and symbols of our nations and cultures to the children of Jerusalem, Haifa, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Gaza.

People to people, heart to heart, we visit with those who are indigenous to the area and make bonds that will last forever. Emissaries from all over the world come with a message of love and support that is principled, not partisan. This is the message: that the God of all the Abrahamic peoples and faiths is one, and we are His ambassadors from every faith and religion.

The people of this land descended from two brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, sons of Abraham. Our visits are giving these brothers hope in the spiritual world that the divisions of their family will be healed through cooperative efforts. We experience academic seminars with experts on the current state of affairs. With this knowledge and understanding, we return to our nations to resolve conflicts between the "brothers" of our own cultures.

We instinctively feel that the resolution of conflicts in the Holy Land is connected to the resolution of other pressing world conflicts. Our peace missions reduce tensions among Muslims, Christians, and Jews. With each step, we bring understanding and insight into the value of the various faiths of humanity.

This work was inspired by the Rev. and Mrs. Sun Myung Moon and continues to be guided by them. We sincerely thank them for their sacrifices for the sake of historical reconciliation and for their reminder that we all come from the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The time has come for us to all become one reconciled family.

During the September pilgrimage, Jews, Christians, and Muslims linked arms and walked in places where the atmosphere was so tense that no interreligious rallies had been permitted. We marched up and down the streets of Old Jerusalem, pledging with our lives to become one family. We were on a God-given mission to end the divisions of among the historic Abrahamic faiths. Our theme was Peace under One God.

The marchers assembled at the Jaffa Gate, the main western entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City. Americans were joined by people from various groups, including the Golden Path, Jewish and Arab peace walkers, Druze, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and the Peace Promise Initiative. Hundreds of Jews, Christians, and Muslims kept arriving, and the march that was originally planned for 360 people swelled to 500. One hundred rows of marchers, five abreast, headed toward the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. People walked in contemplative silence, having been advised this was our only hope for going the course without being stopped.

Rev. Bennit Hayes from Gloryland Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, was the marshal of the march. He has no fear of death. Many years ago, as a soldier in Vietnam, his job was to go out and learn what happened to patrols that didn't return. On many occasions he went into the bush by himself and got pinned down by enemy fire. A helicopter pilot who had saved his life in Vietnam introduced him to the American Clergy Leadership Conference, and since then he has been like a man on fire for God.

The reality of the danger quickly became apparent. After five minutes, with tension heavy in the air, the police stopped the marchers out of concern for their safety. To hold a dialogue was one thing, but for hundreds of people of different faiths to march at one time through the streets of the Old City was something else. Undeterred, I proclaimed that every wall and border would eventually fall down if people walked in faith.

While the marchers waited in prayerful silence, our Jewish hosts sprang into action. Standing between the marchers and the police, they used finesse and conviction to help the Israeli police understand that this march would bring peace, not conflict. They introduced the key members of the clergy. Suddenly something changed. Not only did the officials permit the march to go forward, they became committed to making it a success. They gave their total trust and support.

Next, our way was blocked by members of a religious order who were unable to understand the peace mission. Eventually the police asked all 500 marchers to do an about-face in the narrow street. There was scarcely space for five people to walk side by side through the covered market passageways, but in short order, the end of the march became the front. Marchers broke into a cadence, "Peace, Shalom, Salaam Aleikum." The shopkeepers began to nod and smile, and tension turned into joy.

The police helped everyone pass quickly through the security checkpoint overlooking the Western Wall, and we assembled at the holy place where Jews from around the world come to commune with God. There, Dr. Lonnie McLeod, Imam Mohammed Kiwan, and Rabbi Moshe Chen each offered a prayer. Rabbi Chen was deeply moved that this march could occur.

"Many have died on this path we are walking, so we are like martyrs!" he explained. "However, today I feel no danger, and I believe that we will be like living martyrs."

The march then continued up the path to Al Aqsa Plaza, revered by Muslims as the place from which Muhammed ascended into heaven and also revered by Jews as the Temple Mount. The officials were instructed to let everybody in without the usual requirement of reciting a verse from the Qur'an. Passing smoothly through the security checkpoint, this became the first interreligious group to gather there in three years. For many of the Jewish marchers who lived in Jerusalem, it was the first time they had seen this sacred area. To everyone's astonishment and the profound shock of the police, the imams welcomed the marchers. This was the first interfaith group welcomed to Al Aqsa in three years.

Speaking on behalf of the marchers, Haitham Bundakji, vice chairman of the Islamic Society of Orange County, California, proclaimed: "We believe in and love Moses, Isaac, and Ishmael. We believe in and love Jesus. We believe in and love Muhammad. We believe in and love Father and Mother Moon."

On the steps of the Dome of the Rock, he led everyone in proclaiming: "Allahu Akbar!" Jews and Christians joined in shouting out the holy Arabic words honoring God. Tears streamed down his face, and the men around him embraced him and kissed away the tears.

From there participants headed east to the Mount of Olives. Assembled in the sun, they looked across a great valley to the Old City. From this area, Jesus wept over Jerusalem, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes" (Luke 19:42).

"Jesus, we love you,” I called out. “Now we know ‘the things that make for peace.’ Through this you are being lifted up and liberated. Ishmael and Isaac are now in permanent fellowship that will bring a power to heal and end the strife. The Christians and your beloved Jewish family are repenting and forgiving one another. We are all discovering your real love. Dear Jesus, weep no more. It is time for your tears of sorrow to turn into tears of joy. God's love is healing our hearts and allowing all brothers to come together."

At a time of great unrest, God’s children—Christians, Muslims, and Jews—marched to the Western Wall and the Al Aqsa Plaza. As we went forward in unity, we saw barrier after barrier dissolve. The hearts of those who sought to stop the march were softened to allow people of all religions to respect the holy places and embrace each other as one family under God.

The original spring that supplied Solomon’s Temple still bubbles with fresh water in Jerusalem’s Independence Park. There participants in the October pilgrimage converged for cleansing in the waters of interreligious, interracial, and international reconciliation. We were joined by people from seven nations whose soldiers had fought each other during World War II.

Rev. Abouna Hatoum, a Melkite priest who is responsible for dozens of churches in the Nazareth area, took the platform and praised this initiative for bringing together Muslims, Christians, and Jews.

The next speaker was Sheikh Ali Birani, whose family is prominent in the Druze faith. The Druze trace their roots to Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro. Long before Israel became a state, Sheikh Birani’s father was hosting dialogues between Jews and Arabs. He brought to the rally prominent Muslims, Christians, and Jews as well as troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, who stood proudly in their uniforms.

Rev. Levy Daugherty, executive director of the American Clergy Leadership Conference, voiced participants' commitment to become one in the heart of God and embrace people of all faiths. Mr. Taj Hamad Secretary General of the World Association of Non-Government Organizations and Dr. Joshua Ben-Ami, theologian and author, translated everything into Arabic and Hebrew.

Many people believe that joint prayers by representatives of various races and religions carry a special anointing. On this occasion, religious leaders offered prayers from their traditions, invoking God’s blessing. Rabbi Chen read the Torah; Rev. Betty Tatalajski of Tucson, Arizona rang a bell of peace; and Father Hatoum read from the Christian scripture in Arabic. An imam from Jerusalem gave the Islamic call to prayer, and Imam Mohammed Khan of New York read from the Qur’an.

The crowd kept growing. Bishop Connie Crawford Bansa from the Church of the Living God in Chicago, Illinois, challenged people to give of themselves so God’s magnificence could shine. She called for faith greater than that of Moses as he crossed the Red Sea. She asked Christians and Muslims to reconcile their differences and create a unity that will heal the Holy Land and worldwide conflict.

Like the prophets of old, she cried out, "Stand up, God’s people. Do you hear me? Stand together." People jumped to their feet with joy, with smiles, tears, and love. Then she began singing:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound,
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
was blind but now I see.

Muslims, Christians, and Jews surged forward to fill the stage. Two Native American leaders, Gayokla Nichi Ayala and Chief Manual Hamilton, came on stage and wept as they joined in.

People surged forward in a spontaneous response to the heavenly spirit drawing people together. An Israeli woman said she never believed she would see the day when Muslims, Christians, Jews, Druze, and American Indians would dance together in Jerusalem for joy. She never expected to hear consecutive readings from the Torah, Bible, and Qur’an in a land where those faiths historically have been deeply divided.

She could only conclude, "This is a day of the Messiah!"

Dr. Chang Shik Yang, MEPI co-chair, summarized a recent message by MEPI founder Rev. Sun Myung Moon entitled "The New Elimination of Boundaries and World Peace." The words were translated into both Arabic and Hebrew:

When we love our enemies and make oneness with them, the boundaries between us will collapse. God’s strategy and tactic has always been to love our enemy. When we seek exchange [cross-cultural] marriages for our children – choosing sons-in-law and daughters-in-law from enemy nationalities – everything under heaven will automatically be unified as one.

The world in which we live is divided by thousands and tens of thousands of boundaries. How can they be dissolved?
According to Rev. Moon:” When we come to know with certainty the tradition of the heavenly world, a realm of liberation will appear in the spirit world and in the earthly world." He explains that true people embody true love and live for the sake of others. They make it possible for their partners to become owners of true love. They sacrifice everything for the sake of their partners and enable them to dance and live within true love. They are heirs to the heavenly world and are protected and loved by the heavenly world.

The call to reconciliation was not only interreligious but also became interracial and international. Archbishop George Augustus Stallings, Jr., from Washington, D.C., founder of the Imani Temple African American Congregation, came to the stage, and together we repented for the failure of Christians to bring reconciliation to humanity and embrace the Jewish people with the love of Jesus. Then I repented for what white Americans have done to blacks and the Native Americans.

I said, "Though my repentance is not enough, it sows a seed that will multiply. Archbishop Stallings, can you embrace your white brother at this time?"

He replied, "I will gladly do it." We invited the Native Americans to come forward and asked their forgiveness for not treating them with God’s love.

To the contingent of Europeans, I cried out, "Germans, do you repent for what you’ve done in history?"

The Germans cried out, "We do."

I turned to the crowd and asked: "Therefore, do we forgive Germany?"

Everyone yelled, "We do."

"People of England, Germany, Italy, France, Japan, Korea, and America, will you repent and forgive one another?"
The representatives of these nations cried out, "We do."

"Israel and Palestine, can you repent together and forgive one another?" I continued.

People in the crowd cried out, "We do."

White balloons were released, symbolizing the anointing of peace upon the Holy Land. People stepped forward in faith that the barriers separating God’s prepared people in every nation and in every religion have dissolved. The glory of God can only be seen when we step forward in faith. In conclusion Rev. Daugherty led us in singing, "Peace, Shalom, Salaam Aleikum."

People in the crowd were struck by the uniqueness of the event.

A Palestinian said, "I’ve never before felt such hope that this endless struggle could be resolved. Certainly the heart of the American Indians and their willingness to come here to help us indicates that this movement and Rev. Moon have something that can truly heal the Holy Land."

A Jew commented, "When you remove the barriers and stop thinking the other is not as good as you are, you see that all [people] are really identical."

Caught up in the spirit of reconciliation, people forgot their fears. The Israeli police with their flak jackets and M-16s were a protective presence just out of sight.

One police officer said, "You can’t imagine what it means for us to see fearless people from all over Europe, Asia, and America coming to stand with us and proclaiming that Israel will be healed. This gives us real hope. It gives us strength to continue and go beyond our despair." As the rally dispersed, Israeli policemen were heard singing the songs of peace.

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