When Things Don’t Go According to Plan

This past fall, a short-term mission team left for the West Bank. Within days of arrival, war broke out in the middle east. Today, we want to share with you Hannah’s story, a member of this mission team, about her experience and how God provides when things don’t go according to plan.

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Thursday, October 5th, we left early for the retreat center, “the Farm,” in near Jericho, West Bank. We had planned a two-day retreat for different church groups — we prepared teachings, games, activities, worship, etc. Our theme for the retreat was biblical sisterhood, with the phrase “Sisters are different flowers from the same garden” printed in Arabic on our gifts to the attendees. The 30 women ranged in age from 20s to 60s. On the first day, our team taught about Jesus’ definition of family in the church and sang songs together in Arabic & English, which was beautiful. As we all became more comfortable, communication became easier. We became very close with these women; we shared photos and stories of our families and lives.

Two more groups joined us the next day, bringing our guest total to about 45, including several Muslim background believers who wore hijab. Group leaders led the group in beautiful worship, all in Arabic, which brought us to tears as we used Google Translate to see the lyrics and watched our new friends cry while worshipping. Seeing the women cry out to God in song, seeing hijab women worshipping and praying, all in a beautiful language we didn’t know, was incredibly moving. Our final teachings this day were led by a panel of our women sharing stories of sisterhood in the Bible and their own lives and a lesson on our adoption into God’s family. We made a “family tree” mural with handprints and took a family photo together before the women left to return home.

Our team got to spend the remaining time overnight at the Farm, hearing the vision for the land God was giving piece by piece. They are part way through building a center for discipleship, with dorms for men and women and apartments for couples. We were also walked over to the foundation that was laid for a conference center they want to build, casting the vision for the whole Farm as a safe space for all Palestinian Christians to gather, rest, learn, and build up one another. Please be praying for our partners as they continue to work towards the vision God has given them!

Saturday, October 7th, was the start of the current Hamas-Israel war, with Hamas launching thousands of rockets towards Israel. Not knowing what we would experience in the upcoming days, I felt surrounded by God, cared for, and seen in the metaphorical and physical lowest place on earth. We also got to see and experience a sliver of the hardships and fears of our new Palestinian brothers and sisters, which has changed our hearts forever.

Our plans were abandoned. Our focus for the next several days was to stay safe and get home as quickly as possible. After a couple of days of constant prayer and coordinating, we had flights booked for our whole team — we were able to plan on leaving together and staying together all the way home. A HUGE answer to prayer. Our final plan was to drive to the Israel-Jordan border crossing near Beit She’an, cross the border into Jordan, and take a bus to Amman, Jordan airport. We were constantly amazed by God’s hand protecting and guiding us along the way.

To say we all, individually and collectively, are still processing this experience is an understatement. I knew a mission trip would be taxing for me physically going in, but an escape trip with 48 hours of travel ratcheted my physical, emotional, and mental needs way up. Dealing with a version of “survivors’ guilt” leaving our friends in Bethlehem that Sunday, but even more so getting back to the States and dealing with evangelical and American perceptions of the conflict, while also staying in touch with our Palestinian Christian sisters currently suffering is really hard. We’re confronted by our own biases, privileges, and international distance very acutely now. I’m grateful to have that unique layer of empathy now, but I also feel a level of vapidness in messaging my Palestinian sisters and even sharing our story. The best vocabulary word for this experience is “dissonance.” There was so much good, stressful, fun, and scary that happened. There’s dissonance being home in the States while conflict and death continue, and our new Palestinian sisters share very hard and sad news with us. Another team member phased it as a “tension between grief and gratitude.”

But I can’t dismiss or belittle what God did. I got to sit at the Sea of Galilee and read the Sermon on the Mount. I got to spend two full, uninterrupted days of ministry with Palestinian Christian sisters and got to know them. I saw God’s universal and holy church family in action in another part of the world. And in leaving, watching the green-safe/red-danger zones on a map closing behind us as we traveled from Bethlehem to Netanya, to Bet She’an, and then out of the Middle East was awe-inspiring. God parted the “Red Sea” of danger for us and showed off. Less than 12 hours after we left Netanya, it was attacked. Less than 12 hours after passing through Bet She’an and that Jordan border crossing, there were attacks, closed borders, and tear gas. Temperatures have risen throughout the Middle East since the Tuesday we left. But we came home. God’s work should never be diminished or dismissed; I will not let that happen!

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — John 1:5