Monthly Archives: November 2012

Hard Work of Being In Gaza

Some of my friends seem to think (because I am a Christian and have traveled to non-Christian, less fortunate nations) that I am working toward a goal of changing others. If only they could understand the secret I told my daughter when I left my home in America—”I’m not coming back until I am different.” It’s always been about changing me, which I have never been able to do on my own.

I was in Israel for seven months and the voice I kept hearing in my head, daily on one situation or another, said, “Oh, so you think you KNOW!” It echoed what my brother had said to me, “Not always right, but never in doubt!” I returned to the States for 3 months, realizing I am not different enough, yet. The biggest difference was that I went to the other extreme thinking I knew nothing. I think the lesson of that whole first year was ASK, don’t ASSUME you have the mind of Christ on anything. I had to learn just because I could read, didn’t mean I understood. Accepting change (sometimes every 5 minutes), learning to respond to that change instantly and learning to hear questions as questions instead of personal challenges was just a little of the ‘hard work’ going on in my everyday life. Israel was a time of stripping away of possessions, relationships and beliefs that competed with Jesus for my heart’s throne. Did I love Jesus? Oh how I loved Him!—I thought the term “first love” meant that romantic kind of love I felt when I first fell in love with my husband. That was a possessive love, even a jealous love that caused me to embrace “Go thy way: for he (she) is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will show him (her) the great things he (she) must suffer for my name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16) Do I still love Him? Oh how I love Him!—but differently.

Let me explain this different kind of love. It no longer is a giddy schoolgirl, starry eyed kind of love that wants the whole world to know “He’s MINE! He chose ME! See my ring.” It’s a love of quiet confidence that He chooses to always ‘BE there for me’. He never shuts me out when He doesn’t like what I say or do, but He speaks with me about it in honesty. Have you ever ‘read’ someone’s face and knew they weren’t happy? I get that same feeling inside when He’s not happy about what I say or do. I can go to him and ask if we can talk about it, or I can ignore it. But thankfully He doesn’t allow a cold war between us for long. This love I feel now is more like Him having first place, a number one priority with trust—a mature love like after 15+ years of marriage. That kind of love. Now, did I suffer getting to this place? HA! Doesn’t every strong willed child suffer much to get a strong will under subjection? Isn’t self-will the biggest issue in letting someone else be Lord of your life? So when I say, “I followed my heart into Gaza” I hope you can understand the meaning behind it.

My “beloved” planted seed upon seed of admiration for the women of Gaza. I saw a strength in them coupled with gentleness, a lack coupled with generosity, great pain coupled with compassion. I wanted to know how they could be this way based on what I thought I knew of Muslims, it just didn’t fit. There had been on ongoing conversation (an asking, shall we say) between me and my “beloved” over the span of a couple years. How I wished the conversation would have given me more information. It might have been easier to convince those around me there was a reasonable purpose for this journey but even I may have not been able to accept the answer to that question at that time. The journey into Gaza came out of this new kind of love. Part of the timing of the move was fueled by (as one dear brother in Christ put it—a flash point) ‘thorns in the nest’ which is never comfortable followed by my experience of having my soul restored.

My hard work of being in Gaza has been allowing Christ to challenge and change ME. I have been welcomed, respected, served, honored and loved. If this is an act of radical terrorism, I wonder what people in Jesus’ time called his actions. Rachel Corrie saw a people so crushed by their sufferings that she was willing to stand in the gap for them. The fragrance of Rachel’s life joins the fragrance of the lives in this place of people who have suffered tremendous crushing but lived through it. Some have lived through it and become very angry, some very compassionate and tender, some disfigured and sick but, ALL in need of RESTORATION and love.

Only then will we be different enough to truly go HOME.

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Missionary – No, Visionary – Yes

I thought, “I could never be a Missionary” but then I learned: A missionary is not one who crosses the sea but one who sees the Christ. Seeing the life of Jesus and choosing to follow Him in the same way the original 12 left all they had to accept His invitation, should make each of us a ‘Missionary’ in the truest sense of the word.

Tina Turner (a famous American singer) sang a song named, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”. When you have been ‘stalked by love’—whether by a childhood sweetheart, a Calico Cat, or the extravagant hospitality of a foreign people of a different religion—you have to stop and wonder, “What’s theology got to do with it”?

Jesus himself said “to love God and to love others… this is TRUE religion”. I have called myself a Christian since I was a child (which has been many more years ago than I like to think of). I have grown (sometimes very slowly) in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Finally, after too many deaths in my life, I became a seeker—a seeker of knowing an unconditional love, a seeker to follow this person who had overcome death, a seeker of a life without fear and a seeker of a purpose.

Then it happened. I mean, that’s when it really happened. (Jer 29: 13-14) “When you have sought me with all your heart, I will not disappoint you” (paraphrased). I became a FOLLOWER—no longer a believer, no longer a label wearing Christian—but a follower. The first place I followed Him to was Israel. In that place the label began to fade. I was ‘gratefully grafted’ into the true vine. More and more I grew to know Jesus, the teacher and the author and finisher of my faith. I learned how to count even the most painful parts of my life as joy. It was a 3 year intense course with teachers from all over the world as you will see on the flag counter at the sidebar.

I learned how to truly forgive from the heart—not just in words. How to forgive in a way that compassion for the offender was greater than the pain of the offended. Tied to that lesson was a Gift of experiencing the “Father’s Love” in a way that seemed to literally wash over me.

And then the healings began. I finally quit running (like the Calico Cat). I finally submitted myself willingly to the surgeon’s knife—no matter how painful or frightening—because I knew I could trust Him. I willingly stepped into the refiner’s fire because I understood the necessity. I think I was very unpleasant to be around during that time but my Shevet Achim family loved me through it. I saw those who had already passed through the refiner’s fire ahead of me and saw qualities in them I didn’t possess and I was jealous—NOT a Godly response!

Jealousy makes people act in very ugly and hurtful ways. You see things that are NOT about you at all as though it’s ALL about you. From my personal experience mixing jealousy with fear puts you at war with everyone around you. It’s like trying to keep the beast in the cage. —- Humm —- rather a profound observation in the middle of missiles flying back and forth between Israel and Gaza, don’t you think??

Then, about a year ago I was suddenly confronted with the memory of a painful event in my life. When I was 16 years old I suffered a painful loss that altered the course of my life. Even though I thought I was over that a long time ago, the pain and wounding associated with that event created an underlying fear within me that colored the way I heard every conversation.

As the healing has “changed the weather” in my life, the fruit (Christ-like character) is forming and causing me to see things from His perspective instead of my own. Some people may call me a Christian Missionary (not one who crosses the sea but, one who sees the Christ) but I find in this part of the world, labels and titles just get in the way. My goal and heart’s desire is to see Christ for who He truly is and help others to see Him, too. This is why I prefer to be known as a visionary—but you can just call me Donna.

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Day 3 Of The Invasion

I awoke this morning to the ordinary neighborhood sounds of a Rafah refugee camp—families in loud conversation, chickens clucking and the sound of horse and donkey drawn carts. I am amazed that other than the absence of children playing in the street, this area looks as it did 10 months ago when I first came.

The vibrations and sound of missiles and gunfire from the past two days would only seem like noise if it were not for the news. The new reporters speak of the death and injury tolls as well as the missiles sent and received. On the internet we can get an English version of some of what is happening around us.

This morning our 8 year old birthday boy, Mohammed, and his 9 year old sister, Sarah, sit on our bed trying to play Monopoly—as if they can read English—HA!—as if they can get along this close to each other for 15 minutes (which is even LESS likely) but there is hope. There are two other pre-teen girls and a boy who recently turned 13 in this home. Each of them has seen violence and destruction far beyond what any child should be exposed to. From my favorite English speaking taxi driver (and neighbor), to the children in this home, everyone has been generous with the wisdom their experiences have taught them. The following is a sampling of this wisdom:

  • Stock up on dry goods, sweet water, oil and candles. If you have these things you can survive for a long time. Remember, no electricity = no water.
  • Don’t be in the shower while missiles are flying. You don’t want to have to run when you are wet and naked.
  • Leave the windows open enough that the glass won’t break when the building shakes.
  • Sleep in warm clothes in case someone comes into your house during the night.
  • Sleep in the same room with your Mama.
  • Don’t run to the windows to look out when the noise is loud and close.—ARE YOU CRAZY? That could be dangerous!
  • Stay out of public transportation—just stay home with your family—HERE!

In my hostess’ family, most speak NO English. But it was one of her sisters who gave me my first Arabic dancing lesson. I can’t communicate in words with any of her family, but in actions we love each other—much. Wednesday evening while most of the sounds of war had not yet come to Rafah, this sister found music on her phone and extended her hand in invitation to dance. Did I feel like dancing? No. Did the expression on her face look like she wanted to party? Not at all. But this is the language we communicate in. So we danced. For all we knew it could have been our last dance. But “Thanks be to God” as they say here, we have lived to dance another day.

Categories: Life in Gaza | Leave a comment

The Day The Weather Changed

Part 2 of the Calico Cat.

This week as the weather and season began to change in Gaza, the weather or ‘atmosphere’ changed for the Calico Cat and me, too. She had been comfortable offering her affections to whom she chose but, very afraid of being approached without her invitation. I set the limits of how much I was willing to accept by my response to her.

How long I allowed her inside the flat, how much time I would just sit to pet her and how many more kittens (and future husbands) I wanted my cat to add to the property were limits I set. I based these limits more on what I didn’t want (baddish) than what I did want. I did want to keep her but I didn’t want more kittens.

The property owner had just given Abu Naji (caretaker of the property) the big job of removing the cats from the property—with the exception of my cat. But the Calico Cat had heard the cries of terror from the other cats as they were caged against their will and put in the Tok Tok for a forced ‘relocation program’. In the animal kingdom, as well as among humans, individual panic can quickly lead to mass hysteria and these sounds and images must have left a permanent memory.

The day started out clear following a cleansing and refreshing rain the night before. That morning I ‘invited’ the Calico Cat into the safety of my lap as I sat in the Tok Tok. The purpose of transporting her to the veterinarian was for an injection to prevent unwanted kittens. Yeah, that’s right, birth control for cats because in Gaza they believe surgical neutering is dangerous for the cat’s health. I could sense even my lap (in the Tok Tok) didn’t feel like a safe place for her. After many attempts, I could see she was going to have to be put in the cage.

As we traveled together in the back of the Tok Tok, no amount of soothing words could relax her. She was safe but, she didn’t know it. She was going to return to the home she knew for an entire day of being pampered and cared for, but she didn’t know it. Because of her fear of the unknown and her inability to release control, my Calico Cat escaped from a place of safety and ran like the wind into a place of danger and uncertainty. How many times have I done the same thing?

Facing the unfamiliar is always challenging. It challenges our ability to release control and accept the RISK that life and love will always present. The animal instinct doesn’t know how to trust in God who has control of all things. But as a species of instinct AND reasoning, we are expected to choose. We can choose to fight our rescuer in panic when drowning or give up the battle and cooperate. We can choose to love again after losing so many to death. We can choose to expose ourselves to criticism and rejection until love actually does win. We can choose to let go of the nostalgia of “The Good Old Days” to live again in a new day, a new place, a new way.

I realize it is only because of God’s faithfulness and love that I have not outrun his protection and provision for me. Tonight as missiles “change the weather” of Israel and Gaza, as their sound and impact shake homes and lives, I sit with my family in Rafah knowing it is all between God’s hands and I am safe there.

Categories: Life in Gaza | 1 Comment

The Calico Cat

I was not seeking a pet. In fact, with ten cats on the property, I really didn’t even want one. Feeding, clean-up and the responsibility for their well-being is all part of pet ownership, and, I really didn’t see a need for it in my life.

I have heard some of my friends say they didn’t choose their cat, their cat chose them. Well, this is how this story begins. I was adopted—by the Calico Cat! This young cat literally “stalked” me with love. Someone said, “It’s because you feed her”. I know better than that! I didn’t feed her, at least not for a long time. So it wasn’t anything I did. I really ignored her without being mean. But then we started having “conversation” when I was in the garden.

This cat had VOLUME to her voice and many different tones and head tilts as she “talked” in her cat language. One of the things I am very aware of is body language. Volunteering at the Deaf Society here in Gaza helps me to continue to refine my understanding of what is going on around me by the body language as well as the sign language. I began to understand the “cat language” that asked for permission, that gave thanks, that wanted just be petted, and that was full of fear. And she began to understand, ‘no (la), good cat (Quase Bissa), wait (baddin) as I practiced my small Arabic vocabulary on her and some of my “cat noise” responses. After all, she is a Palestinian cat. She also began to recognize the sound of my footsteps and would she wait and walk with me as I came and went throughout the day.

Bissa usually slept on the awning three floors below my window. One evening when the electric was off, I heard loud screaming cat noises coming from the garden. Because we were having many “suitors” coming to “court” the older female cats, I wasn’t sure which cats were fighting. I went to the balcony and said, “Bissa, is that you?” Of course she didn’t answer but she did respond by running up four floors with a big gray tomcat chasing her. When I made the big cat unwelcome, the Calico Cat that had become MY cat was shaking and continued to look every direction in a very nervous manner. From that point on she slept one floor up from me instead of three floors down. You must understand coming inside had to be under very close supervision because it’s only a cat’s nature to want to attack birds, probably their favorite game—and I have two.

This little Calico Cat worked her way into my heart. Soon it was decided by all of us who live with ten cats (and many visiting cats who were staying here most of the time around the females) that we have TOO MANY CATS and SOON WE WILL GET MORE if we don’t remove them from the property. Baddish, Baddish (don’t want—in Arabic)—we knew what we didn’t want but MY cat was special and I didn’t want her to go.

Every good gift comes from God. To be continued…

Categories: Life in Gaza | 2 Comments

You Are Welcome Here

The people in Gaza roll out a huge “Welcome Mat” from Erez to Rafah and everywhere in between. The folks here are curious, since there are few Internationals in Gaza these days and they are quite helpful. From taxi drivers to the average person on the street or in a ‘Serveece’, if they can speak English or even understand a little, they will walk with you to where you want to go (if it’s close) or explain to a driver in Arabic where to take you.

The Hospitality of Home is like nothing I have ever experienced. I used to refer to it as Arab Hospitality but I am told by people who have traveled to many Arab countries, GAZA Hospitality is different than any other place. “Come to my home for a meal” is a common invitation here regardless of whether they heard you speaking English in the market or you are a friend of a friend.

Lunch is the main meal of the day, commonly served sometime between 2 and 3 PM (give or take a half hour). Here is how the typical visit progresses. Almost immediately one of the ladies of the home brings a beautiful tray of matching glasses filled with a cold drink. It can be a fresh squeezed juice, a homemade juice from fruit in season or a carbonated beverage. Depending on how soon the meal will be served, the next tray will be tea and maybe another tray of seeds, nuts and snacks. When you are an expected guest, it seems these women choose the most labor intensive dish they can make for you, which I will speak about in some future blogs.

In our home, once the food was served, it was everyone for themselves, but not here. The guest is still the center of concern and service. They bring you a personal small plate (in case you are not comfortable with the family style way of eating) and continue to encourage you to eat the chicken or fish by taking the meat off the bones for you. It’s been over 50 years since Mama took the meat off the bones for me. Now that was a ‘flashback’ I can’t begin to describe! After it is not possible to eat any more, one of the ladies of the home brings a towel. It is wet and soapy on one end and dry on the other—for your hands. You guessed it. I wondered if I was going to get my face washed next. I know that sounds like a wisecrack but I have NEVER had my needs and desires anticipated (as an adult) like this and it just boggled my mind.

The fruit can either be brought out as an appetizer before the meal or as a desert after the meal. When you are served the fruit, it’s not a bowl of fruit for everyone to eat from. It is an individual plate for each person, with a variety of fruit and a knife. This plate comes with someone who uses the knife to cut the fruit for you and hand it to you. After a short time when you are ready to leave this 3-5 hour ‘hospitality treat’—you can’t leave until you have coffee—Turkish coffee.

If you accept the overnight invitation, the hospitality can range from your host offering you a new toothbrush, ship ships (plastic house shoes), water beside your sleeping area, a personal candle and lighter, many blankets in cold weather or a fan in hot weather (for use as long as the electric is on). The morning will bring unique surprises of being a most honored guest in any home in which you are privileged to stay. This is the GAZA Way!

Helpful Hints:

  • Go without preconceived ideas of what should be communal and what should be individual—like the water glass.
  • Watch, learn, share and have fun. Just be real. Gazans are real—Real Special People!
Categories: Life in Gaza | 1 Comment

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