This week, VJN invited Katie Barnhill to reflect on some of her experiences with travelling to Israel and Palestine. She candidly shares about how the Holy Spirit has the power to enter into all kinds of spaces of tension and disarm them.
“Peace at the Checkpoint” It was an ordinary day, although this time, there was the slightest drops of summer rain, something not normally found in the dry desert stillness. It was a Sunday, and the only thing unusual about Sunday was the unexpected, staggering events that seemed to happen, like the Sunday before, when one strange nuance of a moment after another positioned us with a front-row seat viewing of a horrific and vicious fight, far too quickly evolving to a depressing end, death.
This Sunday’s events were not as extreme, but knowing the delicacy of the weary conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, you never know when a situation can break into something heated and life-threatening.
The church we called home for our month stay in the Holy Land was an Arabic Christian church in the Old City of Jerusalem, there was something about that place that kept calling us back. Rain, shine, and tragedy, me and the two fearless woman God placed at my side, were resiliently drawn to the spirit so alive in this small, intimate, cobble-stone walled community of passionate believers. We travelled in three from a small town outside Bethlehem. I had spent nearly 90 days traveling in and out of the Jerusalem-Bethlehem boundary lines the previous summer, dwelling in Bethlehem and working at a Peace and Reconciliation organization in Jerusalem. Tasting both territories on a daily basis was never short of interesting.
In all of my experiences crossing the security checkpoint between the Israel and Palestine border, tensions in the jail-celled walls surrounding Israeli soldiers and traveling Palestinian workers was an unavoidable existence. The slightest unmerciful act upon the soldier’s cuff, or the first impatient, articulated irritation from the Palestinians tongue, like a weathered, tattered rope, only held together by delicate excuses for strings, at any moment, could snap.
That same dense cloud of pressure fogged the Bethlehem-Jerusalem checkpoint cement building Sunday morning in route to church in the Old City. The air was thick as we waited in zig-zagged lines outside the revolving iron-rodded door. Through the door to the next section of security, men and women took off belts, purses, drew change from their pocket and placed the items on the airport-like scanning belt as they proceeded through the body scanning door frame.
On the other side, we waited patiently behind and in front of Palestinians; men, women and families breathing down each other’s necks. The humidity and clouds of weariness rocked us, one foot to the next, as the revolving-iron door suddenly stopped. The big green light above the door suddenly turned to red. This was common, something I had seen before. Congested space and tight lines sometimes calls for crowd control between sections of security.
So we waited, ten minutes later, we entertained thoughts and patiently waited. Fifteen minutes later, rocks from left to right leg suddenly became deep outward breathes and raised chatter. Twenty minutes, there was no more possible logical sense as to why the Israel Security forces were continuing to hold the door closed and locked when, our clear views through the doorway told us no one had been in the security scanning room for a good twenty minutes. Twenty five minutes later, babies started crying, loud, mothers got anxious and started raising their voices, men shook the door and yelled in an Arabic tone that was much more aggressive than the usual case of “Is he yelling or just talking loudly?” There was no question people were mad.
My fear of past situations, thought, “Outrage, uprising, riots, anger…” I was afraid of what might arise. So I stopped. “He is in me, and I am in Him.” These were words that have been with me since the beginning of this trip in the Holy Land, the sudden awareness that the spirit of the living God, the God of peace, of mercy, of love, patience, and kindness is Alive inside of me! It was as if someone told me I held the greatest power in all of eternity within me, because, well…I do.
I closed my eyes and breathed in the breath of anger, frustration and hostility all around me, then I let out a big sigh of the Holy Spirit’s peace and love and mercy. “God give your children on the other side of this door mercy to let these people through.” “God overwhelm this side of the door with your presence, let all the people around me be filled with feelings of peace and kindness. Give them a patient heart, Father.” In the name of Jesus, the baby beside me stopped crying instantly. I kept breathing deep breathes… in the bad, and out the good. He prompted me to continually say His name, knowing simply the power in His name is overcoming. “Jesus, come.” Silence smothered the cloud of tension and anger.
His presence broke the smoldering humidity with the freedom of kindness, mercy and peace. Peace filled the room. Suddenly, the red light turned to green and the door clicked, a distinct noise signifying its openness. A man, who had just been seen shaking the iron door, yelling through the open spaces, stopped to let the baby and mother through. Patience. The father of the family waited to let others through. Kindness. Suddenly there was no rush, no irritable, anxious feelings of getting to the other side. Peace. His peace completely changed the atmosphere, without a single spoken word, without the public recognition of Jesus, He came, and He changed the atmosphere.
About the Author:
My name is Katie Barnhill, and I have attended the River City Vineyard Church in New Braunfels, Texas for the past three years. One of the core values in the Vineyard that is emphasized in our community is the call to Reconciliation. I believe Jesus was the reconciliation of God the Father to be united with His children in all of creation. A year ago, I felt a call to Israel and Palestine where I have spent the past two summers living and learning about God’s desire for peace and reconciliation in that land. This is a story of a way Jesus showed me that I can personally be a part of the peace in this conflicting land.