Engage The Middle East

Perhaps the most volatile part of the world today is around the region of the Middle East.  It’s a region plagued with conflict surrounding religion, politics, war, and social unrest; there we’ve seen one of the largest refugee migrations in modern times, political jockeying for control of the region, and the horror of modern day terrorism.

So as we watch the news reports and wonder, “What’s really going on?” I can guarantee the easy answers many of us are accustomed to hearing do not answer the complex questions that arise in these contexts.  Once you see the integral components of family, tradition, tribe, faith, economy, and global integration, it’s easy for some of us here in America to just throw our hands up in confusion.  But with lives on the line and so much of the future on the line, I personally think we have an obligation to engage.

Ten years ago, I had the chance to travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.  It was an incredible first peek into a world I had no idea existed.  As soon as I crossed the causeway from Bahrain, I saw a world I couldn’t have imagined.  The beauty of the landscape, the hospitality of the people, and the deep religious traditions that rule everyday schedules fascinated and baffled me. I’d never in my life dreamed to see the nuances I saw at each stop. I was intrigued.

Since that day, I’ve made friends in Saudi, Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and Iraq, all the while looking for ways to engage in the problems being reported in the news.

What I found: The news media often reports on and sensationalizes the most extreme problems. But the reality on the ground is quite different.  Of course there are problems, some quite serious, but I found the people on the streets of each country I visited in the Middle East to be gracious, hospitable, and open to deep, meaningful discussions about the solutions to those problems. The news media presents the situations to us in a way that makes them seem hopelessly irresolvable. But they aren’t. There are good people doing good work to resolve the problems.

On one of my many trips, I connected with an organization trying to reach out to many different people groups in order to understand the issues, provide relief to the vulnerable, and give hope to the hopeless.  Over the last few years, I’ve been involved in taking students, families, and friends to go on their own journey through the Holy Land.  Once they meet my friends at Holy Land Trust, they begin sensing hope and seeing some of the possibilities for change in the Middle East.

Today, I’m announcing a new initiative that will help you understand what’s going on in the Middle East and how to engage.  Our new program called Engage The Middle East will put together specific trips to the Holy Land, helping students and families spend time learning the culture and language, and reaching out to all of us to understand and implement an approach to Middle East conflict that provides healing, rather than the often-heard cry that promotes division.

What if we saw people before we saw positions?

What if we had a chance to look at the world through the eyes of another?
What if we approached problems around the world with a heart of compassion first, instead of offering our solutions first?
What if we had a chance to understand other people at a deeper level, instead of learning what we know from sound bytes on the news?
What if we saw others in light of the “best of them” instead of only the “worst of them?”

I believe we are going to have the chance to help people Engage the Middle East from many points of view.

If you’d like to know more about what we’re up to, you can see our website (in progress) at http://www.engagethemiddleeast.com.

Or feel free to email me at andy@kivugapyear.com.

We also have a Twitter feed, and a Facebook Page we’ll be updating in real time.

I’d love to help you understand what we’re doing.  AND, you can rest assured, everything we’re doing is in line with our two main principles, LOVE GOD, and LOVE OTHERS.  From those biblical principles, we’re experiencing incredible friendships forming.

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