Eight years ago, Lebanon-born Ali Elhajj, 35, came to faith in Christ while living in America. As he encountered evangelical culture, he became troubled by how deeply American Christians misunderstood Islam as well as Christianity in the Middle East.
"It really came to a head in 2006, when the Hezbollah-Israeli war happened, and there was a lot being talked about in the media and churches," Elhajj told Christianity Today during a recent interview. "I felt like I needed to do something. I needed to be that glue between the East and the West."
After the war, Elhajj, who has a Muslim background, visited Israel and the West Bank. He met Palestinian Christians Salim Munayer, a Fuller Seminary grad and full-time instructor at Bethlehem Bible College (BBC), and Bishara Awad, president of BBC. Munayer and Awad are part of an influential nucleus of Palestinian evangelicals who are committed to Christian outreach and reconciliation across the countless political and religious boundaries in the region.
Mixing in Americans
In the past 20 years, ongoing conflict has sharply limited interactions between Israelis and Palestinians. Border crossings have rarely been more difficult. In 1990, Munayer and local congregational leaders formed Musalaha (an Arabic word for reconciliation) to create a new context for interaction: desert encounters in which Israelis and Palestinians spend a week or more traveling by camel through desolate areas. From these intense journeys, new, healthier relationships emerge. Musalaha has received worldwide acclaim for its breakthrough efforts.
After talking with Munayer, Awad, and others, Elhajj dreamed of finding a way to partner with them. One day, he asked his wife, Jennifer, "Wouldn't it be great to include Americans ...1