Most people experience the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as distant spectators, with the news complex and confusing.
During a recent visit to the Conference office in Lakeland, Middle East itinerant missionaries Brenda and Alex Awad found an appreciative audience for their stories about what is really happening in the region.
After 27 years, the Awads are retiring from their work with the General Board of Global Ministries, having served in Israel and Palestine for 21 of those years. During a Lunch and Learn, they shared their experiences from living and ministering in the Middle East.
Alex was born and raised in Jerusalem, and he recounted the death of his father, who was killed in the 1948 crossfire between the Israeli and Jordanian armies. Alex, his mother and six siblings became refugees. Despite the hardship, his mother’s Christian faith did not waver, and she passed that faith on to her children. As a result, Alex said, he was practically raised in the church.
During his time as a young student at Lee University in Cleveland, Tenn., he met and married Brenda. They taught in public schools and served in church ministry in Tennessee and Georgia before their travels took them to the Middle East.
Alex said his faith led him through the years, as he wore many different hats and met many challenging roles: pastor, educator, interpreter, missionary and college administrator.
The Awads spoke about the complex issues and struggles which are ongoing in the Middle East. They believe that when the Palestine-Israeli conflict is resolved, the other Middle Eastern conflicts will be resolved because it fuels the fires of all the other conflicts.
Pam Garrison, the disaster response coordinator and prison ministry liaison for the Conference, said the session gave her a different perspective on the conflicted area from a trusted source, “one of our very own United Methodist missionaries.
“The presentation brought home the fact that there’s not an easy answer to the issues there—this conflict is 2,000-plus years old,” she said.
Alex has also been affiliated with the Bethlehem Bible College as professor, dean of students and board member, and Brenda has taught there for years, as well.
Bethlehem Bible College, a Christian institution located within the territory of the West Bank, was founded in 1979 to offer theological education and training for Christian leaders. Today, the college invites pilgrims who wish to visit Israel and Palestine to a balanced view of the lands, cultures and faiths of the people. Those interested in more information about a visit can click here.
It’s become something of a tradition over the last four years to take advantage of itinerate missionaries’ expertise as they visit the Lakeland area.
“To have the missionaries with a covenant relationship in the Florida Conference come and share their experiences with us has become a regular practice,” said Icel Rodriguez, the director of global missions for the Conference. She said 14 missionaries have come during the last four years, from as far away as Japan and as close as the Dominican Republic.