(Editor’s note — this communique was issued by Janet Lahr Lewis announcing her leaving the Methodist Liaison Office in Palestine)
As some of you know this is my final week in the office. I will be moving back to the U.S. at the end of March in order to be closer to my family. For the first three months after my return I will be completing my commitment to GBGM doing my itineration, speaking in churches and attending Annual Conferences. After that I will be living in Fredericksburg, VA.
I moved here in 1994 feeling that God was pushing me in this direction. (I don’t say “I had a calling” since it was an undeniable push which I resisted with a vengeance. Alas, God always wins.) A couple of years ago I felt that my time here was coming to an end and that I needed to find a new placement. I had worked hard to get the new Methodist Liaison Office up and running, a place which the global Methodist church could use as a resource for information and activism, and a main contact for Methodist groups visiting the area. Once that was officially opened, I felt it was time to move on. I knew my time was limited because my final visa would expire in May 2014 and it would be extremely difficult to find a way to stay (although Abp Chacour offered to make me a nun so I could go back to working with him. After laughing for a few minutes I thanked him, but told him I could not see myself as qualified for that particular vocation.)
I had originally thought of asking for a new placement in Afghanistan or perhaps Northern Ireland (considering I’m already familiar with living in a conflict area), but last year after my younger sister died and I had a chance to see family in the U.S. I decided that my next assignment should be with my three children and five grandchildren. I realized that my eldest grandson will be graduating from high school soon and that he had not even been born when I moved here. I have missed his whole childhood. What a negligent Grandma I have been!
This past week as I was beginning to pack up 20 years of my life into some boxes and a few suitcases I discovered some of my old journals and could not resist sitting down with a cup of tea to read. I realized that it has been an incredible journey; the frustrations of trying to use Western efficiency in a much more relationship-oriented Eastern mentality, the long 18 hour days six days a week, the difficulties of just getting from point a to point b without getting shot, living with constant tear gas in my old apartment, and walking, LOTS of walking. (I lived here for eight years before I finally bought a car which I was not even legally allowed to own since I was here on a three month tourist visa….for the first 15 years. That is a miracle in itself!)
When my children would come for Christmas and Easter vacations and for three months during the summers, I used to delight in coming home from work to see what mischief they had contrived to get into. It was the same in the U.S. before I moved here. (The consequence of not allowing a TV in the house is that children learn to use their imaginations!) I found some hilarious photos of them dressed in my landlady’s neon pink duvet covers looking like giant Gumby dolls, or an ad for Pepto Bismal. One morning I left money on the kitchen table on my way to work and told them to go buy chicken for dinner knowing that the chicken store only sold live chickens.
(We ended up having wafer cookies and hot cocoa instead.) They got a taste of what my daily life was like when we tried to go into Jerusalem one day but were forced to turn back because the heavy machine gun fire on the corner would not allow us to get close to the public transportation we needed to get into town.
I discovered that there is one consistency throughout all the years I have kept a journal here. It is not the conflict, although that is most present. It is not the difficulties of being a foreigner who is living here and having to navigate the complicated set of social rules that comes with that. It is not the stress of living under occupation, siege times, or even bullets flying past my bedroom window. The one constant throughout my writings is the longing for my family.
Why, you may ask, did I choose to be here then? It was not my choice. I felt that this is where God wanted me to be and in order to fulfill that “push” I would have to make sacrifices. As the saying goes, “The sign of God is that you will be sent where you did not plan to go.” My pastor in Ohio assured me that if this is where God wanted me to be, God would take care of everything else, including my family. How right he was. My children have long ago become wonderful, caring adults now 32, 36 and almost 40 years old. I have five beautiful grandchildren. I have a bushel of crazy-wonderful sisters, and lots and lots of crazy-wonderful nieces and nephews fondly known as “the Cousins”. Despite the distance we are a close-knit family and one which I desire to get back to and spend time with now that I’m in my “third and final act.”
This update has not been about my work. You can find out about that on the internet. This has not been about my next steps. I don’t actually know what those are yet. And this has not been about my second family, the Palestinians, or my reasons for moving away from this place I have come to love.
It is about gratitude. I followed where God led me those many years ago. I was not abandoned in the wilderness. My children were not abandoned. I was not shot and killed or blown up by a missile from a helicopter gunship, although I came close on too many occasions. I have always felt that God was with me every step of the way, through the joys, and through the darkest times. And I know God will continue to be with me as I take this next giant step in my life, back to a culture that has become unfamiliar to me. For all things, the challenges and frustrations, the new relationships with the locals here and the internationals like you, the privilege of watching the sun rise over the mountains in Jordan each morning, and most of all, for God’s constant presence, I am truly grateful.
I hope you will continue to be in touch. As the saying goes, “The best is yet to come.”
إن كنت ريحاً فقد لاقيت إعصاراً
)May the Lord bless and watch over you.)
Janet Lahr Lewis