A moment to relentlessly seek peace


I grew up in Guatemala in evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Our songs, Sunday school teachings and sermons were filled with Christian Zionist theology that declares God’s will to be the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The duty of Christians is to support Israel. Some churches even display an Israeli flag in their sanctuary.

There and in evangelical and Hispanic Mennonite congregations in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and Goshen, Indiana, USA, our worship included songs about the God of Israel who cuts the heads off our enemies. Our readings were primarily from the Old Testament which depicted violence and genocide.

In our worship, we celebrated the deaths of the enemies of Israel.

I was taught to believe that the nation and state of Israel were the people of God. It was sinful to question this belief.

No surprise

It is of no surprise to me that many who come from similar theological frameworks do not question the actions of the Israeli government in this current moment.

They see the state of Israel as a David coming up against a Goliath. They believe that Israel continues to be the little biblical nation it once was and not the world superpower it is now.

I held that Zionist vision of Israel for most of my life. That is, until I studied history and theology at Goshen College in the Hispanic Ministries program.

Theology professors such as Juan (John) Driver and Ron Collins were patient enough to help me deconstruct these violent narratives and reconstruct a new Anabaptist peace theology with a different vision of God, Jesus and Israel.

I learned that the Bible is not flat. There is a mountain in the gospels, where we stand with Jesus and can see and understand the rest of the Bible through Jesus’ teachings, vision and mission.

So, when my Hispanic/Latino(a) brothers and sisters opposed a “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine” resolution at the Mennonite Church USA convention in 2015, I knew exactly where that opposition came from.

Come and see

In that instant, I decided to join the “Come and See” Israel-Palestine Working Group (composed of Anabaptist agencies and organizations).

The objective of the working group was to educate leaders about Palestine and Israel and to join a learning tour of the Holy Land which included a visit to both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

More than 110 Mennonite leaders signed up, including most of my Hispanic/Latina(o) brothers and sisters walked to the microphone at the convention in 2015.

Some stated, “I am pro-Israel and will not change my mind.” But that mindset was challenged as we listened to stories from people on both sides of the Israeli separation wall.

In 2017, I again joined a learning tour group. It included leaders from MC USA Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church), a few Anglo Mennonite leaders and an African American couple.

In addition to visiting the typical Christian “holy sites,” we went behind the walls which very few visitors cross. We walked through checkpoints, reminding us of the challenges undocumented members of our congregations face in the USA.

We visited Palestinian refugee camps and Israeli settlements.

We enjoyed the hospitality of Christian Palestinian sisters and brothers near Bethlehem, and listened to stories from Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. At Bethlehem Bible College, we learned about the complex Christian theological perspectives on the land.

We planted olive trees in the West Bank, near Israeli settlements (built against international law). The settlers wanted to displace the Christian Palestinian farmers.

We learned that the conflict is not Muslim-Jewish, or Jewish-Palestinian, it is between the State of Israel and anyone who opposes the expansion of its occupation – even against Jewish people of conscience who oppose illegal expansion and the displacement of Palestinians.

Apartheid experience

We began to get a sense of the apartheid experience as soon as we arrived, seeing the strong segregation and oppression of Palestinians under a brutal military occupation.

We felt the tensions and racial segregation. We, Latinas(os), share some physical features with ethnic groups in the Middle East (I was constantly asked if I was Lebanese).

As we passed through Israeli immigration and customs, one woman was held for interrogation. She had been so excited and joyful as we landed. But when she came out of the immigration and customs area, she was almost in tears.

Three days into the learning tour, the African American woman in our group wanted to return to the U.S. She felt unsafe, referencing the Jim Crow times in the USA.

By the end of our Come and See learning tour, we were not able to consider the single story of our Christian Zionist upbringings anymore.

Our belief system and theology had been changed.

Commitment to peace

At the Mennonite Church USA convention in 2017, Hispanic Mennonite and People of Color leaders were some of the first to approach the microphone to speak in support of the Seek Peace resolution.

But our new narratives held the complexity of the stories we heard and of the shared humanity of Palestinians and Israelis.

We committed to read and study The Kairos Document put together by our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine and Israel.

We committed to speak out!

As we witness the atrocities of the recent violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, I am reminded of that commitment.

This is the time to use our Christian political leverage to call for a permanent ceasefire and a just resolution to the conflict.

This is the time to embrace complexity in a world where media often simplifies narratives, promotes misinformed stories and fuels conflict.

This is a moment to relentlessly seek peace.

—Saulo Padilla is migration education coordinator for Mennonite Central Committee’s U.S. National Peace & Justice Ministries.