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In November of 2022, about a dozen women, along with a few men, traveled to Israel and Palestine as part of the She Is Called Holy Land trip. Led by RCA Global Mission partners Josh and Sally Vis, along with Liz Testa, coordinator for women’s transformation and leadership, participants studied the Bible, visited historic and biblical sites, and learned about the conflict that troubles the land today. For many, it was an eye-opening experience that required processing and further action upon returning home.

“It was a powerful, life-changing trip. I had no idea I would be impacted in such a way,” says Debbie Pierce, whose pastor encouraged her to go on the trip as continuing education. “Hearing the stories of Scripture in the location where they happened brought a depth to the stories that I was not expecting. Being where Jesus walked and talked, Scripture became richer, deeper, and more real.”

In addition to visiting places like Magdala and the Wilderness of Sin, the group met and talked with both Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones in the conflict between the nations.

“I was not aware of the depth of that conflict,” says Pierce. “What I took from those talks was the hope of peace and resolution, of wanting to be together in unity and harmony. People are trying to find a path for peace, not a path for Israel or a path for Palestine, but a path for peace. That’s a message of Jesus and what God wants.”

And it’s a message that Pierce brought back home to Ponds Reformed Church in Oakland, New Jersey, where she serves as associate pastor. The church is already engaged in refugee support and resettlement, as well as other social justice work. After Pierce’s trip, the congregation has been exploring further opportunities, recognizing the need to broaden the awareness of the Israel–Palestine conflict.

Pierce’s experience on the trip is now shaping faith formation in her church. 

“It brings awareness to the injustices in our own country,” she says. “Scripture immediately comes to mind: ‘You did it to someone else, you did it to me.’ Jesus constantly said to care for those who don’t have a voice—orphans, widows, people who have no one to care for them. To live that out in such a real way, it explodes faith in people. It makes it real. It’s not just a thing you’ve read about, but you’re living out what Christ told you to do. It puts an authenticity to it.”

Ponds Reformed has good, interfaith connections with the Jewish temples and the Muslim temple in its neighborhood. In the past, they have jointly held peace rallies. Since the Holy Land trip, the church has focused on these relationships and also connected with the nearby Sikh community.

“We’re getting together with all the leaders from these churches to plan interfaith learning and to study the Scriptures together,” says Pierce. “We’ll take the relationships we’re building there and promote the peace opportunities. When we know one another, peace follows because we’re in relationship with one another.”

The goal is to bring these interfaith conversations to the congregational level as well, not just among the leaders of the churches. But conversations and next steps are already taking place within the Ponds Reformed congregation.

“People were willing to hear about the Israel–Palestine conflict and to ask good questions. The fact that they’re asking questions and wanting to explore further is huge,” says Pierce. “I’ve already had people ask what they can do next. So I say, ‘Start with the injustices in your own community, and take the words of Jesus with you as you observe.’”