Saturday, May 27, 2017

The end of one chapter and the beginning of another

Dear friends,

As I round the corner marking my final month of service in the Holy City of Jerusalem with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, I reflect on my ministry here over the last eight months and look forward to the many opportunities to serve our Lord Jesus Christ and discern God's call in my life, both here in the Holy Land and back in the USA.

During my time in Jerusalem, I have intentionally sought to serve the Church and the people of God through my many roles as Teacher, Sacristan, Communications Minister, Jerusalem Peacebuilders Camp Director, Youth Mentor, and Pastoral Assistant.  There have been plenty of moments of stress, hard work, joy, learning and growth.  Each time I enter into a new assignment or responsibility in life, I think to myself "Will I succeed or fail in this new role?  What will I learn?  How will I change? Where will I find God? Where will God lead me to?".  These questions are important to ponder and reflect on during a Christian's journey of service to the Church and faith in our Heavenly Father.

Visiting the desert of Wadi Rum, Jordan
At the Treasury in Petra, Jordan
With my Jerusalem school programs all wrapped up, I am able to focus my attention on summer program planning with Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB), more reading of Scripture and theological books, discernment and reflection, and being a pilgrim and visiting Biblical sites.  One thing I've always struggled with since being here is that I don't travel around as much as I would like to because, for one, I don't have a car, and two, I have had a very full work-load which has prevented me from taking more personal time for leisure and tourism.  (Above are two pictures of me last year on a previous trip when I visited Jordan for a few days)

So, I guess for this final blog post on this current mission assignment with the Young Adult Service Corps, I would like to offer my answers to the above questions:

1). Will I succeed or fail in this new role?

Speaking with over 100+ students about the
JPB Leadership Program
In sum, my time spent here and the ministry I undertook was a great success, for me, for the Church, and for Jerusalem Peacebuilders. I launched two new high school leadership and peace-building programs and led the second year of a third program. In total, I worked with close to 100 teenagers, Israel and Palestinian, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish in the school programs and other youth and MUN conferences. In doing so, I enhanced my knowledge and skills in teaching and training, curriculum design, content delivery, classroom management, dialogue facilitation, networking, youth leadership development, intercultural communication, public speaking, peace-building, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  I balanced a hefty portfolio of programs, communications, and cross-cultural relationships, deepening existing partnerships and expanding JPB's reach to new organizations and entities involved in similar peace-building work.

With JPB Leadership program students
at a school near Ramallah
With my roles at the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, I also garnered great support. As a Sacristan, I prepared services daily, and the St. George's Cathedral staff and clergy were impressed by my attention to detail, organization, and overall reliability in making sure worship and Cathedral events went smoothly. As a Communications Minister, I was in charge of social media and email communications for the diocese. During my time here, I published several bi-monthly newsletters covering different events and ministries of the church in this land. The increased communications were a welcome blessing for the diocese, which led to greater engagement by the local church and the wider Anglican Communion. As a Pastoral Assistant, I helped the Dean of St. George's Cathedral with office work, Bible Study, and assignments related to his completion of a Doctor of Ministry degree from Virginia Theological Seminary in the USA.

My efforts to serve the church did not go unnoticed, as I have received support to return to the Holy Land in 2018 and serve at Christ Church, Nazareth and teach in high schools in the area.

2). What will I learn?

To say the least, I have learned a lot since I arrived here last October. First, I have learned more about my strengths and weaknesses for ministry. I feel that my strengths developed in my personal qualities such as my compassion, integrity, flexibility, communication, initiative, and organization. In serving others, be they Cathedral staff and clergy, College course members, or pilgrims and guesthouse visitors, I approached these opportunities to express my love and the love of God with willingness and and joy. In essence, I learned that I have so much love and kindness to offer others regardless of the person or context. I also learned more about my limits and when to step back and focus on self-care and personal time, which I found absolutely essential in this context.

Diocesan clergy at the Chrism Mass service on Maundy Thursday
Professionally, I brought a high level of professionalism to my ministry and interactions with others, maintaining healthy boundaries at all times both personally and professionally. I regularly communicated with clergy and staff related to work assignments and events going on at the Cathedral. Within my roles, when I saw opportunities to take initiative and self-direct, I acted upon them to complete tasks without error or conflict. This was a major take-away of my learning here as there is a strict hierarchy here that an outsider must adapt to and accept if they are going to be successful in their ministry. With my work, I aimed to do good work and do it right, which helped lessen the risk of potential conflict and miscommunication. If I didn't understand a particular assignment or responsibility, I made sure to ask questions and seek a better understanding.  If there was a conflict that was going on within the community, I was careful to avoid gossip and unnecessary involvement. Lastly, I worked hard to establish and maintain good relationships with those I interacted with on a daily basis, thus allowing opportunities to organically develop.

Regarding my weaknesses, I learned that I continually need to work on being more assertive in my communications and presence. My personality tends to track more towards a passive stance, thus I was constantly reminded to be more proactive and forward if my needs were not being met or if I was unable to complete an assignment or attend events. I am a humble and modest man, and so I continue to seek to strike a better balance between these good Christian qualities with my own need for more self-advocacy.

3). How will I change?

While these questions and answers can blur, I also changed in several distinct ways. I developed a deeper sense of maturity and confidence in my call to the Diaconate, my purpose as a peacemaker, and overall person.  Through this experience I have grown in ways that I never would have anticipated beforehand, but only could have learned through direct experience and the passage of time.  Through a busy schedule of both church and work responsibilities, I had to maintain a high level of organization, discipline, and time management. Deadlines, meetings, classes, and services, all influenced my day-to-day lifestyle. Large parts of the self had to die so that I could maintain and excel in this routine.

Singing in the choir
Importantly, my worldview has changed during my time here. I have grown more humble and modest in my actions, and more open and nonjudgmental in my perceptions of other people and events. Spending a year in Jerusalem and being in the middle of what is perhaps the most intractable conflict in the world leaves one feeling like they have a lot more to learn. More people to meet, more stories to hear, more history to study, and more places to see. Often, people can get easily swept up in picking one side or the other to support and claim as right, good, and just.  The challenge for a peacemaker is to stay in the middle and bring the parties together, whether through top-, middle-, or bottom-level approaches. Its easy to pick sides, its hard to recognize and hold competing truths simultaneously. I return home next month forever changed by my experience here, ready to share my witness to the ancient and living stones of this Holy Land. 

4). Where will I find God?

Through this wonderful and blessed year of service, I believe I have felt God in all places and at all times. While I still don't have highly developed answers for where God is in the midst of war and horrific atrocities, I am assured of His presence with us and in us as we walk through life and create the beloved community. God's love shines forth in my life on a daily basis, largely in part because I believe that I see God working through us in gentle and profound ways. I witness to God transforming who I am and the lives of those around me. 

At the historic reopening of 
St. Savior's Church in Acre
A significant factor for why I feel this deep sense of God's love in this place, its people, and during the short time that I've been living and serving here is because of the development of my prayer life. In both corporate and private prayer, I am becoming more trusting and open to God's presence. Through giving God thanks and praise, as well as petitioning for God's help in my life with various challenges or for others whom I've met along the way.  I feel God and His son Jesus working in me in new and powerful ways. Sometimes these experiences of Christ's presence working in me are easy to recognize, and other times they are more hidden.  The same applies for when Christ reveals himself to me in other people or events.

Another area of my life here where I have found the Hand of the Unseen at work is in the community here at St. George's Cathedral: the Diocesan (Majma) offices, the Guesthouse, the School, and the College. In all these places I have met many amazing, loving, and committed people. From the deep sense of love and faith I feel in the Dean of St, George's Cathedral, The Very Revd Hosam Naoum, to the leadership and perseverance of our dear Archbishop, The Most Revd Suheil Dawani, and all the indigenous and international support staff who live and work here each day -God's presence is here in this loving community. While the Anglican presence in the Holy Land is very small, we are a stalwart denomination doing good work in service to the Kingdom of God in this place. 

To close this blog entry and cap off my first year of mission service with the Episcopal Church in this land, I leave you with a prayer for Jerusalem:

Psalm 122:

I was glad when they said to me,

   “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet are standing
   within your gates, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem—built as a city
   that is bound firmly together.
To it the tribes go up,
   the tribes of the Lord,

as was decreed for Israel,

   to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
   the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
   “May they prosper who love you.
Peace be within your walls,
   and security within your towers.”
For the sake of my relatives and friends
   I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
   I will seek your good.

In Christ,
Jack Karn

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