Hope for Hebron

by David Johnson ’73

I was raised in France as my parents were the first missionaries to go overseas with Young Life. I attended French schools until I enrolled at Pasadena City College and transferred to Westmont. In 1978, I earned an M.Div. at Gordon-Conwell Seminary near Boston and went off to Africa.

I have worked for 16 years as a missionary in three different Arab countries. In Algeria, I served for nine years as an assistant pastor in two different expatriate churches (an English-speaking Anglican parish and the only French-speaking Protestant church). Then I earned a Th.M. in missiology at Fuller Seminary. Subsequently, we answered a call to Egypt as an elementary school teacher in a school founded and run by a Coptic Evangelical pastor. Finally we spent three years in the Palestinian suburbs of Jerusalem. During that time I taught church history and youth ministry at the Bethlehem Bible College. For most of those years, I was associated with Young Life International.

This last ministry experience in the West Bank made three profound impressions on me:

  1. It gave me a good vantage point for learning about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict firsthand, at least from the Palestinian side.
  2. My wife and I felt that God was giving us a particular burden for Hebron, a totally unreached city that truly represents the eye of a hurricane of passion and hatred. I believe that Hebron is a unique laboratory for studying how a city marked by poverty and oppression has turned en masse to embrace a particular brand of militant Islam. As I understand it, the Hamas controls virtually all the city’s socio-political infrastructure.
  3. As I interacted with many young men from different parts of the region, I became increasingly convinced that any Christian mission in that context must start with relief and development. With a rate of unemployment at times exceeding 75 percent, I often had young people begging me to help them find jobs or at least start up youth activities.

The pain I felt in my heart for these young men and my desire to do something for them led me to choose the following topic for my doctoral dissertation at Fuller: “Adam and ’Khalfa’: A basis for Christian Cooperation with Islamists for Development in Hebron.”

Using the tools of anthropology, I plan to observe two charitable projects in Hebron to understand Islamists’ idea of development and analyze how we as Christians can continue a godly witness in these areas of need. Problems can arise when people ask, “Why is a pacifist American missionary associating with members of a Palestinian Islamist group known for terrorist acts?” Does this sound anything akin to, “He must be crazy for he eats with tax gatherers and sinners”? May we bring hope to this weary part of the world.

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