You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. -Matthew 5:14-16
Olive oil historically has been used in many ways, not just in your favorite recipe. Throughout the Mediterranean basin, olive trees are the lifeblood for many families and an economic engine in the region. The olive tree is like a well. It gives oil every year and has done so for thousands of years.
In the Bible, olives are mentioned over 50 times. In ancient Israel and throughout the Old Testament, olive oil was used not only for food and cooking, but also lighting, sacrificial offerings, and the anointing of priests and kings. In Genesis 8:11, the dove sent out by Noah to see if the flood waters had receded brought back an olive branch. The Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, is where Jesus was arrested. He was taken from here to be tried and crucified. Paul wrote to the Romans depicting the olive tree root as the rich nourishment of the Faith and Gentiles as an olive branch that God has grafted in. The olive tree is a prominent part of the Christian faith.
A group of Christians has existed in the Holy Land since the beginning of the Church, speaking the Word and being the light in a complex religious, ethnic and political landscape. Tucked into that group are Young Life leaders and staff going to the world of kids, loving them as they are and introducing them to a Jewish man named Jesus.
Young Life exists in beautiful places in the Holy Land. In Nazareth, Young Life ministry reaches high school kids and young people with special needs. The first Capernaum camps were held there this summer.
At a hotel near Bethlehem, Young Life camps were full of the energy of excited teenagers and expectant volunteer leaders praying to see kids’ lives changed. With Arabic as the spoken language, I did not understand what was being said, but I didn’t have to. I could hear it through the heartfelt talks about Jesus and see it in the faces of the kids leaning in to listen.
In the town of I’billin, Renay and her husband, Bshara, have built a clubroom on the top floor of their home. This is the hub of Young Life there with a unique view overlooking the hills of the village. Inside, there are pictures upon pictures of kids and their Young Life leaders, a testimony to God’s work in the lives of kids in this place. This clubroom literally lights up as a beacon for the people of I’billin to see. There’s even a machine that makes amazing slushies.
Where monasteries were once established, in small villages now with little to no christian presence, Young Life is thriving. And for the staff and volunteers living in these places, they are not simply sharing the gospel with kids but also living it out with their neighbors. Yousef, Regional Director for the Jordan River Valley, shared, “We do not have the right to call ourselves Christians if we are not sharing this love with other people. We would be so selfish to keep this to ourselves.”
The realities of the Holy Land are complex. Jews, Muslims, Arab Christians and Messianic Jews call this place home. But with new ministry beginning in places from the Mediterranean coastal city of Haifa and to beyond the Jordan River, the ministry of Young Life is established, thriving, and growing. It’s built upon the foundation of the rich, two-thousand year spiritual heritage that many leaders and staff call their own. And though walls, both physical and philosophical, exist across this land, Young Life is one of the few ministries – that life-giving, light-producing oil – that transcends every ethnic strata and geography of this land.
Nick Bruner is the Digital Communications Coordinator for Young Life in Africa and the Middle East. He recently traveled to the Holy Land for the first time, meeting with staff and volunteer leaders, and experiencing Young Life ministry firsthand. This is a snapshot of his time there.