Dear Joel Houston and new Hillsong friends,
The past few weeks since I wrote about my experience at a Hillsong concert in Caesarea and then another follow-up interview, I have learned about Catrina Henderson’s work to build bridges, and I listened to the hearts of many sisters and brothers who have dedicated their lives to be part of Hillsong. All of those who contacted me have shown such humility in wanting to understand more and share their heart. I am humbled.
I especially want to thank you, Joel, for your Twitter response:
Your openness and loving message speaks to us. To hear that you’ve never been so inspired than when you spent time with Palestinian Christians means so much.
I value your heart. I agree that our job is to point to Jesus and, in my context, we can be His bridge to peace. I pray that you continue to be an instrument to upcoming generations to encounter Jesus. I thank you for your willingness not to walk past us, but to walk with us.
Growing up in the 90’s as an evangelical kid and part of the indigenous church in the Holy Land, we did not have Christian bookstores. Christian music resources were scarce. Those who had them cherished them.
Every birthday I would get a Hillsong worship album. It’s hard to explain how much they meant. Often they were a gift from my now sister-in-law who came with me to your concert. I looked through my worn out and overused worship CDs just a few days ago with fond memories as I recalled listening non-stop to Hillsong.
I loved listening to your worship albums. As a teenager, whenever I had doubt, fear, or uncertainty, your music helped me encounter Jesus. I imagine this is common for many teenage Christians in Australia (and around the world) too.
When the Israeli-Palestinian conflict became violent; when war, tension and fear surrounded me when I left my home; and when I feared for my family, your music reminded me that Jesus is with us. In this context, your music was hope.
For me, encountering Jesus meant to be a peacemaker and bridgebuilder for my people and my church. To see this same heart from you, Joel and others, is so encouraging.
Palestinian Christians are very sensitive to fellow Christians who come from across the world to see where Jesus walked, where Jesus was crucified, and where He was risen. We share in their joy and awe as they engage in these experiences.
Yet when Christians come here from abroad, they often spend a lot of time looking at ancient stones that witnessed the stories they love, but they walk right past the “living stones” (as we refer to ourselves). Some of us can trace our ancestry back to Pentecost, a holiday that we will soon celebrate. As a Palestinian Christian, I implore my fellow Christians from abroad to not only look at the stones that bear witness to our scriptures, but also to the living stones who bear witness to Jesus’ presence in the Holy Land today.
To hear that Hillsong is listening and does see us, gives us hope. It means your music can continue to be a soundtrack for our prayers for peace, freedom, and salvation. It means I can tell a generation of Palestinian youth that we are seen. That our lives and witness matter. Your response means that we are not invisible Christians. That the fire that fell at Pentecost has not gone out in the Holy Land and others can see our light.
We are still here worshiping, serving, and seeking to love our neighbors and even enemies on a daily basis. I work with a generation that needs your anthems of hope. Otherwise young people are left asking the international church, “We see you visit, but do you see us?” or “Banksy sees us, why won’t our sisters and brothers in Christ see us?”
Even nowadays when I face doubt, fear, or uncertainty, your music still helps me encounter Jesus. Jesus transforms my pain and suffering into something good. Transforms my doubt into faith, my despair into hope, my bitterness into love.
As you have so aptly expressed in your new song, wonder happens when our eyes begin to open and we experience that wonder of the glimmer from the Light. Indeed life bursts in different colors. I pray we can both see the wonder beyond the immediate pain of this exchange and the despair that haunts this context. Thank you for seeing us because your heart sings,
I see the world in grace
I see the world in gospel
I see the world Your way
Joel and Hillsong friends, we invite you to come and spend more time with indigenous Christians in the Holy Land. Come and experience what God is doing among us. I invite you to share a table with us and some of the youth who attended the Caesarea concert, with Palestinian Christians who were afraid to attend your concert, with fellow leaders who have a heart to see revival among our youth, and with Israeli friends who are also working to bring the gospel to our context.
Our invitation and our hearts are open. We hope to see you soon.
This article originally appeared in Come and See.