When the Walls Came Crumbling Down

​I’ve been writing for Young Life in various capacities since 2005. In all those years, I’ve never been asked to share a story I witnessed firsthand … until now. The following are reflections from a Young Life Expeditions trip I participated in last May.

On the edge of the West Bank of the Jordan River, there’s a sign you pass that reads “Jericho. World’s Oldest City.” It’s pockmarked with bullet holes and appears to be pointing at a pile of dirt. Nevertheless, by all accounts, this city has been in existence for over 11,000 years.

Many know this city from the biblical account of Joshua who marched the Israelite army around its fortified walls then blew trumpets. “When the trumpets sounded, the army shouted, and … the wall collapsed; so everyone charged straight in, and they took the city” (Joshua 6:20, NIV).

In recent years, the city has been a little harder to “take.” Jews are restricted from entering, and there are very few Arab Christians. In Jericho, as well as in other parts of the Holy Land, it’s actually illegal to share your faith across religious boundaries. This has made starting Young Life here incredibly challenging.

But just as God cleared a way for the Israelites to cross the Jordan to the Promised Land, God has provided a creative path into the oldest city in the world. And last May, when 80 children and their parents attended a Young Life Capernaum Camp near Bethlehem, walls came down.

Aida never left home.

By “never” I mean she remained inside, all day, every day — except for the time her mother took her to the orphanage and left her there. Needless to say, getting her onto the bus was not easy. And when she was greeted by a man wearing a white suit and an Afro wig, it’s quite understandable why she was terrified (although it came as quite a shock to the program character — me!).

You can imagine my surprise when later I saw Aida basking — literally basking in the sun.

Over the next 48 hours, the young woman soaked up everything we threw at her. She sat at the front of club. She screamed with glee in my friend Sean’s ear as he carried her around the pool. She jumped in the center of the circle during the dance party.

When it came time to leave, she gave Dakota, the other program character, the biggest hug he’d ever received (it didn’t dawn on him until it was too late that she had no intention of letting go).

Sauson is beautiful.

I admit when I saw her sitting by the fence instead of joining in the action, I thought she was not a camper but a bad leader! Later, when I saw her walk to lunch I realized there was more to her story.

Sauson’s body is broken. Her arms, legs, even her tongue simply will not obey what her mind is telling them to do. It’s painful to watch. And for a woman with as sharp a mind as Sauson’s, it must
be incredibly painful to live with.

She was crying by herself during lunch. Ruba, one of the most impressive leaders I have ever met, approached her and warmly asked her how she could help. Awash with humiliation, Sauson explained she was unable to eat. Quietly, Ruba got her food and fed her. Just the two of them. From the outside looking in, it could have been two friends having lunch together, which is what it became.

I shared dinner with Sauson that evening, and along with Ruba and others laughed, sang and even danced with Sauson. It was the first time in Sauson’s life she actually felt like a young adult. You should have seen her on the dance floor that night …

The next day, our camp speaker was finishing up his final talk when Sauson, to the shock of everyone, struggled to her feet. Yousef, the camp speaker, stopped mid-sentence and asked her
if there was anything he could do for her. She asked if she could say something.

Believe it or not, I have had things like this happen to me. And let me tell you — they rarely end well. Generally speaking, it’s never smart to give the mic to a camper — but that’s exactly what Yousef did.

This is what Sauson said: “I have never in my life experienced moments like this. No one in our village cares for us like this. And what I realize here is that it is not the person who has the problem with their body who has the problem. No, it’s the person who has a problem in their mind toward the person who has a problem in their body that has the problem. Thank you for showing us we are special and we can do things that normal people do.”

We were all left speechless.

“The beauty was in the camp,” Sauson wrote me later. “The smile you drew on our faces by your good hearts. It was a lot of fun to learn about the cause of my faith.”

How do you reach a city when it’s illegal to share your faith?

Five years ago, Hunter and Lauri Lambeth moved to Nazareth with their daughter to start Young Life in the Middle East. He had been working with Yousef (the speaker in the previous story) to help launch Young Life’s first club in the region. There are now clubs in nine cities, eight indigenous staff and dozens of volunteer leaders. This summer, nearly 800 Arab and Jewish teenagers went to camp.

Yet there are areas of the country, not to mention neighboring countries, nearly impossible to reach because of the institutional restrictions imposed by authorities.

“But,” said Lambeth, “the government has relaxed the rules when you work with special needs children.”

This is the creative response that keeps Young Life relevant in the world.

“Just as when you’re feeding the poor,” Lambeth continued, “these Muslim parents don’t see anybody caring for their kids or giving them attention. The fact we’re Christians is not a barrier because they are so starved for help.”

For the first time Lambeth and his team decided to let parents come to camp with their children. “We had to,” explained Lambeth. “It was the only way these parents would let their kids come. We saw it as an opportunity to share the gospel with them as well.”

One of our leaders, Jessica Kok, said, “To show and receive love to and from these mothers and children with disabilities (normally marginalized and rejected by their communities and denied that type of interaction), made every moment of fun, activity and laughter so significant.”

Following up to the tremendous response at camp, Yousef and the team have launched Jericho Young Life this fall. Boys and girls like Aida are there. Sauson wants to become a leader …

Looks like the walls around Jericho are crumbling down once again.