I returned to Israel this month in the good company of David Coffey, now our BMS global ambassador, to join with Israel’s Baptists and celebrate their centenary.
When I came here last year, most of my time was spent with Arab Christians and Muslims, both in Nazareth and on the West Bank. The visit made a powerful impact on me.
But on this visit, I especially wanted to visit the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, Yad Vashem, in large measure to understand better an Israeli-Jewish worldview. I know there would be no better place than Yad Vashem, and I was surely right.
As you’d expect, the memorial was haunting in its evocation of a world that existed less than a decade before I was born. It was intense, and the intensity grew as you traveled further into the building, into the story, into the depiction of the industrialization of genocide.
It was at times strangely peaceful – not the peace of beauty or harmony, but the peace that says this horror is now over, but please don’t ever forget it. The peace of a battlefield when all are dead.
Images, sounds, artifacts, stories, even the architecture speaks of fractured humanity. The collection of hundreds of shoes, the striped uniform of a Belsen inmate, the black-and-white film of escaping Jewish men and women hurrying to the train wagons and helping each other to get in.
The choice given to young mothers to leave their children and work (until they were too ill and then they were shot) or stay with their children and go to the gas chambers. They stayed with their children.
The woman, now in her 70s, telling of how at 7 years old she was taken to the pit in the forest, watching as groups of 10 were stripped and made to stand on the edge of the huge pit, then shot where they stood by soldiers seated behind a machine gun. Too long to be standing all day, shooting all those people for hours on end.
Her turn came and she dropped, maybe fainted, before the bullets came and so lived, lying on the dead, covered by the dead until nightfall.
How easily I tell this, but imagine her tears as she tells it to the camera. Her mother and sister were killed there, too.
We had lunch with a senior Jewish civil servant in the Israeli government, a friend. We spoke of Israel and Palestine, of walls that separate and bridges that unite, of Jesus the Jew, of loving your enemy, of hopes for peace.
And as we parted, David prayed the Aaronic blessing over our Jewish friend. As I listened, that was my prayer for the Jewish people.
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24)
We read in Romans 8:22 “that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
On that day, that groaning was audible, visible, tangible.
David Kerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission. This column first appeared on his blog, Thinking Mission, and is used by permission. BMS World Mission was founded in 1792 in Britain as the Baptist Missionary Society.