There are countless moments in our lives that shape us. These moments that make up our lives define the way we view the world and the way we live our lives as a whole. Some moments change us very subtly, taking hundreds or thousands of these small moments to reveal a visible change in us over time. Other moments create a change in our circumstances or outlook on life in the blink of an eye. Looking back on my life I recognize many small moments that happened throughout the years of growing up that helped me grow into the man I am now. However, these small moments are not what I want to share with you today. I will share with you the memory of a single moment in my life that has forever shifted my understanding of the role I am meant to play in this world. This moment took place while sitting cross-legged on the pavement in the middle of Jerusalem, listening to an Israeli tour guide.
It was on the tail-end of a 10-day visit to Israel when I and24 other Americans sat in a circle in a quiet(ish) place to reflect on the time we had spent there. We had gone to Israel to walk where Jesus walked, to see with our own eyes the places so often mentioned in Scripture, and to gain an understanding of the current issues that the people of Israel face today. This time spent sitting around on that unusually warm January afternoon was filled with laughter and teary eyes as we all, one by one, reflected on the days past. After we had all shared, there was a quietness among the group as we were all caught up in our own thoughts, until Raz began to speak.
Raz was our tour guide from the time we landed at the airport to the time we walked through airport security to leave. He had a magnetic personality, rarely spoke without a hint of sarcasm or humor, and was the kind of person that would act exactly the same as he always did, regardless of who was with him. After being around him for any amount of time, you could tell that he was always true to who he was even when people might disagree with his choice of words or actions at times.
As Raz began to speak while we sat in that circle, he seemed to talk in a more serious tone than we were used to hearing from him. He reflected on the time he had spent with us and thanked us for taking an interest in his country and his people. At the end, he got quiet for a moment, looked down, and then looked up at us once more as if he were about to speak. The words that came out of his mouth next have rung in my ears ever since. He said, in the most earnest tone I had heard from him that whole trip, “Do not be bystanders in life. We are all playing a part in this life. Do not think, by staying silent on important issues in the world, that you are simply choosing to not play a part in making a change. Silent voices have always played a part in shaping history.”
Raz’s exhortation struck me immediately, but had an even stronger impact on me the more I thought about it on the flight back to the states. I thought about how it related to the issues happening in Israel. In my time there I learned about the Arab-Israeli conflict and how it affects Israelis and Palestinians in their day-to-day lives. Raz is a tour guide and helps foreigners have a better understanding of the issues they face, and he also desires to show the rich history and cultures that live in Israel. When he is not guiding, he is helping lead and protect his community. He lives in the closest town to the Gaza boarder, where missiles are launched into Israel weekly and sometimes even daily. His life and career are intertwined with the issues happening, and he plays an active role in them.
I also began to think about how many other Israelis I had met just like Raz, playing an active role in bringing about positive change for the future of their nation. However, I then thought about the Israelis that seemed to not think about the conflict at all, as if to pretend it was not happening. I could not comprehend how some Israelis could live as if rockets were not being shot into their country each week, and as if there was not a deep rooted racial prejudice and hatred hovering over the people groups living there.
As I continued to doze in and out of sleep on the plane, I wondered to myself if it would be these Israelis with silent voices who would make the biggest impact in the continued conflict. It made me think back to the Germans who may have disagreed, but chose to stay silent while the furnaces in the concentration camps burned night and day. I thought back to the church leaders in the 17th and 18th century who may have disagreed with, but chose to stay silent in the fight against slavery. How did their silence affect history? Then my mind drifted to thinking about the United States today. How many people disagree with abortion, racial prejudices, and infringements on religious liberties, yet choose to stay silent because it is easier to pretend that the issues do not affect them? How will their silence affect our nation’s history? How will my silence affect history?
Raz’s exhortation made me realize that a silent voice still makes an impact on history. I needed to ask myself if I was willing to make an impact on history by being one of the millions of silent voices out there, or if I was going to choose to be an active voice into the pressing issues that will no doubt affect our world for years to come. This moment, sitting in a circle on the pavement in Jerusalem, while listening to an Israeli tour guide, will forever be a moment that shifted my understanding of the role I play, that we all play, in our world today. I will not be a bystander towards the pressing issues my world faces. History will not claim me as another silent voice who did nothing.