Finding Peace Through Christ in the Holy Land
I am a Palestinian Arab. I was born in Jerusalem and grew up in a small town called Beit Sahour, near Bethlehem, where the Savior was born. I was raised as a Christian in the town where the shepherds watched over their flocks as angels appeared to them informing them about the birth of the Savior, the Prince of Peace. At that glorious time, angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2: 14). However, my life growing up there was anything but peaceful. Four years before I was born, my country, Palestine, was occupied by Israel. We lost our nationality and identity. We were not allowed to raise our flag and were not treated as equal citizens of the newly established state.
Demonstrations, tear gas, and gunshots were daily occurrences. I saw friends get shot and beaten by the Israeli soldiers. I often wondered what peace was and if it was even possible. My world was dark and gloomy and lacked physical peace.
Since my country was not peaceful, I often wondered why our Savior, the Prince of Peace, would choose it as His birth place. In 1994, I received a scholarship to BYU and was introduced to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was baptized a member of the Church in 1996. I discovered a new kind of peace as the Holy Ghost filled my soul. I felt my heart had enough peace to cover all the conflict and all the suffering of my people. This peace comes when we center our lives on Christ and follow the Prince of Peace. The Savior said: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)
I grew to believe that the Savior was born in a country with constant turmoil to show us that true lasting peace can only come through Him. The Savior’s peace is different. It is a peace that fills your heart and gives you strength and courage. It is a peace that no one can take away from you.
No war, no persecution, no humiliation can rip that peace out of your heart. It is a peace you can feel surround you, even when you are kneeling down in a dark room, with no electricity, and the sounds of bombs exploding are all around you.
When I returned from BYU as a member of the Church, my family tried everything in their power to get me to leave the Church. I was the only member in my town, and the only LDS branch was at the BYU Jerusalem Center. Palestinians living in the West Bank are not allowed to go to Jerusalem. Israeli checkpoints often turned me back. The only way I could get to church at the Jerusalem Center was to sneak into Jerusalem, avoiding the soldiers and checkpoints. This process involved climbing hills and walls and hiding from soldiers.
During one Sabbath, I left to go to church and, after being turned back from the first checkpoint, I found that the second checkpoint on the south side of Bethlehem (20 minutes from my house) was not allowing anyone through, either. Hundreds of Palestinians were there, begging the Israeli soldiers to let them in. I turned around and took a taxi to go to Wad-Al Hummus, a location in the middle of the hills separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem. The taxi drove on the hills (these were not roads, at least not roads meant for cars!) until he got to a pile of dirt that was placed by the soldiers that prevented him from moving forward. We got out to proceed by foot (now we were about 10 miles from the Old City of Jerusalem) at a point that was even further away than when we started (since 7 miles is the distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem).
I tried to find a taxi to take me, but no one was willing to transport me because they could lose their license and be fined over $1500 if they transported Palestinians. I continued walking and hoped that I would find someone willing to give me a ride along the way. There was another Palestinian man who decided to do the same. We both walked down and up a hill when suddenly the Israeli soldiers spotted us. They asked us to stop, but knowing we could get arrested or beaten if we got caught, we kept moving. They started shooting at us. The Palestinian man offered to go a different way to distract them while I made it to safety. Shortly after, I found a nice house with a family that offered to drive me to Jerusalem.
I witnessed one miracle after another as I sneaked in to get to church every week. Every day was its own adventure because the path I took each week was different. My parents did not speak to me every weekend, simply because I went to church. However, no human words can describe the peace and joy I felt during those years. They were the happiest twelve years of my life.
Some people may ask why I would risk my life to go to church. Nothing can replace the faith and testimony that I gained on those hills and at checkpoints as I struggled to get to church. The peace the Savior gave me was more important than the peace and safety of my home.
His peace was worth every sacrifice.
Before I joined the Church, I prayed constantly for Heavenly Father to end my life because I was so depressed. He answered my prayer! He ended my life of darkness, depression, and misery. He gave me a new life—a life of peace, joy, light, and hope. Why do we obey the commandments? Because the other side is not a place we want to be. I never want to go back to my old life of darkness and sadness; I never want to be the person I used to be.
I testify that our Savior is the Prince of Peace. I testify that He was born in Bethlehem and that He gave His life as a sacrifice so we can experience comfort and peace as we go through the trials of life.
He often does not remove the mountains and hills that are placed in our path. Instead, He gives us strength and courage to climb them.
He came to earth so that He would know how to strengthen us, succor us, walk with us, and even carry us back to the mansions of His Father. He is my Redeemer, my Savior, and my just and merciful King.
Small Seed Copy Editor: Megan Grant
Sahar Qumsiyeh is a Palestinian Arab. She was born in Jerusalem and grew up in Beit Sahour near Bethlehem. She was raised a Christian and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while pursuing a master’s degree at Brigham Young University. She is the author of “Peace for a Palestinian: One Woman’s Story of Faith amidst War in the Holy Land.” Sahar has a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Bethlehem University, a master’s degree in Statistics from BYU, and a PhD in Statistics from the Middle East Technical University in Turkey. She currently teaches in the mathematics department at BYU-Idaho.