Armed with faith and the courage of their convictions, a Penticton couple arrived in Palestine late last week on a personal mission of peace.
Due to the volatility of the situation, Mark and Twilla Welch agreed to have their story told only after they were safely inside the borders of the unsettled Middle East country.
Their fears are not just about physical injury but being refused entry preventing them from doing the work they have committed to.
They will be travelling as members of the faith-based organization Christian Peacemakers Team (CPT).
“The CPT motto is getting in the way, and so what we will do is physically get in between the military, the Palestinians and the Jewish settlers,” said Twilla, who along with her husband work in the mental health field locally. “It’s not about the taking of a political side, it’s about just being on the side of non-violence and hoping our presence not only eases people’s movements, their ability to access basic health care and education, but also that that presence is something of a deterrent.
“You can never tell what’s prevented but we can try to help to create a moment when both sides see the other as humans.”
Her husband agreed: “This is actually about being mindful of the privileges that we enjoy and many millions of people do not. I think we’re conscious of that and that is what drives us.”
Mark, who oversees the in-patient psychiatric unit at Penticton Regional Hospital, has made several previous trips to the region, including twice to Gaza where he helped establish a mental health clinic.
“Essentially what it (CPT) does is bear witness to and uphold people’s human rights in conflict zones and bring people together,” he said. “It’s a very small contribution but it is important, and if many people make small contributions things begin to change.
“We know it’s just one part in a very large issue but it is better to light the candle than curse the darkness.”
Their pilgrimage, however, is not without its dangers as organization members in the past have been kidnapped, injured and even killed.
When asked about any fears she has of being attacked, Twilla thought for a long time before replying.
“I have some minor worries that the Jewish settlers can be dangerous, they have attacked people in CPT groups and hospitalized some of them, but because we’re pacifists we’re expected not to fight back even for our own sakes,” she said. “While nobody likes to be knocked around or have rocks thrown at them, my biggest concern is how if I’m confronted by that am I going to be able to live out my values and if I really am at the place that I hope to be.”
However, the Penticton woman also believes suffering can make an individual stronger and give them a better understanding of what others have endured.
Over the years she and Mark have worked with political torture survivors during which time they have seen firsthand the positive changes in people in spite of what they have gone through.
“Some of them say it was the most awful experience of their life but it opened up opportunities, even if it’s just about telling the stories and knowing how to work with and support others,” he said. “It’s also about being able to advocate for the voiceless.”
Twilla added while Penticton is many miles away from Palestine she believes there is still some impact here.
It is also why she plans to share her experiences with as many people as possible when she returns.
“We are prepared to see things that are very sad at times and probably quite distressing and things that might provoke a great deal of anger because of their injustice,” said Twilla. “The important thing is how we deal with it and that is the message we want to bring back.
“What we’re doing won’t change the world but it might change a moment.”