Nathan Dannison’s Ministry for a Playground in Bethlehem

I am a graduate student in the M.Div. program at Chicago Theological Seminary and I also work as the director of Outreach Ministries for a large, congregationalist church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Ever since I became “politically aware” in high school the Isreali / Palestinian conflagration has deeply troubled me. In my adult life I have had an opportunity to spend my graduate career studying and following Jesus of Nazareth, a man from Palestine, who was a healer and proclaimed the justice tradition of the prophet Isaiah and the Tanakh. Therefore, when I received a ministry fellowship from the Fund for Theological Education, I understood that it was the first step on my path toward Palestine.

I feel very strongly about what Playgrounds for Palestine is doing for the people who live in this impoverished region. Last year, I saw a film entitled, “Paradise Now.” It is a tragic film that follows the story of two young men who are living in the occupied territories, who eventually find themselves wrestling with the life-and-death struggle that many Palestinians face in their daily lives. Throughout the film they struggle with issues of national identity and the possibility of their own martyrdom. At one point in the film, one of the protagonist finally breaks down and bemoans the fate of his people and of his own life – he says that apathy is the only response to spending one’s entire life in a prison – and that, “I’d rather have the paradise in my head than live in this hell.” What really broke my heart was the thought of the little children living in this area and the horror they must witness.

A November 15 article in the Chicago Tribune entitled, “War’s assault on the mind,” reports that only 2.5% of children living in the occupied territories are free from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, and one survey found that 83% of local children had witnessed shootings. This, coupled with the fact that Palestinian children are regularly killed by military actions carried out near their homes has led me to an understanding that amongst the poorest people of the world (those to whom Jesus calls us to serve) – the”least of these” would be the children of Palestine.

During the summer of 2008 I will be traveling to Bethlehem to study Arabic and construct a playground. The playground will be financed by the Fund for Theological Education as well as several churches in West Michigan and Chicago. The churches understand that they are building a playground facility for children whom they love very deeply, despite the fact that they live on the other side of the world. Though the playground may not be in their own backyard, they are praying that it provides a moment of joy, a moment of respite and a ray of hope for “our children,” – the Palestinian children.

For our savior, healer, and prophet was himself a child of Bethlehem who suffered under the persecution of a corrupt empire and gathered his impoverished brothers and sisters into his arms with love and a message of joy. There cannot be peace until there is justice, and God’s justice is infinite and all-encompassing. It does not differentiate between Christian, Muslim and Jew. Hopefully this playground will provide a safe space for the young people of Palestine to exercise their “right to play,” and find a moment of joy in a world of injustice. (Luke 18:15-17)

My website is located at – you can read more about the journey I will be making and contribute to the fund that will build this playground. I will update it throughout my journey with photos and more information about the work we are doing overseas.

Grace and peace to you!

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Play, while it cannot change the external realities of children’s lives, can be a vehicle for children to explore and enjoy their differences and similarities and to create, even for a brief time, a more just world where everyone is an equal and valued participant.