The Revd Ken and Mrs Susan Rogers during their three months
as WCC volunteer Ecumenical Accompaniers in Israel and Palestine.
 

Retired Melbourne Anglican couple the Revd Ken and Susan Rogers call it their “adventure before dementia” but there was nothing slow or easy about the three months they spent as volunteers with the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) until early this year.

Under the rules of the program in which people of the same nationality were separated, Mr Rogers lived in East Jerusalem while Mrs Rogers was based a few kilometres away in Bethlehem.

“Part of the job is to tell the story when we come home, so we have two different stories to tell,” Mrs Rogers explained.

Since they have returned home, the Rogers have been telling their stories to a wide variety of people including churches, University of the Third Age groups and Probus clubs in the hope of encouraging those who are seeking a just peace and an end to conflict.

The Rogers worked in groups of four or five Ecumenical Accompaniers in seven different locations in the Occupied Territory of Palestine and their tasks involved monitoring checkpoints, being present at schools as Israeli soldiers kept watch on Palestinian youth and witnessing the demolition of Palestinians’ homes.

“Sometimes the hours were long – up soon after 3am to go to the checkpoints for four hours,” they wrote in a leaflet headed Adventure before Dementia: Pensioners in Palestine. “Sometimes the tasks were very sad – watching homes being demolished. Sometimes there was wonderful joy in the pleasure of children in their activities.”

Mr Rogers, who was ordained in 1974 and retired seven years ago, had worked as a priest in remote areas of South and Western Australia and the Northern Territory, as well as suburban Melbourne and country Victoria. Mrs Rogers was a nurse in an equally wide variety of settings. The couple have two adult sons, one of whom remarked of their plan to go to the Middle East: “It’s not the wisest thing you’ve ever done.”

“We spent our days off together (three days off every three weeks) sightseeing, including the Penman Clinic at Zabebdeh, Masada and various ‘holy places’,” Mr Rogers said. “I was able to share in worship at St George’s Cathedral Jerusalem and in the Jerusalem Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.”

Their inspiration for the adventure was hearing a young woman who had been to a conference of non-government organisations in Jerusalem and who described the variety of work being done by various groups there.

“I thought, ‘Gee, we could do that’, and three days later, Ken came to me and said ‘You know about that Ecumenical Accompaniment Program? We could do that’,” Mrs Rogers recalled.

One of her main jobs was monitoring the three checkpoints in Bethlehem.

“Our presence moderated the behaviour of the soldiers,” she said.

“The system can be very efficient and it can be very perverse,” Mr Rogers added.

He said the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians were more than physical.

“The average Melbournite knows as much about what is going on in Arnhem Land as an average Israeli knows about what is going on in the West Bank and Gaza.

“We attended house demolitions to show some solidarity with those who were suffering. The authorities would arrive at 5am and give them half-an-hour to get out. It’s a strategy to lower the number of Palestinians in East Jerusalem.”

Mrs Rogers said: “When a house was being pulled down, you said ‘What can I do?’ and they said, ‘Go home and tell one person about this’.”

Both have been deeply affected by the experience of a troubled area they had not previously visited.

“It distresses me greatly to see what is being done in God’s name by people who claim to be God’s People in stark contrast to God’s requirements,” Mr Rogers said.

Mrs Rogers said simply: “When I read the Bible now, I picture it quite vividly.”

Promoting peace in Palestine and Israel
The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network (PIEN) is a renewed network of church leaders and Christians from around Australia. Inspired by Christ’s vision of universal reconciliation, the network supports churches to pray and act towards a lasting and just peace. A range of resources is available including a brochure and speakers with first-hand experiences from Palestine and Israel. Click here to subscribe to PIEN updates or connect with the network on Facebook or Twitter.

 

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