It's been a fascinating week immersed in the complexity of the Middle East. One that illustrates vividly the heartache and the joy of working with World Vision. As the United Nations General Assembly voted to give Palestine non-voting observer status, I was meeting with a group of extraordinary Palestinian children full of potential and a passion for peace. Yet at the same time, children who had spent time at World Vision Gaza's child friendly spaces, showed me harrowing pictures they had drawn to help come to terms with the conflict. My mind was drawn back to the Syrian refugees I met in Lebanon, knowing that tonight, as conflict flares again in Damascus, more will be on the move. I also think of the Palestinian refugees I met in the 60-year-old crowded Beirut camp they call home.
The lives of children we work with in the Middle East are blighted more by injustice than by poverty. Injustice that in turn is causing poverty and suffering. The complex history, demographics, politics and religious mix of the Middle East intensifies everything from the day-to-day lives of millions to the regional and international geopolitics. It is like an oven with the temperature turned up or a pressure cooker. Muslims - Shiites, Sunni and Druze. Christians - Orthodox, Catholics, Maronites, Protestants all living side by side. Jews congregating from across the world in their holy land, which is equally sacred for Muslims and Christians. Armenians are also scattered throughout the region following a genocide committed a century ago. Lebanon's many different groups finely balanced and living with the painful memories of the 1975-90 war that they want to avoid again at all costs. Syria's opposition is fighting the Bashir government, yet itself fragmented and troubled. Generations of Palestinians remain hungry for a homeland. Meanwhile, Israelis have yearned for security ever since their nation was created with British and international support following the horrific genocide of Jews in the Second World War.
My eldest daughter Caitlin is training to be a history teacher. I love hearing her passion for the subject and its relevance to children and our society today. I recall her quoting to me that "the greatest lesson from history is that we don't learn from history".
This truth is writ large through the Middle East.
Yet in the midst of this the voices of children I met during the last week resonate so clearly and simply. Perhaps they hold the key to a future that is different from their history: "Why should we children bear the responsibility for the mistakes of adults? We want peace." "We want schools with safe playgrounds, without violence in the classroom." "How can we speak about peace when children are being killed?" "Please listen to us, listen to us, listen to us." So spoke Anood, Ghada and Ahmed. They then told me and World Vision colleagues from across Europe and the Middle East, "We want to encourage you not to give up. We want to be a part of this - we have ideas, energy and love. We are smarter and quicker to learn than you. When you want to do something for children, please do it with children. Nothing is impossible if we work together hand in hand".
Then we prayed together, Christian and Muslim, young and old, led by these children and united in their desire and our vision for a future where they can live life and live it to the full, just as we each want for our own children.