The Change My Heart Aches For

Fr. Josh Thomas —  December 19, 2014 — Leave a comment

 

Presentation to the Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service at Temple Kol Emeth, Marietta, GA
November, 2014

My name is Montaser Mohammad Mousa Khalil Suliman Mohammad Abdulrahman Mohammad Amro, but you can call me Mono. Recently, however, since returning to America, many people have had troubles with Mono, so I’m considering making it even simpler- Mike. Maybe even M. My story and the reason WHY I’m here, however, is not simple.

See, I’ve been an advocate for peace for almost ten years, and I believe that not only does peace come from within, but I believe that we can create change.

I was born in Bethlehem, Palestine on February 20, 1991 to Mohammad and Lamia Amro. My parents expected the best from me. This caused me to excel academically from a young age. When I was a sophomore in high school, I was selected to be an international foreign exchange student. I was elated because I was going to finally see the America that had starred in all of my favorite movies. But where was I going? Would I be heading to the city that never sleeps, New York? Or maybe I could spend my academic year in the Windy City- Chicago, Illinois. Maybe I could create memories that could only stay in the city of Las Vegas! I eagerly awaited the announcement of where my cultural learning would take place in the states.

However, my excitement came to a screeching halt when I read the name of a state I had never heard of before- Alabama. Little did I know, Alabama was the epitome of racial oppression, even in present day. My work was definitely cut out for me. I arrived in the fall of 2006 and quickly realized that I could not live in this state for long. I planned to return to Palestine and go back to the life I knew. I lived in an apartment where I shared a bedroom with 2 young children as well as another foreign exchange student. There were four of us sleeping on two beds in a house with no heat and hardly ever any hot water. This made the hot summers in Palestine look like a Florida vacation. However, I later met a family that took me in, gave me a much bigger room and a bed of my own. Things were looking up, except for the fact that I shared the house with the family’s mentally disabled aunt. We got along great! Until one day she decided she no longer wanted me in her house and decided to chase me with a knife! The only person’s number I had in my phone was a guy I had met a few weeks earlier- Corey. Corey and I didn’t like each other very much, but I knew that he was a loyal guy.

Corey ended up letting me move into his house, and even became my legal guardian while in the states! This experience dramatically changed my life, as well as my perception and tolerance of others, mainly because Corey and I hated each other in the beginning. After moving in with Corey, I slept in the same room with him on his couch. We spent many nights comparing Islam to Christianity, talking about racism and music. However, our deepest conversations stemmed around a subject that we both were passionate about- food. He soon started referring to me as his brother and showed me that not all Americans are the same. Corey got the school to allow me to go to prom, go to Panama City Beach for Spring Break, attend concerts, church meetings, late night movie screenings and even introduced me to the culinary delicacy known as Taco Bell.

Saying goodbye at the summer of 2007 was not an easy thing to do, even when just a few months prior, I was begging to go back home. After returning back to Palestine, I pursued a degree in Civil Engineering from Palestine Polytechnic University. After graduating university in 2013, I decided to set my sights on my true passion- bringing peace.

I searched around for different ways to help, and stumbled across an organization called Kids 4 Peace this organizations’ mission was a simple grassroots , interfaith concept dealing with youth , its main vision is to end the conflict and inspire hope , not just in Jerusalem but also in all societies around the world , kids4peace mission is to build interfaith communities that embody a culture of peace and empower a movement of change . I immediately enrolled to become an Advisor !

People often ask me what Kids 4 Peace means to me. There is no simple answer to this. When you truly have a passion for something, you’re following everything with your heart- not your mind.

Therefore, I can not quite put a simple answer into words. However, I reflect on my past. I think back to the days that I vowed to see Israel fall. I think back to the days that I viewed America as a corrupted country. I then think back not too long ago when my mind was changed and I realized I was wrong. I could not continue to live life generalizing every culture. I realized during my visit in 2007 that no two people are alike. However, it didn’t stop at someone’s nationality, it also extended to their religious beliefs. Famous, influential musician John Lennon said it best when he said, “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Moses , Jesus and Mohammed and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.”

These spiritual leaders had many messages, verses and direction. However, every word ever spoken by them was deeply rooted by one simple message- love. Anne Frank believed that no matter the physical and psychological torture she and her family were put through people still had good in them , she said that despite everything I believe that people are really good at heart.  Despite everything a young girl who was beaten , starved , molested , witnessed hundreds of thousands of Jewish executions , this girl said despite of all that people still have a heart , as many know , the conflict between Israel and Palestine have gotten worse throughout our lifetime , there’s unnecessary killing and violence on both sides , there’s unfiltered hatred on both sides and will never be validated.

Imam Ali “ KAW “ even said , “ ignorance reveals itself in the following , being very angry without cause , speaking without need , rewarding the undeserving , not distinguishing between friend and foe , the ignorant never realizes his mistake “ , I believe change can happen , when you refuse change for humanity , you’re putting your own selfish agenda before anyone else .

As Leon Uris once said “After all, the only thing that is going to save mankind is if enough people live their lives for something or someone other than themselves.”  It was also John Lennon that helped coin the phrase “all you need is love.”

This message is so simple, yet so influential. All you need is love. The world does not need us. The world does not need the Bible, the Quran or any other religious text. Because that’s all it is- text. It is a tangible thing. However, love is intangible. It can not be physically touched, but can be felt. Love does not have an image, but can be seen. It can not make a noise, but can be heard. Love is the most complex, confusing, terrifying yet gorgeous and fascinating thing that will be a part of this Earth for eternity…as long as we let it.

Kids 4 Peace has helped me utilize my tools to show that love can overcome anything.

To quote another wise man, Master Yoda, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Kids 4 Peace taught me that love can make us brave. Love can bring joy and can end the suffering.

During the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of 2014, there were 2200 reported deaths on both sides. However, the true numbers will never be known. What can be known is that during the same year, Kids 4 Peace held a camp with over 100 campers from both conflicting sides. If each camper told 10 people of their enlightened time spent with the organization, we could reach over half the number of the reported casualties…in one year. Amazing. The organization is still young, and so is my role within it. However, I plan on being an integral part of this organization for however long they allow me.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg said “ if you don’t know what you’re living for , you haven’t yet lived “ I feel my purpose on this Earth is to make change and bring peace. Change starts young, with kids. I can bring change with Kids 4 Peace.

I would love to thank kids4peace for helping me come back to where I now call home- America. I would also like to thank them for allowing me the opportunity to create the change that my heart aches for every day. Many people walk through life wondering what purpose does their life have. I’m privileged to not only know what my purpose is, but be able to fulfill it. I would also like to thank the congregation of Temple Kol-Emeth for the invitation to come and visit with you , as well as the acceptance of someone of my Islamic faith my faith in rooted in my love for mankind no matter their background.  Thank you

Fr. Josh Thomas

Posts

Executive Director (USA) of Kids4Peace International. Presbyter, The Episcopal Church.

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