Holy Land visit deepens determination in young WCC leader

Holy Land visit deepens determination in young WCC leader

Dr Ulysses Burley III visited Palestine and Israel on a trip organized by the ELCA’s “Peace Not Walls” campaign.

When Dr Ulysses Burley III visited Palestine and Israel six months ago, he came away with an even stronger determination to work for social justice, wherever and however he can. Before the trip, organized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)’s “Peace Not Walls” campaign, Burley had already been working to learn more about the challenges in the region.

He was part of a group of 16 young adults who met with Palestinians, Christians, Israelis, politicians, representatives from the World Council of Church’s (WCC) Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), and Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers from the Israeli army who talk openly about the reality of everyday life for those who serve in the occupied Palestinian Territories.

“This particular trip was designed to create a critical mass of young adults who can speak about these issues in the U.S.,” explained Burley, who with his peers will lead future trips to Palestine and Israel. Burley, a member of the WCC Central Committee, a WCC governing body, reflected on how growing up in the USA has influenced his thinking about Israel and Palestine.

“This has now become one of my mainline issues whenever I talk about justice and peace,” he said. “I can relate as an African-American. As a member of an ethnic group that historically has been oppressed, there were a lot of things I could identify with when I was in the West Bank.

But likewise the people of Israel suffer from a very unfortunate history as well. I believe hurt people are hurt people.” Burley lives in the US — in Chicago – but has stopped relying on mainstream US news networks for coverage on Palestine and Israel. “It’s not authentic,” he said. “I rely on periodicals published there, in the region, and also Al Jazeera and BBC News.”

WCC work “rings true to my heart”

Burley was elected as a WCC Central Committee member at the WCC’s 10th Annual Assembly in Busan, Republic of Korea, in November 2013.

The Central Committee then elected him as a member of the WCC Executive Committee. “I think the work of the WCC is about social justice, and through the WCC I’ve been exposed to things that ring true to my heart.”

Trained as a medical doctor, which included studying in South America, Burley began working with HIV and AIDS patients. This work then strengthened his ties to his own faith tradition and, ultimately, to ecumenical work as well. “I helped the ELCA draft their HIV strategy. I started to be more involved in faith-based platforms for public health.

I could see the WCC’s investment in public health issues,” he said. Burley, 31, would like to see more young church leaders participate in the WCC’s governing bodies and its programmes. “I wish we could make some compromises to ensure that we get youth to participate,” he said. “We don’t have the numbers here. But it’s not just a WCC problem – it’s a church problem.”