FAIRFIELD, Conn. The Rev. Nicholas Porter is hoping the seeds he's sown on a timber farm in Vermont will grow into a forest of peace in the Middle East.
"I remember watching the Arab-Israeli war in 1973 as a child and thinking, 'This just isn't right,'" he recalled. Almost 40 years later, the minister at Southport's Trinity Episcopal Church has finally been able to do something about it.
His longtime dream of bringing together young Palestinians and Israelis came to fruition in July with the first Leadership Camp in Brattleboro. "It was nothing short of amazing," he said.
A dozen 16-year-olds from Israel, Palestine and the U.S. spent two weeks together, learning about each other and how to become the agents for peace at home. "The purpose was to nurture the teenagers' character and confidence in order to realize that history's conclusions are not forgone and they are not obliged to perpetuate their grandparents' war," said Porter.
The two weeks were a mix of traditional summer camp activities like swimming and horseback riding as well as workshops and discussions with political and religious leaders who challenged many of the preconceptions the teenagers held about the Middle East. At least three of the teens returned to Jerusalem committed to becoming peacekeepers.
Almost as gratifying as that result was the response Porter received when he first began to plan for the camp. "Not a single door was ever closed," he said. "Everyone we approached said yes."
Perhaps the biggest boost was when Kids4PeaceUSA , a program that brings Middle Eastern youth together, agreed to partner with the Leadership Camp, and serve as a conduit for donations.
Porter was so encouraged by the results that he hopes to expand the program next year, adding another two-week session. "But we'll keep the size small," he said. "Bigger isn't always better."
Porter spent some of his early clerical career in Jerusalem, which only reinforced his drive to bring peace to the area. "If we're going to be part of the solution in the Middle East we have to be involved," he said. "Peacemaking happens in your backyard."
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