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A Boy on a Mission
Benjamin Gibson, a remarkable twelve-year-old from Mansfield, Texas, along with a group of “walkers” from the United States, Britain and Australia, arrived in Lebanon in early September, 1998 to walk the streets apologizing to the people they meet. Wearing T-shirts and baseball caps printed with the words “We apologize”, they read out and hand out a letter which says, “We deeply regret the atrocities committed in the name of Christ by our predecessors.”
Benjamin is part of this modern-day effort to apologize for destruction and plunder wrought by Christian Crusaders 900 years ago in the Middle East, in the hope that it will foster better understanding between Christians and Muslims and between Western countries and the Middle East. When asked about his participation in this “Reconciliation Walk”, Benjamin explained: “The conflict of East and West, Christians and Muslims – the roots are in the Crusades. I’ve been doing research on the Crusaders since I was six. I told my mom I want to apologize for this. It’s like a debt that hasn’t been paid.” His feelings were so strong that he took off time from school and persuaded his mother, Nancy Gibson, to join him on this walk. His mother explained: “He was fascinated by the stories. He was really moved, struck by the horror and how Christ was misused to slaughter people.”
Benjamin and the other “walkers” believe their message has contemporary relevance. Matthew Hand, a Lutheran minister from Fort Pierce, Florida, the group’s Middle Eastern director, indicates that many Arabs regard the West, and the United States in particular, as behind many of the troubles in the Middle East today. Britain and France ruled much of the region between the world wars, defining borders that remain controversial, and the United States is seen as supporting Israel’s occupation of Arab land. According to Hand: “Crusader mentality colors our relationship today and is reflected in many of the conflicts the West is involved in.”
All the “walkers”, like Benjamin, are volunteers who pay their own expenses with support from friends and their churches. Their walk began in Cologne, Germany, in 1996, and aims to retrace in stages the path of the First Crusade which invaded the Middle East in the 11th century and captured Jerusalem, slaughtering Muslims, Jews and Eastern Christians along the way. About 200 people were expected to rotate through the Lebanese walk. In March, 1999 the project will restart in Israel for the final walk to Jerusalem, which the group plans to reach on July 15, 1999, the 900th anniversary of the fall of the Holy City to the Crusaders.
* This article is based, with permission, on a September 9, 1998 Associated Press news report.