by John Klawiter, M.Div. '12
Jadivan Elzughbi tells people that he is 334 months old (or nearly 28). He celebrates his birth on the 25th day of every month.
Something else also makes Elzughbi, a first-year Master of Arts student at Luther Seminary, unique. He has a Palestinian father who lives in Bethlehem, located in the West Bank of Palestine, and a Palestinian mother who lives in Jerusalem, Israel. Consequently, Elzughbi grew up under unusual circumstances, shuttling between Bethlehem and Jerusalem schools. He experienced the frustration of having his travel documents taken away by the government for more than six years without explanation.
"That restricted my movements," said Elzughbi. "I only had one choice—Bethlehem University. When I looked at what they offered for majors, I asked what occupational therapy was."
He quickly learned that being an occupational therapist involved helping people. Soon, Elzughbi found himself immersed in the world of special needs children and wheelchair basketball. "I hate sports," said Elzughbi. "But I adore helping kids in wheelchairs. If they love playing basketball, then I love it."
Elzughbi saw an opportunity and took the initiative to bring Arab-Israelis and Palestinians together. "I created the first Palestinian wheelchair basketball team for teenagers three years ago," said Elzughbi. "We were Palestinian and played with Israelis. It was called the Peace Team and we went to Belgium [for an international wheelchair basketball tournament] in 2011 as one team."
Elzughbi faced a bit of an uphill battle to get that team formed. "I asked 80 Palestinian kids to play and only 12 had parents say yes. The rest said that they didn't want their kids doing this." But it was enough to form a team.
The team got the attention of the BBC and they interviewed the kids to ask how they felt when they first came together. "Some of them said that they were 'at first afraid, we thought the others were terrorists,' but then they became friends and now they talk all the time," said Elzughbi.
After experiencing this success in his chosen field, why is Elzughbi now at Luther Seminary? With his background in occupational therapy, Elzughbi learned how he can help people to become more independent.
"I also believe I have a heart of giving," said Elzughbi, adding that he sees God working in mysterious ways in his life. "Why did God not allow me to have travel documents? It took me eight years to understand God's message."
Finally legal to travel, Elzughbi came to work at Green Lake Bible Camp in Spicer, Minn., with his brother, Jamil, as a volunteer in 2009. Raised Catholic, Elzughbi got his first taste of the United States, but also the roots were planted to become Lutheran. "We came for a youth gathering at Luther Seminary," said Elzughbi. "[Later on], I wanted a Master of Arts degree that was related to kids and a friend told me about the (CYF) program."
One of the people instrumental in arranging for Elzughbi to be enrolled at Luther Seminary was retired Concordia College professor Arland Jacobson, who met Elzughbi's father, Michael, in 1997 while serving as a resident scholar at Tantur Ecumenical Institute. Jacobson got to know Elzughbi better when he came back in 2010 and lived with the Elzughbi family for a few months.
"The Children, Youth and Family program seemed to be a good fit because it would expand upon his focus on children with disabilities," said Jacobson.
So far, Elzughbi has found that to be true. "With the classes I'm taking [in CYF] I'm getting a clearer idea of what I want to do," said Elzughbi. "I want to work with kids and parents with special needs and mix both degrees—I'm not sure what it will look like, but it will come together."