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Meet Jack Karn of Jerusalem Peacebuilders in Central

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jack Karn.

Thanks for sharing your story with us, Jack. So, let’s start at the beginning, and we can move on from there.
Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB) was founded on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Having served at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem in the 1990s, JPB Founders, The Reverend Canon Nicholas, and Dorothy Porter, had become convinced that these tragic events made the timeless call for peace in the Holy Land even more urgent. Believing that the best place to lay the foundations for peace is with our children, in July 2011, the Porters held JPB’s first Leadership Program for 12 American, Israeli, and Palestinian teens in Brattleboro, VT.

I entered the picture in late-2013 after beginning my studies for an MA in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation at SIT Graduate Institute in VT. At that time, I was searching for purpose in my life. After graduating from the University of Maine with a BA in History and spending a couple of years working seasonal jobs as a gardener and professional snowboard coach, I knew I was called to do more. Meeting the Porters and learning about the work of JPB really spoke to me. So, I immediately asked how I could get involved, and, well, the rest is history.

In 2014, I started out as a summer counselor and then became an intern with the organization. Slowly, but steadily, I learned new skills and gained confidence in running youth leadership programs, nonprofit management, and organizational communications. The next year, I took my first trip to the Holy Land, which changed my life forever.

Since that fateful beginning, my life and work have developed in beautiful and unexpected ways, with multiple trips and appointments in the Holy Land to launch JPB programs in schools, as well as building JPB’s domestic programs for teens here in Houston. I feel very grateful to be where I am today.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Life would not be interesting if it didn’t include challenges along the way. My most transformational learning moments in life are borne out of struggle and make me who I am today. Indeed, we are often defined by our struggles and our response to them.

The best example I can share is when I was serving as a volunteer in Jerusalem with the Episcopal Church between 2016-2017. For nine months, I lived just outside the Old City of Jerusalem in the bell tower of a cathedral, leading worship services and teaching in local schools and refugee camps around the area. It was a rigorous and demanding portfolio and, at times, I wondered if I would make it through. Living and working in another part of the world really push a person to find balance in their personal and professional life. You must have strong self-awareness, a good network of support, and remain flexible and loving at all costs. Thankfully, I excelled in this environment, and both furthered the work of JPB as well as developed immensely as a person.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Jerusalem Peacebuilders – what should we know?
Jerusalem Peacebuilders (JPB) is an interfaith, non-profit organization with a mission to create a better future for humanity across religions, cultures, and nationalities. Integral to that mission is the belief that the future of Jerusalem is the future of the world. To that end, JPB promotes transformational, person-to-person encounters among the peoples of Jerusalem, the United States, and the Holy Land. Our interfaith programs focus on uniting Israelis, Palestinians, and Americans and providing them with the opportunities, relationships, and skills they need to become future leaders for peace in the global community. A passion for peace drives our mission and partnerships power our program.

Today, we specialize in offering interfaith leadership and peacebuilding programs for youth and adults. 75% of our programs are for high school aged youth, while 25% of our programs are for adults, mostly the parents of our youth participants or working professionals. Each summer, we offer five summer institutes in VT, CT, TX, and in the UK for over 125+ participants. Each program has a different focus, but all include core training in identity, communication, understanding conflict, and managing conflict successfully. Beyond the summer, we offer leadership programs in over a dozen high schools in the USA and the Holy Land, as well as pilgrimages to the Holy Land, usually twice annually.

We are known for (and proud of) the high quality of our interfaith programs and our sustained commitment to the work of peacebuilding in the USA and the Middle East. We are inspired by our faith and belief in the importance of our mission. What makes us different from other organizations doing similar work is that we include religion in how we look at peace and reconciliation. This fusion of intensive leadership development with interfaith understanding is unique to our organization and speaks to the power of JPB’s approach.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
All Glory belongs to God. Along the way of reaching this realization, many wonderful people have supported me along the way. Of course, my parents, family, and girlfriend are at the top of the list in nurturing and inspiring me to become the man I am today. Then comes Fr. Nicholas Porter, who opened my eyes to see my calling and encouraged me (often brazenly) to follow it where ever it leads.

JPB owes its success to the thousands of people who have generously given their time, talents, and money to advance our work, as well as the 1,000+ participants and their families who have gone through our programs. Particularly, JPB’s Co-Founders, the late Stuart, and Angela Kensinger deserve special recognition. The Kensingers spearheaded the launch of JPB’s programs here in Houston in 2012. Until their tragic passing in April 2019, they were instrumental in JPB’s growth and development as an organization. They will be forever missed.

Without people acting out of love, charity, and faith in our common humanity, JPB would not exist, and the world would be a little less peaceful. It takes a village, and JPB is a testament to that truth.

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