Circuit Judge Monica Sierra hopes a three-month trip to Israel will help alleviate the threat of terrorism by helping Palestinians understand Americans and the Bible.
Sierra said she will work primarily in an administrative capacity for a nongovernmental organization that works on secular, not religious, visas. Still, she said, aid provided to those in Palestinian refugee camps will include religious teaching.
"The goal of the project is to transform lives of the Palestinian refugees with basic humanitarian needs, as well as hope through education on the Word of God and the name of Jesus," Sierra wrote in a statement to the media. . .
Sierra begins unpaid leave in January and will return April 1. Sierra is up for re-election next year and says she expects to run for another term upon her return. A senior judge will take her position in her absence.
Sierra is volunteering with the Living Bread International Church and helping organize an administrative plan for relief efforts. She said she will present the "word of God" and the "name of Jesus" in black-and-white terms, not in any specific interpretation.
When the organization provides water, baby formula, clothing and other aid, the people are receptive to the religious ideas, she said Wednesday.
"They eat it up because they are looking at the truth," Sierra said.
Ahmed Bedier, director of the Central Florida office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said sometimes good intentions can create unexpected results.
"People putting their faith in action is positive," he said. "However, whenever you mix humanitarian work with proselytism, it's a bad mix."
Although aid and understanding can help quell terrorism, Bedier said, Sierra might be minimizing the problems in the Middle East by suggesting the Bible has the answers.
"Often times, in trouble hot spots where there are concerns that certain groups exploit the vulnerability of the poor people, it can cause resentment," he said. "They shouldn't bring along their Bible, their Torah or their Quran and push that on people."
Regardless, Bedier said, he fully supports Americans' attempts to meet and understand the Palestinian people.
"I'm sure it will be a learning experience for the judge," he said. (MORE)