BETHLEHEM IS IN LOCK-DOWN
Sunday March 8, 2020
Yesterday we received the news that the Corona Virus is not a respecter of any location – even Jesus’ birthplace. Bethlehem is under a 30-day mandatory lock-down (as is now most of the West Bank) because of COVID 19 cases discovered in the city. Bethlehem Bible College (BethBC) has been forced to close as have churches, hotels, and other public places, including the much-visited Church of the Nativity and no tourist buses are being allowed into or out of the area.
This is going to be a serious hardship for the people of Bethlehem. Of all the cities and towns in the West Bank, Bethlehem is the most dependent on tourism. The small city has the capacity for more than 5000 people to stay in hotels and guest houses and often it is hard to find a room as pilgrims flock to the birthplace of Jesus. Shops, businesses, farmers, craftspeople, guides, taxi-drivers, cafes and restaurants are dependent on the people who come to Bethlehem and particularly on the people who come to stay.
Even those who are not suffering from the virus will be affected by the impact on the economy of the shut-down. Many people will not be paid while the city is closed to tourists. March was going to be a very busy month normally welcoming Christian pilgrims from around the world, marathon runners, cyclists and those on fact-finding visits. The marathon has already been cancelled and no pilgrims can now visit. It is a challenging time – especially for those who live with the constant threat of poverty.
The Shepherd Society, the loving arms of BethBC, would be overjoyed to be able to buy food and other essentials for those families they know who may not be able to afford the basics they need. They want to keep their programs that benefit local people running and need funds to help in this difficult time.
Please consider what you can do to help in this emergency and we will quickly forward these resources. Go here to share and use designation #3 BethBC Shepherd Society.
The ministries in the city would also value your prayers. They are concerned about the older people in the community and those with underlying health issues for whom the virus could be fatal. They need strength to keep going and wisdom to know how to support their community as much as they can.
The President of the Bible College, Rev. Dr. Jack Sara, says: “In the midst of these dramatic circumstances, please pray with us that Jesus Christ – the great healer who traveled through towns and villages curing every disease and illness – may lend His healing hand and heal every sick person…May He heal us not only from disease, but also from fear, from pride, from sorrow, and from uncertainty, and may He fill our hearts with faith knowing that we all need His peace.”
Your prayers and support are deeply appreciated to help people living in Bethlehem at this unusual and difficult time. Thank you!
Reflections of 2019 Young Heroes Camp Director, Hannah Belk
“I will stay.” The 10-year-old girl looked at me with clear conviction and great courage. She wiped her tears and walked boldly back to her room, back to a counselor from the “other” side. It was the second night of the camp and we had just finished a long conversation about her fears, her desire to move to another room, and her longing to just go home. It all just felt too hard. But she stayed. Despite this young girl’s fear and uncertainty, she chose to stay.
A couple of weeks ago, Musalaha hosted a summer camp with Israeli and Palestinian youth. The theme of the camp was “Young Heroes.” During Bible time, we studied both young heroes in the Bible, as well as young heroes having a positive influence in their communities today.
Our hope was to inspire these children, that they too, regardless of their age, were capable of transforming their communities for the better. That they too, could take small actions like David to make a big difference, could live life with the courage that Daniel had, and work together as Mary Magdalene and the women who supported Jesus’ ministry did.
And then, throughout the rest of the day, the campers were given the opportunity to practice being young heroes. Whether it was working together as a team during water games, having the courage to sit next to someone different at lunch, or choosing the small action of saying goodnight in the other’s language, these children were practicing reconciliation. The children worked hard to get to know the “other” even if it wasn’t easy – different languages, different cultures, and different worldviews.
But these children were brave. They didn’t let what adults would see as obstacles define their time together or dissuade them from developing new friendships. These campers were breaking down the walls society had built up between them – one smile, one conversation, and one silly song at a time. Reconciliation is about staying in and doing the hard work.
Yes, Musalaha summer camps are a lot of fun – we play soccer hard, get wild with crazy games, swim circles around each other in the pool, and dance like no one is watching. But there is something deeper and more lasting that takes place in the lives of these children.
Musalaha does not teach tolerance, it teaches love. A love that is radical, revolutionary, and reconciling. While tolerance is important, it is surface-level and short-term. It does not have the capacity to stay in when things get hard. Love is staying in a conversation with someone you disagree with. Love is staying in when society tells us to leave. Love is not letting fear dictate our words or actions. Love is bravely walking back to your room, even when you’re scared, as this little 10-year old girl did.
And love? It pushes you farther than you think you can go. By the last night of camp, this young girl was happily in her room, making greeting cards with her roommate and counselor.
On the final morning of the camp, all of the counselors awarded their campers a superhero cape and a certificate which stated a heroic character trait they demonstrated throughout the week. This young girl received the word courage – the courage to love, the courage to continue, and the courage to stay.
Please join us in continuing to pray for the children and counselors involved in this camp: that their lives and words and actions and choices would reflect love and that they would continue to walk confidently in their communities, as the young heroes that they are – choosing love, choosing courage, choosing togetherness, choosing to stay.
Until next summer…
SUMMER CAMPS 2018
Here’s an exciting report from Musalaha’s first Bethlehem children’s camp this month:
During a blazing hot week beneath the Middle Eastern sun, we took a group of 75 kids on a journey “Back to Egypt.” This was the theme for the first of our two summer camps in Bethlehem which included Muslim and Christian children from the city and its surrounding villages.
Musalaha summer camps are in many ways like any other camp with teaching, crafts, games and so forth, but there is an important dimension that is unique to our camps. We deliberately seek to impart principles of reconciliation to our participants who represent communities across the divide. The demographic makeup of our camps includes people from the cities and villages, Christians from a wide spectrum of churches as well as Muslims. This year almost 50 percent of the participants were from Muslim backgrounds, and much of this had to do with the success of the camp the previous year.
Our team decided to impart the principles of reconciliation to the children through the story of Joseph and his brothers. This was the reason for the theme, “Back to Egypt.” The counselors tied in the family dimension of Joseph and his brothers with the enmity, jealousy, and tensions that existed among them. This was something the children and parents who listened to the teaching were able to identify with from their own experiences within their families and community. Their experiences may not have been as severe as Joseph’s, but nevertheless, these human experiences exist in all cultures.
The children learned how jealousy, hatred, favoritism, and discrimination can cause people to do the most horrible things to other family members.
Joseph is the hero in the story. He did not allow himself to be confined to the prison of victimization and unforgiveness but decided rise to the challenge instead. He was thrown into a pit, yet chose to take the higher road and forgive. He could have sought revenge but he chose to re-establish his connection with his family at a vulnerable time for him and all of Egypt.
This year we experienced a new phenomenon where a number of parents attended daily, especially to engage with and learn from the teaching. One mother from Jenin, a city far from Bethlehem who came with her child said, “Some of the things that impressed me about your camp and made me want to send my child again are the meaningful games, songs, and inclusiveness of everyone. Each child has the chance to express their opinion while at the same learning important principles.”
There are more camps being held this summer by both Musalaha and Bethlehem Bible College in the Holy Land and we encourage you to continue to pray for them and financially support them. It only cost $100 to send a child to summer camp. Our project this summer is to sponsor 120 children.You can give via this website.
ENGAGING ISRAELI AND PALESTINIAN SCHOOL PRINCIPALS
By Salim J. Munayer, Musalaha Executive Director
We at Musalaha are always looking for opportunities to share our learning with new segments of society. In recent months, I have received several requests to share about Musalaha’s work of leading Israelis and Palestinians on the journey of reconciliation. One of these invitations was to teach in a unique training program involving Israeli school principals from Muslim, Christian and Jewish backgrounds, coordinated by Israeli think tank, the Shalom Hartman Institute.
In one of these meetings I was asked to teach from a Christian perspective about God creating humankind in his image and how it relates to those in our local communities, as well as to strangers. I distributed passages to the group that included The Sermon on the Mount, The Good Samaritan, and The Samaritan Woman at The Well. It was fascinating for me, as a person who grew up attending various, segregated schools- both Israeli Jewish and Palestinian- to see these school principals sitting together, listening attentively, and reading from the New Testament.
Thirty years ago, a program of this nature would have never existed. Even in the context of Israel today, teaching about and promoting reconciliation is rare and arduous. And yet, the willingness of these Christian, Muslim and Jewish educators to engage with New Testament texts was remarkable. They showed signs of openness and did not feel threatened.
When we read about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman the whole group related to the fact that she was the enemy, belonging to the other side of the ethnic divide. It was apparent to them that she lived in dangerous territory. These female educators could easily identify with this woman, finding similarities to their lives in Israeli society today.
This story is known for Jesus crossing boundaries. The Muslim principals immediately recognized the shame this woman carried in regard to her marital situation. The Jewish principals recognized that she engaged Jesus in theological conversation, which was not allowed at that time, and is a prohibition that persists in some religious circles today.
This experience provided a unique opportunity to observe the insights of a group with diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. I believe it encouraged the principals as it gave them a forum to practice how to ask questions and learn about another’s religious heritage. It was moving to witness how they engaged with the New Testament text, especially as it was an unfamiliar and strange reading for many, and one that might produce feelings of fear. I was very glad to see that they liked the exercise and wanted to learn more.
I left the meeting feeling a sense of encouragement that progress is being made in certain areas of society. Between Israelis and Palestinians in the country, the atmosphere is one of intolerance, isolation, and a refusal to listen to each other. Guiding these educators through the New Testament revealed a different reality from what the average local person sees in the news, and was certainly an uncommon experience for a typical person in society. Even more exciting is the fact that the principals are key influencers of thousands in their schools, and can impart what they learned to many more young people. There is no doubt that this experience was a source of encouragement for me, to see that what we have labored for and developed using the Musalaha curriculum over the years, can be shared and appreciated by a larger segment of our society.
THE LEADER OF PEACE
When we read Luke 2’s account of the Messiah’s birth, we often skim through the first few verses until we come to the passage about our Savior bringing peace on earth to all people. But, the opening of the chapter tells us that during the reign of Caesar Augustus a census was taken, forcing Mary and Joseph to leave their hometown of Nazareth and make the long journey to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.
These verses are more than just an overview of events. For the gospel writers, the accounts brought to their minds horrid events in Roman history. The great unrest in the Roman Empire, due to competing ambitions between Augustus, Mark Antony and Marcus Lepidus, led to lengthy civil wars. Following his triumph in these wars, Caesar Augustus became known as the divi filius (“son of a god”). Through his self-proclaimed divinity, Augustus asserted that he would unite the empire with the strength of the Roman Army and bring peace called the Pax Romana.
These were confusing and fearful times, where people spoke about the social problems, the economic challenges, the rivalries between political powers, and were looking for a leader to solve their problems.
At the same time, we read in the gospels another narrative, the narrative of the birth of our Lord that speaks about a different King who is the Son of God, and a different way of achieving peace that is not by the sword. Everything about the birth of Jesus contradicts the way Augustus offered peace.
This reminds me of Matthew 6:10, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This needs to be our prayer that we will always look to God’s sovereign rule and not salvation from a political leader.
Political failure to bring peace then and now, and relying on and trusting in leaders can be dangerous. Even if we call ourselves followers of Jesus, it is easy to trust flawed, human leadership. We must seek a deeper perspective this Christmas and trust in Jesus’ leadership, which leads to our hope and our peace.
By Salim J. Munayer
Musalaha Executive Director
Greetings from “Gloria” in the Holy Land,
Dear prayer partners,
My prayer for you is that you would feel His presence in a tangible way in your daily life. One of the questions that I have been asked since coming to Bethlehem is if I feel closer to God now that I am in the Holy Land. My answer to this question is “yes.” It is not because of the biblical sites where Jesus was born, grew up, ministered, was crucified, and rose again, as some people think, but because of the Christians in the Holy Land who in their own difficult life situations still show their kindness to others, and their beautiful hospitality towards strangers, and their love for those in need of help. In fact, the news that someone was shot or caught or mistreated is heard every day, and it is not someone else’s story, but their story.
In addition to my regular ministry, I have had opportunities to visit the refugee camp and to talk with local friends and hear their stories. Also, I have witnessed how Palestinians are treated unjustly when they go through the checkpoints, in order to go to Jerusalem for work or for medical treatment, etc. And, I have felt a heaviness in me thinking about how difficult it must be to live in this land as a Palestinian; it seems that there is no hope to which people can hold on while going through hard times in their lives; it also appears that the word “hope” would sound luxurious for Palestinians to use.
One day when I still felt the heaviness in me, the Lord spoke to me that I was not sent here to give people hope, but to share His love. I was reminded that the purpose of me being here is that I should be sharing His love with the Christians in this land who represent only about 1% of the population, and who have faithfully kept their faith regardless of the circumstances. I am to do this by encouraging, comforting, and just being with them, so that they may be assured that they are not forgotten by their Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
As you are aware, we cannot share the Good News in this land in public, however, there are ways in which we can. Having a leadership conference is one of ways to get the message of the Good News to others. On Oct 25, BBC hosted a GLS (Global Leadership Summit) conference at the BBC campus. More than 150 people came to attend this conference, and there were some Muslims among them. I was serving as a volunteer, and met some of the Muslim ladies. One of them gave me her contact information and asked me to visit her which I will be doing next Month. I realized again through this conference that God is using BBC in His way for His glory. If you are interested in BBC, please let me know. I would be happy to assist you in getting more information about BBC.
Here are my prayer requests. Please pray with me that:
1. BBC’s ministries -shepherd society ministry, new vision media center, gift shop, and guest house- would all be going well, and that BBC would continue to fulfill God’s purposes through education. Also, that all the financial needs would be met for these ministries to keep going.
2. Comfort and compassion from the Lord would be upon those who have lost their beloved ones in shootings.