Our church believes in bridges, not walls; trust, not fear; dialogue for justice and peace, not more reason for division. But, if Israel feels it has a need to build a wall, we would understand it along the 1967 borders. But we cannot understand their decision to build it within Palestinian land. If present plans are completed, the wall and its accompanying roads, military installations, and zones from which Palestinians are excluded will take away much more land than most have estimated.

August-September, 2005

Salaam and grace to you from Jerusalem, the City of Peace

The following is an address given by Bishop Younan by phone to the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  He was asked to address them in regard to a Middle East strategy they were considering, which passed overwhelmingly. 

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ in America, I greet you from Jerusalem. Thank you for allowing me to talk with you this morning.  And thank you for your love and care and for your accompaniment with us. 

It is my fervent prayer that my children and grandchildren will one day live side by side with their Israeli sisters and brothers in a just peace. And in my heart I know that my prayer is shared by so many of us in the Holy Land.Christians, Muslims, and Jews. But our history is littered with incidents which drive us apart and block our pathway to peace.  

Our church believes in justice, peace and reconciliation.  And we believe it is possible! We have always condemned every kind of brutality, spiral violence, suicide attacks and terrorism, no matter who is the perpetrator.  We believe the way forward can only be through peaceful and respectful negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

We care about the security of Israel, but believe that the security of Israel is dependent on freedom and justice for the Palestinians.  And freedom and justice for Palestinians is dependent on the security of Israel.  This symbiotic relationship is the key to a just peace in this Holy Land.

This delicate equilibrium calls us to speak prophetically against actions and policies that endanger all of us.  The current route of the wall will make freedom for Palestinians impossible by cutting deeply into Palestinian land, separating people from work, church, family and their own land.  We must move forward to a time when two states embrace a shared Jerusalem, the Holy City for the two peoples and three religions. 

Our church believes in bridges, not walls; trust, not fear; dialogue for justice and peace, not more reason for division.   But, if Israel feels it has a need to build a wall, we would understand it along the 1967 borders.  But we cannot understand their decision to build it within Palestinian land. If present plans are completed, the wall and its accompanying roads, military installations, and zones from which Palestinians are excluded will take away much more land than most have estimated.

The wall does not create peace; it breeds despair.

Due to the wall and checkpoints, our Jerusalem congregation is split into thirds.  It is almost impossible to meet as a congregation.  Our children wonder how they will get to their schools, and workers never know how long it might take them to get to work.  East Jerusalem is being completely isolated, and large portions of neighboring communities will no longer have access to the services, jobs, churches and schools here.   If a man or woman from the West Bank marries an East Jerusalemite, they usually can't even live together legally.
We welcome the disengagement, but you must know that while the world.s gaze is fixed on Gaza, restrictions on our life in the West Bank grow ever tighter. The withdrawal from Gaza must be the first step on the Road Map to peace.  The thousands of new settlement houses in East Jerusalem, continued home demolitions, land confiscation and the current barrier route will render a two-state solution impossible.  We ask the world to keep its eye on the larger picture. 

What we are asking is respect for human dignity and life:  an end to the illegal occupation and a way to live in just peace with our neighbors, the Israelis. 

We have always been pioneers in working with dialogue and reconciliation among all religions. At the Lutheran World Federation in 2004, it was our church, even living under occupation, who initiated a resolution condemning the growth of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the world.  It is essential that we deepen mutual understanding, increase tolerance and seek common values of justice, peace and reconciliation. 

Please, for the sake of Palestinians and Israelis alike, don't let extremists from any side or from any part of the world hold justice and peace hostage.  It is the role of the church to be prophetic for the sake of humanity and justice.  The future of the Palestinian Church is at stake, because the current conditions are causing our children to leave in increasing numbers, as the heads of churches in Jerusalem wrote at Easter.      

Sisters and brothers, if we as people of faith cannot speak out for justice and reconciliation, who will?   Help us to keep the Palestinian Christian church strong, and to show that the future of our church is not in war and conflict but in healing and reconciliation that Israelis and Palestinians can enjoy together. 

 Thank you for accompanying us on this difficult road.  Thank you especially for developing this Middle East strategy, the first of its kind.  Thank you accompanying us as we seek together to bring much-needed healing and reconciliation to a suffering, divided land, allowing the words of Paul's letter to the Ephesians to become reality: 

For Christ is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  Ephesians 2:13-22

Your Brother in Christ, Bishop Dr. Munib Younan

ELCJHL Youth Gather in Nazareth

It could have been Anywhere, USA.  Kids in Eminem T-shirts with restless legs talking about what needs to happen to get more youth to come to church and youth group activities.  But this was Nazareth, and these were ELCJHL kids . about 40 of them ages 11 through16 from all 5 of the West Bank and Jerusalem churches – gathered for 3 days of faith and fellowship, music, conversation and site-seeing.   The event should have included the older kids, but it was not possible to get permits for the older kids to leave the West Bank to attend.  After age 16, these gatherings are few and far between.   

Bishop Younan came from Jerusalem one morning to talk with the youth about what it means to be a Christian . and, in particular, a Lutheran . in the world today.  

"God didn't just say 'I love you' from afar.  God came to us, to live among us.  That's what communion is, and that's why we gather in community and for Holy Communion as the Church," he said. 

It's a persistent theme, in this place where disconnection seems so unavoidable:  the value of community and relationships. It's what accompaniment is based on.  This summer we celebrate the many ways ELCJHL members were able to share a small part of their journey with one another and with their overseas partners.

ELCJHL Youth Visit Partners Abroad

Beit Jala Youth at Norway's Camp

About 14 youth from the Lutheran Church of the Reformation visited partners in Norway for 2 weeks.  They stayed in cabins, tents and with partner families.  They fished and hunted, canoed and camped.  Several said the best part of the trip was getting to know the families they stayed with in their own homes.               

Ramallah Youth Visit Germany

Thirteen Ramallah kids visited partner churches in Berlin and Potsdam.  They saw the Berlin Wall and the Zoo, sports games and other historic sites. Together they viewed a movie about the Palestinian situation, and discussed daily life under occupation.  Before they left, they were interviewed on a radio show about life in Palestine. 

ELCJHL Speaks Out in the World

Dr. Sahar Mansour Addresses Women's ELCA Gathering in San Antonio

Dr. Sahar Mansour, a 26-year-old doctor from Beit Hanina, spoke about life and faith in Palestine to 2000 women of the ELCA  gathered in San Antonio, Texas, for their Triennial Meeting in July.   Sahar, speaking on the gatherings theme of "Acting Boldly," said that Palestinian women "act boldly" when they get up every day and keep trying to smile and live life. 

Sahar's life, though, probably speaks more to the theme than she in all her humility would have told them. She finished her education during the worst years of the Intifada, maneuvering checkpoints, curfews and closures in addition to the rigors of medical school.  She now works in a large hospital serving mostly refugees, finishing her residency in internal medicine.   It is very common that Palestinians do act boldly yet quietly through their commitment to education and their determination to use that education to build their homeland. 

Redeemer's Pastor Ibrahim  Azar Visits ELCA

Redeemer's Pastor Ibrahim Azar and his family visited the US for 6 weeks this summer to visit companion synods, speak to assemblies and every-day ELCA parishioners about life in the ELCJHL.   His first comment upon return:   "Your country is too big!"

The Silers from the English-Speaking Redeemer Congregation Make Home Visits

The ELCA's pastor of the English-speaking Redeemer congregation and his wife, Anne, traveled back to the States this summer during the midpoint of their 4-year term here.   They sympathized with Barhoum's sentiments:  they put on 5000 miles preaching and presenting on more than 25 occasions to more than 4000 people about the ELCJHL, Palestinian Christians and the alarming rate at which Palestinian Christians are emigrating due to the Israeli occupation.    

Pastor Mitri Raheb Greets Japanese for Hiroshima's 60th Commemoration

Pastor Mitri Raheb brought a message of hope from Palestinian Christians to Japanese Christians and others gathered to commemorate the 60th Anniversary of the Hiroshima bomb.  According to the Rev. Matsuoka, president of the Japanese Evangelical Lutheran Church, which invited Raheb, many in the church were inspired by the glass angels he handed out, created by artisans at the International Center of Bethlehem. These angels became a focal point for Raheb's visit.

"The glass angels are about brokenness made into something new," he explained, giving the history of how the ornaments were created in Bethlehem.  "When we emerged from our homes after the 50-day siege of Bethlehem in 2002, there was broken glass everywhere. It would have been easy to preach that tomorrow things would be better. Rather, something had to be done to bring new life out of the    brokenness. So for us, these angels represent hope, peace, and resurrection.  "The shattered glass is the shattered hopes and dreams of the people.  But through the angels, a symbol of death became a symbol of life; destroyed dreams became something whole and new," said Raheb.

 It is the best way to describe who we are as Christians," Raheb said, highlighting how the Christian minority in Japan, at one percent of the population, can be like the Christians of Palestine, who represent two percent of Palestinians. "We are about looking for broken lives, gathering them with the healing touch of Christ and brining something new."                     Taken from an article by Franklin Ishida from the ELCA

New Assistant to ELCJHL Schools Director Arrives
From Sister Sylvia

The academic year for the ELCJHL schools began August 29 for about 2000 Christian and Muslim students, 200 staff members, and one Lutheran deaconess from the United States. I joined the Deaconess Community of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America after thirty-eight years of classroom teaching, but even in seminary I continued to teach English and writing to international students. I now look forward to serving as assistant to Schools Director Dr. Charlie Haddad.  

I had already heard of the quality of the Lutheran schools here before I left my country. Therefore, as I work with the four schools and four educational programs in Jerusalem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Bethlehem, and Ramallah, I pray that God will use my training and experience in education, religion, and pastoral care to continue to share the Gospel of hope, freedom, and courage with the people of Palestine. I want especially to work with students and staff to help implement the goals, objectives, and recommendations the schools recently accepted as they continue to offer programs that develop community, respect for others and holistic learning.

I have been here only a short time and have much to learn about the schools, the Arabic language and Palestinian life, but my research encourages me.  In reading the history of the schools of the ELCJHL, I learned that I am not the first Lutheran deaconess to serve in this area.  Four German deaconesses arrived in the mid-nineteenth century to establish a school at Beit Jala; in fact, I live on the grounds where other deaconesses once worked at Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives. Today this Lutheran World Federation hospital still serves the needs of East Jerusalem and West Bank refugees and residents.

Throughout history travelers have come to the Holy Land for many different reasons. They still do. Some stayed here with often mixed and sometimes disastrous results, especially when they came with exclusivist attitudes and ulterior ambitions. Focused on the past or on the future, they forgot the present needs of those around them. They still do.

Deaconesses, I believe, came to teach children and to nurse the sick because diaconia is, not the spirit of conquest or domination, but of Christ.s servanthood and sharing. We may not remember the names of those early sisters, but their work continues. It is a privilege to walk in their footsteps, and I pray for the grace to follow also their examples of faith and loving service.