The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) leads pilgrimages to the Holy Land to give Western Christians the opportunity to enjoy the richness of history, sacred places, and spiritual family living there.
The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) leads pilgrimages to the Holy Land to give Western Christians the opportunity to enjoy the richness of history, sacred places, and spiritual family living there. This year’s first pilgrims have returned from their fourteen day trip to the Holy Land, led by President Rateb Rabie. They visited sacred sites in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel, tracing routes from the Bible and the life of Christ as they went. From a variety of theological backgrounds, the pilgrims enriched each other’s experience and shared their new understanding. The experience was “transformative, enlightening, heartbreaking, infuriating and wonderful” – a life-changing opportunity for many who were involved.
For excerpts from one pilgrim’s diary, Richard Gorman read on…
I hope all is well. This is just a quick update on the trip thus far. We just finished the first leg, spending the vast majority of our time in Palestinian towns, villages, churches and homes. I jumped into this trip knowing that there was a great gulf between my knowledge, the information I was receiving from the media, and the reality on the ground. I had no clue just how vastly different it is.
For starters, many Americans find it hard to believe that there are Christians who are Palestinian. Many of us hear the word “Palestinian” and automatically think “terrorist” or “Muslim.” Nothing could be further from the truth. There are thousands upon thousands of Palestinian Christians living in communities throughout the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
As we all know, “the situation” (as many here refer to the present conditions) in Palestine is far from perfect. ‘Intolerable’ is a better word. Unfortunately the situation is deteriorating–rapidly. The past two years have seen an intense increase in restrictions, checkpoints, economic demise, the construction of the separation wall and the destruction of human dignity.
The situation is dire for the Church in Palestine. Many researchers and scholars predict that Palestine and Israel will be absent of Christians by 2025. This figure has recently been adjusted to 2020. It sounds alarmist, but consider
this: There is no hope and no future here. The bright skilled young people are
flocking to the US or Europe or Jordan. The Israeli goal is to simply choke them out. They don’t want them here and they’re doing everything they can to hasten their departure.
We were at a senior center today in Birzeit. The old people were wonderful and welcomed us as we were family – they consider us family. As one of them said to me, “we all have the same Jesus”…it broke my heart. They are so full of love and compassion and desire, but they have nearly lost hope. One of them grabbed me and looked at me desperately and said “Please go tell the Americans that we are Christians and we live here. Jesus lived here. We know him. Please tell them.”
They see the American media and know that many Americans think of them as terrorists.
Please pray for the following:
Pray for the Palestinian Church: The American Church must get involved in this situation. The American Christian, especially evangelical, voices are all but silent. God is calling us, all of us, to do something. Pray those he calls will respond.
Pray for peace in the hearts of the elderly Palestinians.
Pray that the crushing sanctions, which are tearing families apart, will be lifted and hard-working people (teachers, etc…) will get paid. They have gone 5 months with no pay!
Pray that my eyes and ears will be open to all God is showing me and will continue to show me in the coming days.
I hope all is well! We just returned to Amman following four days of intense, amazing and enlightening experiences. We spent this time based in Jerusalem but traveled to meet with different communities, to visit seniors and see some sights. We balanced the last four days between two intense realities: one, the suffering church in Palestine and, two, the life and sacrifice of Jesus. I have found that walking in the places he walked while walking alongside our Palestinian brothers and sisters is absolutely exhausting emotionally and physically.
One of the more amazing highlights was when I was invited to Ramallah (a Palestinian town) by Bassam, a guy I met in Bethlehem who is connected with HCEF. As he said, “I want to show you some things—some real things—about what this is all about here.” We started out in West Jerusalem, which resembled a posh suburb, and went then over to Hebrew University. We then drove to a settlement just outside of Jerusalem–in Palestinian territory. A bit of an explanation may be needed. The settlement program is a long-standing Israeli policy of claiming Palestinian land for “security reasons” in order to plant self-sustaining Israeli communities. Many of them, like West Jerusalem, are posh, slick and clean neon-drenched “little Miamis”.
We then drove to Ramallah, a Palestinian town. The contrast was staggering. Many people were out on the streets (cluttered with pot-holes and debris). Barrels of fire were everywhere. Tension is thick and the anger is palpable. We talked a lot about “the situation.”
We drove some more – past four checkpoints of Palestinian soldiers. He stopped and got out at one point and I asked, half-jokingly “want me to get out?” He snapped “NO NO!! You stay!” We then parked the car and got out. Huge metal doors opened and, to my shock, we were in the middle of the Palestinian Authority headquarters!! The soldiers, of whom there were many, gave us strange second and third looks. I asked Bassam about this and he laughed. “You’re an American. What do you expect?” I decided that there was no time like the present to become an ambassador so I went up to a few of them and, using the six Arabic phrases I know, introduced myself and shook hands, smiled and tried to not say anything offensive. They were receptive. When Bassam told them I was a Christian from America and that I was trying to help the people who are hurting, they warmed up immediately.
I thought later that night: The Israelites were enslaved by the Egyptians. They cried out and God delivered them. All of the people here are crying out—crying out for justice, crying out for peace, crying out for God to bless them, and help them in their time of trouble. As Christians, is that not our mission? To be like Jesus and comfort the brokenhearted and those who mourn? To bring hope to a hopeless situation? We can’t play politics with this; loving and caring for people who are suffering is not a question of politics.
Please pray for the following:
–The church in Palestine would be united. There are so many divisions here that need to be healed. Ecumenical unity is a really necessary!
–Bassam, my new friend, is facing an uncertain future. Nothing is solid. Everything depends on the political situation, which could change drastically in a week or two. He’s hopeless that the situation will ever be resolved. Pray for peace for him and creativity to see how God can use him to comfort others.
–Victor is a Palestinian man from Bethlehem who started building a house on 20 acres of land he purchased with his life savings. The land was claimed by the Israelis for “security reasons” and he was given no compensation. He can no longer travel to Jerusalem to work, due to the tightening restrictions. He is a man with a family who suddenly finds himself with no savings, no land and no job… and this happens often!
Thanks for all your concern and prayers,
For more information about pilgrimages with the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation, please visit: http://www.hcef.org/index.cfm/ID/420.cfm.