A very productive working retreat of the HCEF Leadership Institute was held in Washington, DC on March 25-26, 2011. It was co-hosted with the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. The occasion marked a pivotal anniversary.

It has been 13 years since HCEF, in partnership with the National Presbyterian Church, began its mission serving the Christians in the Holy Land. The retreat theme was: How can we serve the Christian community in the Holy Land in these challenging times?

Over 40 volunteers and donors from across the U.S. joined the staff and board members of HCEF for the event. After opening prayers the participants were welcomed by Rateb Rabie, President of HCEF and Dr. Saliba Sarsar, Secretary of the HCEF Board of Directors. Carolyn DiCarlo and Jim Ransom added a cordial welcome on behalf of the National Presbyterian Church.

During the two days the participants reviewed the current HCEF programs, obtained updates, and discussed proposed changes to increase their effectiveness.  Among the projects discussed were Child Sponsorship, Holy Land Gifts, Children’s Peace project and the Children’s Journey events to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Plans for the upcoming Living Stones Pilgrimages were also outlined.

The following are some highlights of the spirited meetings and discussions of the retreat.

Dr. Saliba set the tone for the retreat with a presentation entitled: Serving from Within. He spoke of the key attributes and dynamics of a volunteer-based nonprofit such as HCEF. He discussed how such an organization enhances its effectiveness, plants new roots of outreach and establishes an enduring legacy, universally recognized for excellence. He asserted that volunteers can make a substantial difference in a community. Through them a community can realize its full latent potential. Such service not only benefits the community but also the volunteers themselves fostering personal growth. He noted “in essence HCEF serves the Christians through a heart of hope” moving the Christian community in the Holy Land “from a culture of fear to that of hope”.


Dr. Hugh Dempsey, Vice President of the HCEF Board of Directors and Dr. Stephen Corbin of the HCEF Advisory Board and Senior Vice President of Special Olympics challenged the participants to see their efforts in a new light. Their presentation was entitled Ecumenism/Spirituality/Our Faith In Action: Back to Basics– Our Sure Foundation. This compelling presentation was most timely as HCEF is entering its 13th year of service. “The ecumenism and spirituality of our action in faith lies at the core of what we are at HCEF.”  They reminded the attendees that HCEF is an indispensable “bridge” between the Palestinian Christian community and ours. They enumerated the many exciting HCEF initiatives during the 13 years of its existence that has made a difference in the spiritual and material wellbeing of Palestinian Christians. Last year, the launching of the Investment Forum at the 12th International Conference was an auspicious event. It has opened entirely new avenues of support for these Christians.

Dr. Corbin cited the Special Olympics as a model whose success and outreach that could be emulated profitably by HCEF. He illustrated this with many examples. He noted that his organization was founded on the simple “idea of empowerment” of kids with unique needs but also special abilities. He noted that empowerment is a powerful concept. It carries a proactive image. It has enabled Special Olympics to capture the imagination and support of an ever-widening circle of benefactors worldwide.  In a lively discussion he challenged HCEF to reframe its message of service: HCEF should aspire in the next decade to be the premier non-profit for empowering and serving the Christians in the Holy Land.

Rateb Rabie spoke of his recent trip to Bethlehem during which the new Ecumenical Center for Research and Development (ECRD) and HCEF Inn were dedicated. He updated the status of current programs there and initiatives such as the newly launched Know Thy Heritage Program to expose American youth of Palestinian descent to their ancestral roots. In addition, he traced the progress of new partnerships with the Palestinian business community. These included micro-credit financing for housing rehabilitation, enhanced support for educational projects, and initiatives for more pilgrimages and increased tourism.

In a thought provoking, wide ranging presentation, Dr. Saliba spoke on The Arab World

Effects on the Holy Land and Middle East Christians.  He summarized the current events. He outlined the potential impacts. He noted the outcomes are still uncertain, but the status quo is clearly untenable. The impact so far on the Christian communities in the Middle East is not reassuring.  He emphasized that the need for dialogue and interfaith understanding among the disparate communities is more imperative now than ever. He expressed the hope that the events would ultimately lead to strengthen the forces of moderation and nonviolence.

The retreat concluded with a discussion of the plans for the 13th International Conference to be held in Washington, D.C. on October 28-29, 2011. It will be co-hosted with the National Presbyterian Church and held at its campus. The conference theme will be: Investing in Our Community—Building Our Future. The proposed program promises a very exciting conference venue.