October 6, 2002, is Thanksgiving Sunday in the ELCJ congregations. Thanks will be given to God for all our blessings. It is a custom to gather food, fruits and vegetables which are brought to the altar in thanksgiving and then distributed to those in need.
E-mail Newsletter from
BISHOP DR. MUNIB A. YOUNAN
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem (ELCJ).
The ELCJ is serving in
Palestine, Jordan and Israel.
October 3, 2002
Salaam and grace to you from Jerusalem, the city of Christ’s death and resurrection.
“Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Cor. 15:57)
October 6, 2002, is Thanksgiving Sunday in the ELCJ congregations. Thanks will be given to God for all our blessings. It is a custom to gather food, fruits and vegetables which are brought to the altar in thanksgiving and then distributed to those in need. This newsletter will emphasize our thankfulness to God by means of factual accounts, stories and reflections. We want to begin by expressing our great thanks to all of you for your prayers and support as we continue to struggle against the grave injustices done to our people.
1. Sunday, September 29, in the Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah
Rev. Ramez Ansara welcomed many guests to worship in Ramallah on September 29, and expressed his gratitude for their presence. A Norwegian pastor, Rev. Atle Sommerfeld, Executive Director of Norwegian Church Aid, and a Danish pastor, Rev. Lone Hvejsel, a member of the current World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Team, assisted Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan and Rev. Ansara in the worship service. Also visiting were a representative of the World Council of Churches, Salpy Eskedjian; a Norwegian journalist, Astrid Handeland; and an American pastor, Rev. Dr. Andrew Jensen. In addition, a memorial remembrance and prayer time was included in the service for a man who had died a month ago, giving thanks for his life. Together we all shared the Eucharist, our great thanksgiving to God for the new, forgiven life we are given in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Bishop Younan based his sermon on Ephesians 5:15-21, emphasizing three aspects of the text: God’s will; solidarity with one another; and thanksgiving.
“What is God’s will for us? In fact, we may even ask, ‘Where is God?’ Is God’s will done for us with powerful armies, with weapons, with injustice? In the midst of our difficulties and daily experiences of injustice we get depressed. It is easy to become deaf and blind to the will of God as we live in our chaotic world.
“But we as Christians are carriers of the cross and bearers of the light of Christ’s resurrection. Paul says we are Children of Light. As such we must never give up our hope in God’s Word where we find very clearly that God’s will involves justice, peace and reconciliation for all people. The clouds of injustice often block our view of how God works in our world. A good example is South Africa and the apartheid system that has been in place for so long. Who could say when that system of injustice would ever be finished. And yet it fell. It could not stand before God’s will of justice, peace and reconciliation.
“Who can say when the Israeli military occupation of Palestine will end? It feels endless to us but we are seeing signs of hope. Just three weeks ago the World Council of Churches made a decision to end the Israeli occupation through their words and their actions. Some voices from the Israelis are asking, ‘Where are we going? Where will all this lead us? Do we need more bloodshed before coming to a two-state solution?’ These voices are not very representative of Israel as a whole but we see that God is working. Also, many Palestinians are asking for a quick solution in a non-violent way. The will of God is stronger than the occupation and God’s will of justice, peace and reconciliation may be implemented here much quicker than we think for both Palestinians and Israelis. What is impossible for human beings is possible for God.
“How are we in solidarity with one another? Our partnership and solidarity with one another starts from the cross of Christ. It goes from the altar to the street. First we must think of our solidarity with one another, with local Palestinian Christians of various denominations. Together we are less than two per cent of the total population. We are not separated by our differences but united together by our common Baptism in the name of the Triune God. We are all children of God, praying together in solidarity. The prayers of the Church in solidarity ought to be prophetic to condemn injustice and occupation but also to call for life and equal life abundantly.
“We also must think of our solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Christ in the rest of the world. Our networking with international partner churches is essential for receiving and implementing justice. Last Spring when our churches, schools and church compounds were stormed by Israeli troops and tanks, we were able to contact our Church partners and their respective governments. They, in turn, were able to bring pressure on Israel to stop the invasions of ELCJ property. Without this solidarity it would have been impossible for us to stop the invasions and the damage would have been much, much greater than it was. Together, we as local Palestinian Christians and as partners with the worldwide church are in solidarity as we carry the light of Christ’s resurrection. If the Church networks for justice, we bearers of the cross can make a paradigm shift in our world.
“We thank God for everything. I know that it is easier to grumble and complain but we are called as Christians to praise and thank God. Early church fathers such as Jerome and Thomas Aquinas reminded Christians that we thank God not only for felicitous gifts, but also for the bad times in our lives, knowing that God loves us and that God’s will prevails.
“I thank God that you are still steadfast in your faith in Christ in spite of what you have experienced in harassment and trauma. I thank God that you believe in the Lord, and also that you are still steadfast in this land of Palestine and did not emigrate when you had good reason to do so. Even when there is occupation, when there are curfews, you still gather together to worship, praise and thank our God. This is our communion in thanksgiving.”
2. Keeping the Schools Open in Ramallah Despite the Israeli-imposed Curfews
The Lutheran School of Hope along with all the other schools in Ramallah have been caught in the severe lockdown and closure of the city during the last two weeks. Mr. Arafat’s compound has been occupied and nearly destroyed, and the people of Ramallah have been confined to their homes.
The Christian school principals in Ramallah have met and made plans to ignore the calls imposing a curfew. School will be in session whether the Israeli soldiers have announced a curfew or not. Headmaster Michael Abu Ghazaleh of the Lutheran School of Hope states that the parents of the children have asked that the school remain open. It is the sole place for hope and therapy for children in trauma. Although the school year has barely begun, many school days have already been lost, and now the parents and the school administrators are saying, “Enough! The education of our children is of the highest importance and we will provide it every day, despite the imposition of curfews by the Israeli army.”
This steadfast attitude to provide the children’s education is a part of a larger, growing attitude among the Palestinian people to protest the curfews and the occupation in a non-violent way. We are so thankful for this new attitude. Please continue to pray for peace and justice in Palestine and Israel, and for the strong influence of a non-violent approach.
3. The ELCJ Schools in Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour
We are pleased to report that the three ELCJ schools in the Bethlehem area were able to begin the school year on August 26th and have continued with regular classes each day. This is due to the Israeli army withdrawal to the edges of the municipalities, which allows daily life to go on without interference. The difficulties come when people from these towns wish to leave the municipalities; then they are usually denied the right to travel. As many people express the problem, “It is like living in a big jail.”
Dr. Charlie Haddad, the new ELCJ schools director, has been visiting all the schools and various school projects. He and the school principals and project leaders are working together to provide the best education possible for the Christian and Muslim young people attending the Lutheran schools in the 2002-2003 school year.
4. Peaceful Demonstration for Education, Freedom and an End End to the Occupation
On Wednesday afternoon, October 2, a large number of students from many schools in Bethlehem, Beit Sahour and Beit Jala were present in Nativity Square in Bethlehem to protest the occupation and call for freedom and the right to a good education. Palestinian flags waved and large signs made by the students proclaimed “Stop the Occupation”, “Free Palestine”, “Open Jerusalem” and “Peace Is the Fruit of Justice” in Arabic and English. Many Heads of Christian Churches, Islamic sheikhs and educational leaders were present, speaking words of encouragement and lending their support. The event was organized under the theme “Let Our Children Go to School” and was planned and sponsored by the Directorate of Education in the Bethlehem District and an ad hoc group, the Council of Church Leaders and Islamic Institutions.
His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah of the Latin Catholic Church clearly stated in his speech that our children have the right to be educated in a fresh way like other children in the world. He is worried about the fact that our children have to grow in a swamp of hatred and occupation. When we educate our children they receive hope for the present and the future. He stated his hope for a quick, negotiated settlement for the sake of the children of this region.
Bishop Younan and Bishop Riah Abu-al-Asal, head of the Anglican Church in the Middle East, entered into the fun of the event with the children by wearing baseball-style caps with “End Occupation” printed in Arabic and English. A large group of young people from the Lutheran School of Beit Sahour was seen taking part in the loud and lively demonstration.
We are happy to welcome a number of Ecumenical Accompaniers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Trained by the World Council of Churches, this group of accompaniers is from Europe. We especially welcome Rev. Lone Hvejsel from Denmark who is working with Rev. Ibrahim Azar in the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem, and also with Bishop Younan. Other accompaniers are assisting in medical and social work with various organizations, including Lutheran World Federation and Augusta Victoria Hospital.
Thanks be to God for all the people who accompany the Church in Palestine through their presence, prayers, support, gifts and encouragement. Please continue pray for us.
Noted by Rev. Dr. Mary E. Jensen
Communications Assistant to Bishop Dr. Munib A Younan