Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The announcement of the birth of Jesus promised new life and hope to everyone with the words, “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” The shepherds who heard those words hurried a mile or two from their pastures to the place where Jesus lay, and they paid homage to Him there.
Today, they would not be able to make the same trip. That is because a huge wall built by the Israeli military now separates the shepherds’ field from the town of Bethlehem, just as it separates other towns from their adjacent agricultural lands.
The separation wall is one of the ugly scars of the military occupation under which the Holy Land’s Arabs live. The occupation’s restrictions on movement make it almost impossible for its victims to gain access to medical care; it causes people to lose their jobs because they can’t get to work; it limits the ability of children to get to school or even buy educational materials; it prevents or delays attendance at religious services; it impedes access to hospitals and clinics; and it complicates or prevents visits between family members — contacts which are of great importance to Middle Eastern people.
Even so, the Christians of the Holy Land strive to find signs of hope. One such sign is the work of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation. Here is how HCEF brings hope:
Job Creation and Housing Rehabilitation
· In the past year, HCEF has raised $500,000 toward creating jobs and rehabilitating homes in the Holy Land.
· In 2006 and thus far in 2007, about 140 homes have been renovated or designated for renovation.
Holy Land Gifts – Homemade Olivewood Crafts
· HCEF’s Holy Land Gifts program generated over to $200,000 for Christian artisans in the Bethlehem area.
Children’s Peace Project – Ambassadors of Peace
· 10 children and 2 teachers from Palestine and Jordan visited Utica, Michigan, and Cincinnati, Ohio, for six weeks to participate in HCEF’s cultural exchange program known as Building the Bridges of Peace. The Arab Christian students lived with American families and attended school with their American host students.
Child Sponsorship Program
· HCEF supporters have sponsored over 2000 school children through donations to Holy Land school systems, which include Lutheran, Greek Catholic-Melkite, Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem (Roman Catholic), Franciscan, Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Syrian, Orthodox, and the Mar Elias Educational Institute (MEEI)
“Living Stones” Pilgrimages
· HCEF has organized or facilitated seven pilgrimage groups to the Holy Land, providing economic support to Arab Christians where possible, and offering moral support by worshiping and visiting with the living stones. Pilgrims visit sacred sites in Jordan, the gateway to the Holy Land, and in Palestine and Israel.
“Jesus Loves the Children” Program
· During the recent Christmas season, the generosity of donors allowed HCEF to distribute 3,400 gifts to children in the Holy Land and brought hundreds of children from Jordan, Palestine, and Israel to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, most of them for the first time.
Father Buzo Senior Citizens’ Center
· This modern, cheerful facility in Birzeit was built by, and is supported by, HCEF donors.
· The Center provides social, recreational, and educational opportunities for more than sixty elderly people.
The tangible signs of hope mentioned above came to into being as the result of HCEF’s mission to sustain the presence of Arab Christians in the Holy Land, to contribute their well being, and to develop solidarity between them and their fellow Christians elsewhere in the world.
As HCEF’s programs have expanded in scope and effectiveness, we have maintained sound fiscal accountability, earning our third consecutive 4-star rating from Charity Navigator, the largest of the firms which evaluate non-profit organizations. In the words of the President of Charity Navigator,
“only 9% of the charities we have rated have received at least 3 consecutive 4-star evaluations, indicating that Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation outperforms most charities in America in its efforts to operate in the most fiscally responsible way possible. This “exceptional” designation from Charity Navigator differentiates HCEF from its peers and demonstrates to the public it is worthy of their trust.”
Confident that HCEF is indeed worthy of your trust, I ask for your financial partnership with the living stones of our faith in this season of giving. Let that be our encouragement to those who strive to maintain our common Christian faith in the Holy Land in the face of demoralizing obstacles; let that be our way of celebrating Christmas, the Good News of the birth of our Lord, in His birthplace.
In the early part of this year, two steadfast supporters of the Christians of the Holy Land, Bill and Carolyn Yontz, spent many weeks there. They sought to gain greater understanding of the challenges faced by the small but important Christian communities in the Holy Land, and to report their findings to Christians in the United States.
Upon their return, they compiled a book entitled “Living Under Fire: Christian Clergy and Congregations in the Holy Land,” edited by Dr. Saliba Sarsar. The book is a gold mine of information on the current situation and future prospects of the “living stones” in the land of Jesus.
It is Carolyn and Bill’s hope – and mine – that many people of conscience will read this enlightening and dynamic report, reflect on what Christian and other Arabs are undergoing in the Holy Land, and be moved with compassion to help them to help themselves.
“Assuredly I say to you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” (Luke 25:40)
May this season bring the light of Jesus’ peace to every corner of the Holy Land, and may it bring joy in your heart. God bless you and your loved ones!
Rateb Y. Rabie
President and CEO
Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation
PS: If you are able to contribute $100 or more to HCEF at this time, I’ll be happy to send you copy of Bill and Carolyn Yontz’ book “Living Under Fire: Christian Clergy and Congregations in the Holy Land” along with my warmest thanks!