Members in Action
Kris Marriot: Visiting Parish Nurse in Bethlehem
What a privilege it was to travel to Bethlehem, to serve on the team that installed Raida Monsour as the Parish Nurse at Christmas Lutheran Church, and to learn a bit more about the Palestinians in Bethlehem and the Western Bank. Thank you so much for both your financial and your prayer support during this trip.
I met with the medical mission team at O’Hare airport in Chicago. Most of us were members of LCMS, and we were a mixture of doctors, nurses, and health care administrators, along with some financial administrators who provide support for LCMS projects. A couple of the team members brought spouses with them also. As we prepared to fly out, our stateside travel agent shared with us what we would say if asked as we went through customs in Tel Aviv – we were on a religious pilgrimage, and we were staying at the hotel in Jerusalem where we stayed the last two nights of our travels. We would not mention, unless directly asked, that we were going to stay in Bethlehem, which is in the Palestinian Authority of the Western Bank of the Jordan River.
Our tour guide met us at the airport in Tel Aviv. Ghassan Makhalfeh (Gus) is a licensed tour guide in Israel. He is also a Palestinian Christian. Our driver was Ahab, a Palestinian Muslem. Both of these men were licensed and employed in Israel and had permission to travel into Israel. Yet when we came to the border crossing at the wall in Jerusalem, Gus was refused permission to cross into Bethlehem. We rejoined Gus five days later when we prepared to go back into Jerusalem. I was amazed by Gus’s humility and acceptance of his situation. As he described the situation between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he openly shared that BOTH sides had done grievous wrongs, and there were no innocents in the conflicts that had occurred. Yet for the future of both, a lasting peace agreement needs to occur.
Bethlehem is an occupied city. The wall that surrounds Bethlehem is said to be a deterrent from terrorism by the Palestinians. However it not a straight line, but rather separates homeowners from their fields where they grow the olive trees and crops. It excludes from Bethlehem various tourist attractions (also vital for the economy of Bethlehem). The wall intersects streets and isolates the people from their land, their homes, and their resources. As the Palestinian territory is pock-marked by the wall, settlements of foreign Jewish nationals are placed in these areas to allow Israeli annexation of the land. It reminded me of pictures and movies of the Jewish ghettos in Poland during Nazi occupation. The people are in a state of chronic loss with the accompanied symptoms of depression, anger and grief.
In the midst of this dark setting is the Light of Christmas Lutheran Church and its Pastor, the Rev Dr Mitri Raheb. Pastor Mitri has a vision of hope for the people of Bethlehem. He spreads the Word of God through his service and ministry at Christmas Lutheran Church, and expands that ministry and vision with soft hands and a soft voice. His programs include a large international center adjacent to the church with a restaurant, theater, meeting rooms, lecture hall, guest house and arts and crafts, and areas for students of Dar Al-Kalima College. Additionally, on a hillside outside of the center of Bethlehem is the site of the Dar Al-Kalima Health and Wellness center, and the Kindergarten through 12 grade school. This is the prospective site for the College as it expands to award Associate degrees in Arts , Music, Multimedia, Communication, and Tourism studies. The plan includes a park and green area, as this is needed in a city with so little green.
Our team was created to celebrate the installation of Raida Monsour as Parish Nurse at Christmas Church and the Dar Al-Kalima Health and Wellness Center. At the celebration and pot luck lunch that occurred after church on Sunday it was apparent that this community is eager for the benefits of the program that Raida is initiating. Cheers sprang spontaneously from the assembly during the pinning ceremony and service. The pot luck was scrumptious, with all the new foods and flavors. The symposium on Caring For all Generations was Tuesday. Ten segments were presented with emphasis on the elder community in Bethlehem. In addition to the symposium, we toured the Dar Al-Kalima school and Wellness Center, made home visits to shut ins in the community with the community nurses, and reviewed CPR updates and use of an AED with the staff of the Wellness Center
What does this area need from us, what are the gifts that we can give to this community? Number one is to pray for peace in this part of the world, an open-hearted peace that does not need to have either side grasping to increase its own power base. The coordination between the Christian and Islamic Palestinians is occurring (with a concurrent opportunity to share the good news of Jesus as our Savior) in Dar Al-Kalima. Financial gifts, as well as opportunities to share the gifts that God has given us (teaching in the College in the area of Arts, Music, Communication or Toursim) may be the area that God is leading you. Realization of the situation allows us to continue to hold Pastor Mitri, Raida, and the people of this area close to our hearts and prayers. For information on any of these opportunities, please speak to me, or check out www.brightstarsbethlehem.org, www.daralkalima.edu.ps, or www.WheatRidge.org. I have ordered a copy of Pastor Raheb’s book, Bethlehem Besieged, to be placed in our church library. This book gives more insight into the situation in Bethlehem as personally experienced by Pastor Raheb and his family and church.
It was such a pleasure to be a part of this trip. Thank you for the opportunity to serve Christ and you through this effort.