Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Eve from ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission,Jerusalem/Bethlehem

Read the final December 24 post from their Advent calendar, and listen to some music composed from their experience.

The photo of the nativity with the wall is from a web site that offers them for sale. They are carved in Beit Sahour, Shepherd's Field.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Bethlehem, Christmas Eve, 2013

Christmas Eve, Luke
Luke 2.1-20

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 

His grandmother told Ahmed that their family has lived on this farm in Amin, West Bank, for more than 500 years. He is discouraged that he has not been able to stop the settlements and the wall from taking his land. Fighting the demolition order on his home was expensive. "It broke my future, my son's future," he said. In the photo Ahmed Yousef introduces us to one of his 150-year-old olive trees.

All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 

Ahmed shows us the papers he must now carry— including a permit to go through the checkpoint to farm his land. The checkpoint is open a couple of hours most days. The road in the background is the Israeli "wall"—here a barrier, flanked with razor wire, cutting Ahmed off from his land on the far hillside, where he used to graze the family's sheep and goats in the summer. The hillside is now part of an Israeli settlement. He says, "This is our problem…the wall."

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 

In the photo, one of the sons in our host family in Bi'lin shows us his sheep, housed in an underground room under their house. In the morning I wanted to go outside and look at the landscape—we had arrived in the village the evening before—it was November and darkness comes early.

He wanted to show me around their yard and especially his sheep. He posed for the photo with his sheep, who are eagerly eating the grain in the manger. Bi'lin holds weekly non-violent protests against Israel's wall, which is being built on their land, where they used to graze sheep and tend their olive trees, which have been uprooted. Bi'lin is the village where the Oscar-nominated film, Five Broken Cameras was filmed.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Tonight in Bethlehem, worshipers are gathering to celebrate the birth of a baby in their town—an event that would shape the lives of the people of their town for more than two millennia. A baby who brought a message of peace to a conflicted world and hope to a people oppressed by an occupying army. Today the occupying army still controls the land and sea and the people of Bethlehem are still spreading Jesus' gospel message of hope and reconciliation. They are teaching peace to their children and providing the education that equips them for a future without walls and checkpoints. The people of Christmas Lutheran Church are equipping leaders for a future they can only imagine. The artwork in the photo is part of an art exhibit by students at Dar Al-Kalima College, a ministry of Christmas Lutheran Church.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

Tonight I praise God for all I have seen and heard in Bethlehem—the steadfast hope the Palestinians carry for their future, their reconciling work and their witness to me of the power of God's love to sustain hope and transform lives.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Kairos Palestine - Christmas 2013

In a message from the writers of Kairos Palestine: a Moment of Truth, we are invited to journey with them this Advent season. Read their invitation below or go directly to the "Christmas Alert" resource they have prepared.

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

For Christians, Advent is the spiritual preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Most of the time, however, we tend to lose our focus along the way, distracted by the “commercialized” Christmas. It is hard to concentrate on the spiritual importance of the Advent season while we are busy decorating our Christmas trees, selecting our presents and planning our Christmas parties.

There is nothing wrong with all these joyful projects, but it is important to balance the spiritual aspect of Advent with all our other activities. If we don’t make time for reflection, meditation, prayer and thinking about God and others, we find ourselves physically exhausted and spiritually unsatisfied.
Living where I live, Advent is, for me, the rebirth of truth and the beginning of the church year.

Advent is an opportunity to ready ourselves to receive Jesus Christ in our hearts and lives. It is a time to pray and repent. It is a time for joy and hope. It is a time for feeling the presence of Christ among us. It is a time to reconcile with God, with ourselves and with our neighbors.

In the Scriptures, Advent equals readiness, promise and hope for a rebirth of new life. Read more . . .

Friday, December 20, 2013

Israel Palestine 101 - from Jewish Voice for Peace

Sometimes it's overwhelming to try to understand the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But this 7-minute video is amazing and easy to watch—a broad overview of the history and possibilities for peace. (It's best to view in full screen mode.)

 Learn more. Visit Jewish Voice for Peace


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beating spears into pruning-hooks in the farmland south of Bethlehem

...they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. Is 2.4

I heard these words as the lessons were read last Sunday and today I am remembering the last time I saw these words—painted on a rock on a farm just south of Bethlehem.

We got off the tour bus on a dirt road just off the main Jerusalem-Hebron road. We couldn’t drive up to the farm because Israeli soldiers had placed large boulders in the road to block access to the farm.

Boulders blocking the road to Nassar farm
So we walked up the road, squeezing around the boulders (see photo). We saw settlements on the hills to our right and left. Like the Nassar farm, these settlements are perched on hilltops, their uniform blocks of housing units looking official and severe in this pastoral landscape.

Daher Nassar meets us with stories about his father’s dream—to farm this land, to bring peace and to show others the love of Jesus. His father, Bishar, died in 1976, but he and his brothers and sisters carry on the work, creating Tent of Nations, a place dedicated to peace and breaking the cycle of violence.

The motto of Tent of Nations is, “We refuse to be enemies.” The Tent is a place for everyone, he tells us—and there are international visitors living here—they come to farm, create new solutions to the problems of no water or electricity, and enjoy this beautiful land.

He also tells us that there are now five settlements surrounding the farm, and the settlers are pressing for demolition.  Although the settlements continue their expansion, the Nassar family cannot get permits to build. They have not been able to build anything on their property since 1967. They can plant trees, but they cannot bring any machines—this is why the soldiers pushed the boulders onto the road.

The settlers tell Daher that this land is all Israel (even though it is in the West Bank). He replies, “Before you were born, I am here.”

Because Israel does not recognize their right to live on the farm, the Nassar family has no electricity, no water, no road. Because they cannot build, they live in the eight caves on the property—where their ancestors lived.

Amal, Daher’s sister, told us that before 1991, the farm produced grapes, fig, almonds, apricots, pomegranates, cactus, and wheat. They made wine, which they cannot do now without the machinery.

"We refuse to be enemies," in Arabic, English and German
They have spent many years and a great deal of money ($150,000) in court, fighting to keep their land. After ten years, their Palestinian lawyer was no longer allowed to represent them. Because they are Palestinian their case is under the jurisdiction of the military court system, a separate system from the Israeli civilian courts. They have been required to produce mountains of documents and witnesses. Often, when they bring this documentation to court they are told it is not needed.

When the settlers uproot their olive trees and smash water storage containers, the Israeli police do not respond. When they take their produce to market, the soldiers take their IDs at the checkpoint, hold them for 5-6 hours and by that time, the produce is spoiled and worthless.

Believing that education leads to peace, Tent of Nations sponsors a summer camp for the children—Muslim and Christian—who need a place where they can develop their talents, take positive action and feel hopeful.  They draw to express their fear of the violence they see every day. They talk about their fears. 

They also offer programs for the women in the nearby village of Nahalin, who suffer from depression because they cannot leave their village, which is surrounded by settlements, roadblock and checkpoints.

Amal tells us, “As Christians, we have to be witnesses.”

If you would like to support their ministry, see their website and purchase an olive tree to be planted on their farm: and click on “support”.