Bethlehem Partnership Update
As you know, Memorial has had a partnership with Christians in Bethlehem since 2004. Over the years we have supported the community and educational projects of Christmas Lutheran Church. Last week Nancy and I were on a Zoom conference with Rev. Mitri Raheb and the Bright Stars of Bethlehem Board so they could share with us what is happening in Bethlehem today. Our friends in Bethlehem, like us, have been quarantined because of the coronavirus, which, on top of the occupation, has had a devastating impact on their economy as well as the ministries we have supported through our partnership.
Tourism, the main industry in Bethlehem, is shut down. All businesses and stores are closed except for food and pharmacy and hospitals. Because their borders have been totally closed, Bethlehemites who work in nearby East Jerusalem can no longer get to work and there is no way to get medical supplies or replenish anything that is not made in the West Bank. 90% of their people are unemployed and there is no “rescue” package from their government, already crippled from the ongoing conflict. For more about the situation as well as the programs our church supports in Bethlehem, go here to this web site from the national UCC Global Ministries.
As you know, over the years Memorial has raised money for student scholarships to Dar al Kalima University College through our Annual Cookie and Craft sale. Now, their students, like our students, are trying to finish up their term with classes on line but most will not be able to afford to return to school because of the unemployment caused by the lockdown. The University will be able to pay their teachers and other staff for the next 2 months but will need financial support to meet payroll in the coming months.
To help our partners in Bethlehem pay their staff, support their students, and help their community in this time of crisis, we have requested and were granted $1750 from the Southwest Association Partnership budget in addition to the $500 from Memorial’s Endowment Fund. Rev. Mitri sent an email acknowledgement of these gifts:
Thank you for this gift of love and for your continuous support and friendship. Please give our appreciation to all the churches in southwest Wisconsin. We appreciate their support at this crucial time.
If you would like to receive information about this ministry or make a contribution, you can go to their website at www.brightstarsbethlehem.org
In 2001, Bonnie Van Overbeke, who was then our pastor, traveled to Israel/Palestine on a month-long study sabbatical. While there she met Rev. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and director of the Diyar Consortium, the mission arm of the church. Upon her return, Bonnie and a group of interested members of Memorial church began to explore the possibility of forming a partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. That partnership was updated in June 2017 after Rev. Raheb left the church as pastor to be the director of Diyar. The partnership is now with Bright Stars of Bethlehem, the U.S. entity that supports the work of Diyar. You can read the agreement at the bottom of this page.
In 2003, the Memorial Church Council enthusiastically approved the creation of a partnership. In the fall of 2004, the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ voted to join Memorial United Church of Christ in its partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church and in its support of the work of the International Center of Bethlehem. Now the whole Wisconsin Conference of the UCC has a working group focused on Israel/Palestine.
Bonnie Van Overbeke and Nancy Baumgardner from Memorial have led trips to Israel/Palestine every other year, spending significant time with our partners in Bethlehem. You can read highlights of some of the trips on these blogs:
2004 Partnership Tour – Palestine – Israel
Come and See the Faces of the Holy Land – 2013
Listening for the Voices – 2009
Here is a photo essay that describes the growth of our partnership.
For more information please visit: www.brightstarsbethlehem.org
Agreement as reviewed and revised in June 2017
In 2003, the Memorial United Church of Christ Council voted to form a partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church and in its support of the church’s ministry in the Bethlehem community through the International Center of Bethlehem and the Diyar Consortium of educational institutions. In June 2017 due to a change in the organizational structure of our Bethlehem Partner, the Partnership is now with Bright Stars of Bethlehem, the U.S. organization created to support the ministries of our Bethlehem Partner.
The goals of the partnership* include the following:
*a commitment to prayerfully and financially support the life and ministries of Bright Stars of Bethlehem as well as other organizations that engage in justice and peace efforts in the region. Brochures describing the various projects are available.
*a commitment to educating ourselves and our communities about human rights and political issues involved in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, especially as it pertains to the Bethlehem community
*a hope to build personal relationships between UCC folk in Wisconsin and people in the Bethlehem community.
*a hope that travel (in both directions) can deepen these relationships and our understanding of the situation and can provide the opportunity to share faith and skills; trips to Bethlehem will be scheduled as conditions allow and members of the Bethlehem community will be invited to visit Wisconsin.
*a hope that through this relationship the faith of our congregation will be strengthened and empowered to live out the commitments and dreams God has for us.
*Goals and expectations will be periodically reviewed by the Partnership Committee in order to keep the partnership vital and effective.