By Bonnie Van Overbeke
In the Gospel of John, Jesus invites Andrew and Peter to follow him with the phrase “Come and See.”
“Come and see” was the theme for our trip to the Holy Land. Come and see not only the places Jesus walked but the people in whom Jesus is alive today.
We began our journey at the Guest House of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem near the place where Jesus was born. As many of you know, Memorial Church has had a partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church since 2004 when the first group of travelers went to the Holy Land. Through our partnership we have supported the people and programs of the Bethlehem church.
Pastor Mitri Raheb often says, “People come here to see what God did here over 2000 years ago; I hope people go home having seen what God is doing today in the Holy Land.”
And that was true for us. While we all felt the stories of the Bible come alive as we walked in the footsteps of Jesus, it was the faces and lives of the people that moved us to tears and gave us hope for this holy and troubled land.
So I’d like to share with you some of those faces…
In Bethlehem Rami, Raeda and Angie work for the Diyar Consortium which is the outreach arm of the church.
Rami is the director of the Academy for Children and Youth; perhaps some of you met him when he was here in Fitchburg last spring on a tour with the Diyar dance troupe;
Raeda is the parish nurse at the Health and Wellness Center and director of the Adjal program for seniors.
Angie is the public relations and communication director for the Center where we stayed while in Bethlehem
On to Nazareth
From Bethlehem we journeyed to Nazareth where we met Sister Stephanie, a member of the Sisters of the Nazarene who originally came to Nazareth in the mid 1850s to establish a school for Arab children. In the mid 1900s, while a plumber accidentally discovered a cave under the convent and school. Over the last several years they have found the remains of the ancient town of Nazareth. In fact there is an early 1st century tomb thought to be the tomb of Jesus father Joseph. Sister Stephanie delights in sharing their discovery with all who wander away from the more touristy site of the Church of the Annunciation.
And finally we sent up to Jerusalem and met three Jewish women.
Nina, Yael, and Dalia are Israeli citizens whose parents fled their countries after the Holocaust in order to find a refuge where they could live in safety and raise their families.
Nina was one of the founders of Machsom Watch, a Jewish women’s organization that monitors checkpoints.
Yael took us to the Bethlehem checkpoint where the lines to enter Jerusalem are especially long on Fridays, the Sabbath day for Muslims. As we stood and observed, Yael gently went over to the Israeli sergeant and asked if he could open up more lines so that Palestinians Muslims could get through in time for Friday prayers at the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. “I am not here to scold the soldiers” she told us. “I am here to remind them of their humanity.”
Dalia joined us Friday evening and lit candles for Shabbat and prayed with us. Dalia has turned her childhood home that once belonged to a Palestinian family into a school for Arab children. Her story is told in a book called The Lemon Tree.
These three Jewish women, each in their own way, are trying to make right the wrongs they see being done to others in the name of security.
All of these faces are the lives through whom God is speaking today.
These are the living stones of the Holy Land.
Our driver makes all the difference
By Nancy Baumgardner
One very important piece of our ability to COME AND SEE is someone who has been with us on every trip.
More than just be with us, he drives us, calls ahead to the checkpoints for safety, fills the little cooler with water for us, shares with us information that he has gleaned from years of listening to guides, translates Hebrew and Arabic for us, gets a fair price for us, shares his favorite restaurants and shops with us, makes sure we get all of the experiences and souvenirs we hoped for, worries about us.
And he tells me, very seriously (and then a big grin), when I get off of the bus last, “Nancy, don’t cause problems today.”
George Mousallam is our driver – a Palestinian Arab, Greek Orthodox, Jerusalemite. Early in the trip, one of the women asked me “You’ve been here before and seen these things before, many times, what still speaks to you?”
For me, the greatest and most meaningful thrill is watching the faces of our travelers, as they walk in the old city of Jerusalem for the first time, wade in the Sea of Galilee, see a real life Bedouin shepherd with sheep and goats on the hillside, stand in the water of the Jordan River, and listen to the stories of people working everyday for justice in the face of occupation.
It’s the teacher in me – I get to experience it over and over again for the first time as I watch their faces.
These amazing women, met other amazing women – and it’s a powerful lesson to learn and listen to the thoughts and hearts from those who COME and SEE.
Orthodox Easter in Jerusalem
By Merry Spangler
Today (May 4) was the ceremony of fire inside – and outside – around the Church were Jesus died, was buried, and rose. The crowds of Orthodox Christians from all over the world were HUGE and all the passageways ways blocked off. We couldn’t get near the church- but considering the fire hazard of lighted candles in an enclosed space, we were happy not to be inside and content to imagine it!
Everywhere we went there were people from Egypt to the Philippines dressed in traditional clothes, some with palm branches wrapped around their forehead and many with long robes and head scarfs. In a way it is a privilege to be here now; but it has made movement and visiting the holy sites almost impossible. (Bonnie Van Overeke, May 4)
If you were with us here in Jerusalem, you’d be surrounded by people from all over the world celebrating Easter – Orthodox Easter, that is! Even living in Ethiopia, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many in one place! And the Russian Orthodox are all over the city! And this morning we sang “Halle, Halle” in the little mosque that celebrates Christ’s ascension. So yes, resurrection indeed!!
Friday at a checkpoint
By Bonnie Van Overbeke
We are having an incredible journey together. I’m sorry I have not sent more emails and pics but we have been, as they say,” running where Jesus walked!!”
Checkpoint 2Along the way we have met wonderful people. Like Yael, a Jewish woman who took us to the checkpoint Friday morning where she and other women from Machsom Watch observe what happens between soldiers and Palestinians and reminds the soldiers to be kind.
The site was crowded with Muslims wanting to get from Bethlehem to Jerusalem for Friday prayers. The line was backed up and moving very slowly. Yael said to the captain, “is there a way to speed this up so these people can get to the mosque on time for Friday prayers?” and suddenly two new checkpoint desks were opened and the lines began to move!
“I just reminded them of their humanity” Yael said “and our common need to get to worship.”
Sunday at Christmas Lutheran Church
By Bonnie Van Overbeke
We worshiped at Christmas Lutheran this morning. Our song, led by Merry and accompanied by Nancy sounded quite wonderful and was well received. People even joined us!
A blog post with lots of photos
By Debbie Spangler
About the trip
Our group of travelers to Israel and Palestine went from April 26 through May 7, 2013. Bonnie Van Overbeke and Nancy Baumgardner led the trip. They were joined by Joyce Crim, Chris Gruneberg, Nancy Potter, Sonjia Short and Merry Spangler from Memorial along with Bonnie’s daughter Jenny and Merry’s Debbie. Also on the trip was Mary Richter from the UCC congregation in Plymouth, Wis. and Emma Ledbetter from First Congregational UCC in LaCrosse.