Friday, January 25, 2008

A Lutheran pastor speaks of hope in Bethlehem

Metri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem

This morning I finally had an opportunity to post my blog. Our hotel has no Internet access (it'll be fixed on Saturday, they say, the day after we leave) so I wrote several posts, then early this morning walked along the main drag in Bethlehem looking for an unattended WiFi signal. Sure enough I found one and sat for the several minutes it took the slow connection to upload 8 e-mail messages and photos.

Bethlehem is a bleak city. Our hotel is directly across from the Wall, which snakes through the city at odd angles and divides the town into odd segments. In our morning Bethlehem tour we learned that the Wall will completely surround Bethlehem when it is complete. Right now it is partly ringed by Jewish settlements - 29 of them. The roads, which are also protected by portions of the Wall, will complete the isolation of Bethlehem.

George Rishmawi, a Bethlehem native, toured us around neighborhoods affected by the Wall, showing us how former Palestinian farmland is cut off from the villagers who tended it, and how new Jewish settlements surround the town. George handed our group off to Husham Jubran, who walked us through the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, a forlorn village of poverty-stricken families displaced by the 1948 creation of Israel.

Afterward we headed to the International Center of Bethlehem (ICB), a program operated out of the Christmas Lutheran Church in the city's
downtown. Rev. Metri Raheb, pastor of the church, laid out a compelling portrait of his people's needs. Raheb told us his land has too much politics, too little care for the polis; too much religion and too little spirituality; too much humanitarian aid and not enough development. The ICB has created a school and college that focus on giving people vision, hope and leadership to help see Palestine through this crisis. He asked our group to pray, to make personal visits to Palestine, and to pick a project to support. The tiny support given by mainline Protestant groups to Palestinian missions was a source of concern for him. He hopes mainliners will become peacemakers, in Jesus' image, rather than mere peace talkers.

Ten days into our visit, I'm beginning to identify with those who feel there's little hope for a solution to the problem of justice for Palestinians and security for Israelis. I am given hope by the existence of people like Metri Raheb. Calm, well-spoken, dignified, and focused, Raheb is the kind of leader a nation can be built on. I pray for him and his work and hope God will grow more like him out of this troubled land.


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