Learning Many Things in Bethlehem
June 28, 2018

From May 26 to June 5, 2018, my friend Elias and I went to Israel and Palestine (West Bank).

Church of the Nativity in the center of Bethlehem in Palestine.

Nave of the Church of the Nativity.

We stayed at a hotel in Beit Sahour, a town adjoining Bethlehem to attend a 5-day conference called Christ at the Checkpoint, sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College.

One of the buildings of Bethlehem Bible College.

Mural in the College building.

The theme of the conference was “Jesus Christ at the Center,” which is a marvelous theme, not just for a Christian conference, but for the whole church, and for any person’s life, for that matter.

Through various speakers and personal stories we learned about the current situation in Israel/Palestine; issues of the land, identity, justice and eschatology; the separation barrier (wall) erected by Israel on the border with Palestine; the realities of living in Palestine under military occupation by Israel; the complexity of the situation; the fact that some Israelis wish all the Palestinians would go away and leave the land to Israel only, and that other Israelis sympathize with the Palestinians and are working for a just peace; and the response of Palestinian evangelicals, which is always nonviolent because they take Jesus’ words about loving and blessing our enemies.

Separation barrier viewed from Bethlehem in Palestine.

There are 37 evangelical churches in Israel, 33 of them being in Nazareth and the north.

There are 43,000 Christians in Palestine, belonging to a number of different denominations. They comprise 1 percent of the population. There are 13 evangelical churches in Palestine, most of them in the Bethlehem area. Bethlehem is the only city in Palestine with a Christian mayor.

My burden for the evangelical church in America is that we will remember our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, and not support the State of Israel to the neglect of the Palestinian church. For many of these believers, their families have been in Palestine since the Day of Pentecost.

Israel 2016 – Part 3
March 8, 2016

Here is a another view of the Church of the Nativity, this time at dusk.

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I had coffee in St. George’s Restaurant on Manger Square and saw this mural of the city of Bethlehem, so I had to take a photo.

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Here is the theme slide that appears at each session of the conference. A startling contrast between the cross and the barrier wall. You may learn more about the conference at http://www.christatthecheckpoint.com.

Many of the speakers are Palestinian Christians. In the U.S. we hear about Palestinian Muslims and Palestinian terrorists, but there are also Palestinian believers – our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are hearing what life is like for them in their setting.

“Imagine the birthplace of Christianity without Christians.”

This may sound like an exaggeration, and yet we are learning that it could become the case. Already, due to emigration, Christians in the Holy Land make up less than 1.5 percent of the Palestinian community.

Please pray for the believers here. that they will be encouraged, put aside fear, have hope, and give loving witness to their Muslim neighbors and to all people. Pray for Bethlehem Bible College as it enables a new generation of Christian leaders to serve in Bethlehem and beyond. You can learn more about the College at http://www.bethbc.edu

Israel 2016 – Part 2
March 8, 2016

On Monday, March 7, I had the morning and afternoon free before the conference started at 5:00 PM. I walked north through Bethlehem, passed through the Israeli checkpoint in the barrier wall, and walked a few more blocks into the southern-most end of Jerusalem to visit Tantur Ecumenical Institute. Walk with me.

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The entrance to the Bethlehem Museum, which I did not have time to visit.

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And here is a different dove, on the wall of a general building, not the barrier wall.

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Views of Bethlehem Bible College, which has another location in Nazareth and a satellite campus in Gaza.

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And here is the barrier wall. 26 feet tall, twice as high as the Berlin Wall. No Palestinian can pass through a checkpoint without a permit, and few new permits are issued each week.  No one is allowed to photograph the pedestrian checkpoints.

Many Palestinians have permits to work in Israel, but the checkpoints are crowded at work hours, so the process can take 3 hours. Many workers arrive at 3:00 AM in order to pass through and get to work on time. At noon, when I went through, there were only two people head of me.

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Entrance and view of one building of Tantur Evangelical Institute. Tantur is a department of the University of Notre Dame and is described as an oasis of learning, community and hositality. Terry Brensinger and other BIC people have stayed here during Holy Land tours and studies.

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A grotto at Tantur, showing Christ presiding over the New Jerusalem with rivers of water flowing out of the city.

I came to Tantur to visit my Palestinian Christian friend KB, who is the maintenance person here and who  showed me around the extensive buildings and grounds, including an impressive library.

By 5:00 PM I was back at the hotel, where all sessions of the conference are being held. The event is sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College and is called Christ at the Checkpoint 4. There were three such conferences held in the past.

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The subtitle for this conference is “The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism.”

The registration count is over 400, which is much larger than I expected. People have come from 23 nations. Seven BIC people from southern California are here.

The keynote address was given by Bishop Efraim Tendero of the Philippines, Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance. He spoke on “The Gospel and the Challenge of Religious Extremism,” listing some mistaken assumptions about religious extremism, calling for thoughtful and respectful dialogue with all people,  and insisting that the way of Christ is the way on non-violence.

 

 

 

 

Israel – Part 4
December 26, 2009

On Monday, December 7, Hank took us to Bethlehem, which is even closer to Jerusalem than I realized – 2.5 miles, to be specific.

Bethlehem is surrounded by a huge barrier wall, built by the Israeli government, ostensibly to keep terrorists out of Israel. (Bethlehem is part of the area under the Palestinian Authority.

Problem is that the wall also discriminates against the people living in Bethlehem, many of whom are Arab Christians, our brothers and sisters. You can enter or leave Bethlehem only through guarded checkpoints.
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