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.

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Israel 2016 – Part 7
March 12, 2016

More about the conference Christ at the Checkpoint 4, with its subtitle “The Gospel in the Face of Religious Extremism.”

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St. George killing the dragon is a favorite theme in religious art in this region. This is on the wall of the hotel, showing, I suppose, that the owner is a Christian in some sense. Overhead lights reflected in the glass cover of the piece distract from the effectiveness of this slide, but I liked the art and decided to include it anyway.

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Walter, from North America, is a volunteer at Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) and seeks to be creative in his witness against violence. During parts of past year, tear gas was hurled by Israeli soldiers every day in the streets and landed on the BBC property. Walter collected the spent canisters, scrubbed them carefully and made Christmas ornaments, in a venture he calls Peace Parcels.  Come to my house, and I will show you the ones I bought.

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BBC had a gift shop, with items at fair market price, to support the artisans who made them. And how could you have crafts in Bethlehem without having olive wood?

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John Azumah, originally from Ghana, was one of the speakers. Currently a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, he was formerly the director of the Centre of Islamic Studies at London Theological School, and from his service there he is acquainted with Brethren in Christ persons Jay Smith, Carmen Schultz, Paul Kiss and others.

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On the right is Byron Rempel-Buckwalter from Winnipeg, a volunteer, along with his wife Melita, at BBC. On the left is Jonathan Kuttab, a Palestinian attorney and recognized authority on human rights and Palestinian and Israeli affairs.He grew up in Jerusalem, graduated from Messiah College, and lives part of the year in Lancaster County, PA, and part of it in Israel-Palestine.

Christians can work for peace in so many ways and so many places.

 

 

Israel 2016 – Part 1
March 6, 2016

It is my privilege to spend nine days in Israel and the West Bank (Palestine) as a tourist, to attend a conference, and to be on pilgrimage to biblical sites.

My friend Phil was planning to come with me, but unforeseen circumstances forced him to cancel a few days before the trip, so I am here alone.

Arrived on Sunday, March 6. Staying in the Orient Palace Hotel, which opened last October. It is located in the West Bank in the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, adjoining Bethlehem.

Historically, many Christians have lived in the three connected towns of Beit Jala, Bethlehem and Beit Sahour. Beit Sahour includes two locations that are claimed by different Christian denominations to be The Shepherds Field where angels appeared to shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus.

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Here is the view from the balcony of my room. Typical scene, with a few olive trees standing in any open spot that has not been developed.

Today I walked 25 minutes to the heart of Bethlehem.

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Common street scenes in Bethlehem. Blue seems to be the favorite color here.

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Peace Fountain (no water running today) in a small square. Installed in 1999.

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Wall and bell tower next to the entrance to the Church of the Nativity.

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The entrance is unassuming. One story says that the entrance was made this low in the Middle Ages so that the Crusaders could not ride their horses into the church. Who would have thought?!

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Inside the church you walk on a wooden floor that protects the beautiful and intricate mosaic floor that dates from the 4th Century.

The original church was commissioned in 327 by the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena. It was destroyed by  fire in the 6th Century and rebuilt in 565. It is under restoration now, so I have no good photos of the dark interior. You can go online and see the beauty of the interior. The exterior is a plain limestone wall.

I see many Common swifts here – a bit larger than the Chimney swift we have in America. Noisy creatures, they fly above and around city buildings in “screaming parties,” as the bird guide book says.

This evening KB came to visit me. He is a Palestinian Christian living in Beit Sahour. His farm was confiscated by the State of Israel because it was deemed to be a good location for a future Israeli settlement. As common in such cases, he was not given any payment for the confiscated farm. KB has worked with Hank Dannecker of 1 NewHeart, an organization that helps children get life-saving heart surgery by Jewish doctors in Tel Aviv through an organization called Save A Child’s Heart.

Christmas Eve in Bethlehem
December 24, 2011

As JoLene and I planned this trip, we were eager to include being at Manger Square in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Again this year the Jerusalem Baptist Church, located at 4 Narkis Street, was planning a bus load to go to Bethlehem, and we were pleased that seats were available for us.

The group was international, with people from Japan, India, Holland, Norway and Canada, to name a few.
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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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