From the Pastor
Sept. 22 was a very special day in the life of St. John’s, as we formalized a partnership with Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. Pastor Munther Isaac was on hand to preach and sign the Covenant, which is printed on page 15 of this Eagle’s View.
Christmas Lutheran is just three blocks from the location of Jesus’ birth and is the oldest Lutheran church in Palestine. The congregation has a long history of welcoming pilgrims to Bethlehem and peacemaking during times of great conflict and stress. It’s a ministry of hope, Pastor Isaac told an audience last Sunday night in the Faith Center.
“Hope is what we do,” said Pastor Isaac, quoting Mitri Raheb, the church’s pastor until 2017, when he stepped down to be the president of Dar al-Kalima University, the only Lutheran college in the Middle East. Mitri has visited St. John’s twice since 2012 and was the 2015 recipient of Sweden’s Olaf Palme Award, given annually to someone creatively committed to the cause of peace.
Why Christmas Lutheran? It’s not easy being a Christian in the Middle East. Once a majority population in Bethlehem, Ramala, and Nazareth, their numbers have dropped considerably in the last half-century. In Bethlehem today, only 12 percent of the population is Christian.
We believe that the Christian witness is incredibly important in Israel/Palestine, especially during these days of so much conflict and distress. The Christian community — including Christmas Lutheran — has been a strong advocate for peace, non-violent resistance, and sharing the land. Unfortunately, their voices are being ignored and, in many cases, marginalized. Peace, it seems, is a threatening message to those trying to secure control.
What does such a partnership look like? This Advent, members of St. John’s and Christmas will join in writing the Advent devotionals as a joint project. In March 2021, 30 members of St. John’s will visit the Holy Land, including a four day stay in Bethlehem, where we’ll be hosted by members of the congregation and enjoy authentic Palestinian meals and hospitality.
Because both congregations have a strong appreciation for Christian art, we will exchange art with one another. Munther will also be a regular contributor to this Eagle’s View newsletter.
We are in the early stages of discussing how to share our expertise in VBS with the children’s ministry team at Christmas. VBS is a new idea there, but Munther says it’s an excellent way of drawing children from throughout Bethlehem, including Muslim children. “Muslim parents are more than willing to allow their kids to join our Christian education activities. They’re curious, which gives us a great opportunity to share the story of Jesus and our message of peace.”
During this highly-politicized era in Israeli-Palestinian relations, it’s more important than ever that we help amplify the Christian voice of peace. That voice comes from Christmas Lutheran Church. What a blessing to be in partnership with them.