Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Texas Volunteers - Sunday

On Sunday, November 12 we celebrated the completion and dedication of the Gaza Baptist Church in the Gaza Strip. I was excited to be invited; honored that the pastor would ask me and my wife to come be a part of the deication of their new building, but the real joy waas that we were actually able to be there.

What an evening!! At least 250 people were in attendance including Brother Andrew, "God's Smuggler". He was the preacher for the service. We sang hymns and choruses, prayed, listened to special guests from all over the world who help support and finance the building of the only evangelical church in the Gaza Strip.

The building is six floors tall; the worship center being on the 6th floor. The only Christian library in Gaza occupies the first two floors. This is a lending library with books in Arabic and English. A clinic, offices and guest quarters occupy the other floors. One interesting note, it is directly across the street from the Palestinian Police headquarters for the city of Gaza.

God has and is using the Church to minister to the people in the Gaza Strip for Jesus Christ. Pray with us for God's blessing and watchcare for eveyone connected to the Gaza Church.

For Pictures of the building, click HERE. We hope to keep adding pictures over the next couple of days.

Posted by Jack.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Texas Volunteers - Friday

Our volunteer team helped to host a day of discipleship and fellowship for Christian university students from Birzeit University. (The university is a few kilometers north of Ramallah.) One of the high lights of the day was a Bible study led by Jack. I was struck by how hungry the students seemed to be for Christian fellowship. If you had a video of the day's activities and played it without sound, you wouldn't have known that this was not a group of American students enjoying a day together.

After a late lunch, four members of the team had to leave to begin their journey back to Texas. We'll miss them in the days ahead. Although their time here was short, their impact will be long lasting.

Two members of the team, Jack and Gwen, will remain with us for a few more days. On Sunday, we'll be in Gaza for the dedication of the new church building.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Texas Volunteers - Thursday

Comments from Jim:
Today we were given the opportunity to deliver food items to needy families and visit with them. The first was in a village with a Muslim family that was in fear of their property being taken away. Even though this family had great worries on their shoulders, the once again proved the hospitality of their people by making hot tea and sharing it with us. They voiced their concerns and asked that we relay what the real people are like to our people.

We then delivered food to a Bedouin family. A woman, a little girl, and a young boy that was permanently handicapped due to a failed medical treatment.

The third and fourth families were Palestinian Christians. They were very friendly and provided Arabic coffee for us with warm conversation. The Christian families were only two left in the village. They told us that they felt pressure from both Muslims and Jews.

After we ran out of food we were very fortunate to visit the church at Emmaus. We stood on a remnant of the 1st century Roman road of Emmaus. It was very exciting.

After we returned for the day we were provided a warm Arabic meal of Mashie (stuffed squash and small egg plant) by our Palestinian partner’s family. It was very filling, very welcome, and very tasty. Our friend’s mother made a statement that wrapped up much of what I felt about the different families that we had met on this day. She said, “the people here are good, our government is not very good but the people are”. These people even if from different cultures all want the same thing. They want shelter, food and water, work, and safety for their families. I think we all want that.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Texas Volunteers - Wednesday

Insights from Cortney:

We took the day to visit the Old City in Jerusalem. I was not quite sure what to expect. I have studied about all of the events that happened there in seminary, but had never really pictured how it all would look. My first semester of school, the president of the seminary told our class that making a trip to the Holy Land would take the Bible, written in black and white, and bring it to color. That is exactly what happened. It was not that every sight was a highly emotional or overtly spiritual experience, but it gave life to what I had studied my entire life. I was able to walk where where Christ might have walked. I saw where He journeyed to Caiphas' house. I saw where Christ could have been beaten and imprisoned. I was able to see where Christ might have been crucified. I was able to experience what the tomb Christ rose from was like. These events changed not only how I study the Bible, but my entire understanding of the sacrifice and victory of Christ. I have a newfound perspective of the life of Christ, His ministry, and His means of salvation through His sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Texas Volunteers - Tuesday

Today the team went in three different directions. Jim and Don delivered food to 11 families. Jack and Houston finished the paint project that we started on Monday. Gwen and Courtney help with a handcraft project at a women’s center in a refugee camp.

To see some pictures of the team, the people they've met and the work they are doing, click HERE.

Gwen’s comments on the last couple of days:
On Monday, November 6, the women went to the Senior Adult Center in Ramallah to socialize and do crafts. About 25 ladies and several men gathered. There were mostly from the Christian community. Some spoke broken English. They were excited to have us there and welcomed us warmly. There were so enthusiastic about the crafts that they didn’t want to quit. One craft was a flower made from a party napkin. We used about 80 napkins because they just didn’t want to stop! Smiles and hugs broke any language barrier. They asked us to please come back tomorrow, but we said “next year”.

One Tuesday we went to the Women’s Center in Amari Refugee Camp. Fifteen Muslim came for crafts. We brought the supplies to make boxes out of plastic canvas and yarn. They were all smiles and worked hard to learn how to make the box. Only one lady finished her box, but the others were far enough along to take it home and finish it. We offered refreshments and there were so appreciative.

Both groups of women were warm, friendly and receptive. I love these people! Meeting them is a wonderful experience.

Houston’s Impressions of Ministry
Steep plunging hills, barren stony slopes, winding narrow roads, thick stone walls, ridge top villages, history everywhere … thousands of years.

Two-story house, three stymied poor families, five young sons; unemployment, little to do, women, second-class.

Three bedrooms, two kitchens, goats and sheep under outside stairs ….. we came to paint, be friends, minister. White latex on ceilings and upper walls, caramel enamel on lower walls, windows and doors; smiles on faces… response to needs.

Shy smiles, clean/sand/patch/paint; tea, coffee, meal (their appreciation… roast wheat, chicken, potatoes) … new friends. Photos, wee new donkey colt and 1000+ year old olive press; smiles all around, foreign Christ followers … help, mosque across the street … frowns.

Local Christian workers ….orientation/support/participation; Local believer … red hair, expertise, commitment, hard work. God’s world, bigger than many imagine, people’s response to loving service … more genuine than many expect.

Lasting difference.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Texas Volunteers - Monday

Today the team divided. The men went to Ayn Kinya to paint a couple of rooms for a family there. Three families live in a 6 room house - two brothers with their wives and sons and the grandparents. Another day of hard work, but again we were blessed by the new friendships formed. The family tried hard to offer us hospitality by serving tea and coffee four times. We stopped around noon to eat our sandwiches, but they also cooked chicken and rice for us to eat around 3PM.

The ladies went to the senior center in Ramallah. They had a great time with about 25 senior adult women making things by hand. It was a day that everyone will long remember.

Comments about her experience by Courtney:
If I could sum up my experience so far I would describe it as an awakening. It has made me come to a new understanding on a couple of different levels both intellectual and spiritual.

When I first arrived in Israel I noticed that everything seemed Westernized and modern. It was all so beautiful;even more so that I expected. Conversely, upon entering the West Bank, I was shocked at the impoverished conditions. The conditions were that of a third world country, completely different from the ones I had just witnessed.

It was amazing to me how inaccurate the media portrays the situation here. The popular opinion (especially among evangelicals) is that the Israelis are the ones being persecuted and the Palestinians are the cause of all the evil. That just does not seem to be the case. The portrayal of the Palestinians as radicals and extremists does seem to represent the vast majority of the people. They seem to be warm gracious and hospitable, trying to survive the conditions they are in.

The second "Great Awakening" I've had is personal and spiritual. I am currently working on a Master's of Theology and work as a youth associate minister at our church. In these environments, it is easy for me to base my spirituality on how well I am doing in school and my achievement in the ministry. I came to a point where I felt that I was in the Christian rat race only tiring myself out and not feeling like I was getting anywhere spiritually. I was looking to the fruit of my labor rather than the God who called me.

Being here has brought a new light to James 1:27, a verse I memorized long ago. "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." I have seen this in the little I have done here and especially in the lives of our denominational representatives. I feel that I am doing the Lord's work, not in my studies or in the youth programming, but by meeting people where they are at and trying to show Christ's love through my actions. The amazing thing is how I am not looking to whether I was "successful" but rather to whether I was obedient. This has brought more joy and fulfillment than I could ever imagine. My joy in found in Christ alone. Praise God for what He is doing in the Holy Land and for allowing me to experience a tiny part of it. My prayer is that I may be able to take back all I learn and apply it in the States. I pray that I will not taint my religion by faulting and looking to my won achievement, but instead seek to serve, expecting nothing in return other than that God would use my obedience for His glory.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Texas Volunteers - Sunday

After yesterday's hard work harvesting olives, we weren't sure we'd be able to get our volunteers up today, but they bounded out of bed this morning ready for a new day. OK, I'm exaggerating, but they did get up! They worshipped with the congregation at the Ramallah Local Church. In the afternoon, we drove south to visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity.

Comments from Don about the first day in the country:
Hello to our church in Texas. First, thank each of you who are praying: for our safety, for the Lord to open our ears, eyes and hearts to His truth for us on this trip, and that our representatives in the Holy Land would have God's wisdom and discernment for our time here. Each of these prayers has been answering in a mighty as only God could do. Even though there was a baggage strike at Tel Aviv when we arrived and we couldn't pick up our luggage until 24 hours later, our friends picked us up and took excellent care of us seeing to our every need. What is truly amazing is that we could leave the plains of Texas one day and be visiting where Jesus walked in Galilee the next day. Is was a life changing experience as we rode and walked through the Galilee area. Now when I ready the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 I can almost hear and see Jesus as He was teaching His disciples and the crowds on that mountainside for I have truly walked where Jesus walked and my heart has been opened in a way that will bless me for the rest of my life.

Comments from Jim about the Olive Harvest:
This day stated with prayer for opened hearts and guidance from God through the Holy Spirit. Our plan on this first full day of my first outreach trip was to help a Muslim family harvest olives. This was meant to build a relationship with the families here and allow us to carry out good works that God gave us to do. After a day of: spreading tarps, climbing ladders, beating branches with sticks, bombardment by falling olives, gathering sieving, bagging and transporting, taking photos, exchanging smiles, laughter and respect and sharing food and drink, the prayer was answered. I believe the Holy Spirit did guide us through the day and did open hearts to God's will. It was not only the hearts of those we helped, my heart was opened as well. I truly did not know what to expect to learn or see from helping what I had been told was an average Palestinian family. What I did learn was respect for these warm, genuine, honestly needing and grateful people. I was allowed to see just how much these people were like the trees we harvested from. The olive tree has been used in the Scripture of the Old and New Covenant as an illustration of the people in the Holy Land. As did the Jews and then the early church, the Palestinians certainly follow in line with the illustration. The olive tree struggles to thrive in the harsh Palestinian landscape. Sturdy and steadfast they grow in rocky soil surrounded by sharp thorn bushes and broken walls. Yet, even in this environment they are capable of producing useful and beneficial fruit. These average Palestinians are likewise struggling to exist in a harsh, poverty-stricken environment. Surrounded by the bristling thorns of politics, hatred and mistrust; and the broken stone walls of unforgiving, legalistic religions. They are likewise striving to produce useful and beneficial fruit in the form of their lives and children. How can we who were once grafted into the olive tree of God's family not feel the need to help new branches also be grafted into the body? My heart was opened and my mind was given guidance today. I say we cannot.

Texas Volunteers

We welcomed a group of Texans on Thursday afternoon. This group will be helping with several projects in the West Bank for the next week. The flight was uneventful and they even arrived about 30 minutes early. That is the good news; the bad news is that the luggage handlers were on strike and they didn't get a single piece of their luggage. Oh well, we stopped by the grocery to buy toothbrushes and a few essentials, fed them a light supper and put them to bed.

On Friday we took them to the Galilee to tour. A good day of seeing the country and some of the Biblical sites. We went back by the airport expecting to take several hours to find the luggage if we found it at all. However, in about 20 minutes out they cam with ALL the luggage. PTL!! Off we went to Ramallah in the West Bank to get them settled in their apartment. After supper we spent some time talking about the work that the team will be doing.

On Saturday we were off early to the village of Mazra. We had a GREAT day. Our team and host family harvested a ton of olives (literally - 2000 lbs) It just about killed us, but we did it. Our primary goal was to interact with a Palestinian family and that also exceeded our expectations. It was great to work side-by-side with this family from 8 AM to 5 PM, sit on the ground and share our sandwiches and apples with them and eat their homous and bread at lunch time and then join them in their home after the day's work for a simple meal. Our local partner said the whole village was excited about our coming and that this family will never forget the day the Christians from Texas came to help them harvest olives.

For more pictures of the olive harvest, click HERE.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Walking to Church

When I was living back in the states I often made excuses why I should not go to Church on Sunday. Living in Florida, they were often related to the weather. It was either too hot, too cold, or too nice. Many of us have done this from time to time. We often take for granted the things that are easily accessible and don’t take much effort to obtain. I remember going to Guatemala a few years back and marveling that many of the people in the mountains walk miles to get to Church and do it faithfully. Oh and then of course, they have to walk back up the mountain after Church to get home, no buses or taxies there.

I remember at one of the medical clinics I worked at in Peru a ninety-year-old man came in to the clinic complaining that he got tired when he walked up the mountain in the afternoons. He said it never used to bother him until about a year ago. I tell you I walked half way up one of the mountains in Guatemala to visit a family that lived there and it almost killed me. I remember the mother of the family we were visiting had to stop many times to wait for the gringo. Well at least the trip down the mountain was not as bad as I slid down it mostly. No sidewalks -- you would think they would put in some sidewalks and maybe a few lights.

When I got back from Guatemala, I remember saying I would never miss Church for a lame excuse again after seeing how faithful these people were to get to Church. Unfortunately, I remembered saying it but I did not remember to do it. Once again I took going to Church for granted because it was so easy not to and the Church building wasn’t coming to me. I had put a mountain between the fellowship that the Church provides and me, a mountain that I too often refused to climb.

Fast forward to my arrival here where the nearest Church to my house on Sunday is, you guessed it down the mountain I live on. Now I grant you it is not as big of a mountain as they have in Peru or Guatemala but it is “My” mountain. There are three pictures, which show most of my walk. These are not three pictures of the same steps but each one is a segment that leads to its own landing where I am free to have a heart attack if I need to on the way up.

Now most of you, including me, well mostly me probably not you, are thinking that I have a perfect excuse not to go to Church on Sundays. Well at least I have the option of taking a taxi thus avoiding the mountain altogether. I have to be honest and tell you that this has crossed my mind now and again but I chose to walk down to Church every Sunday and of course back up afterward. That would be cheating if I did not walk up. There are stairs so I least I don’t fall down the mountain on the way to Church.

Why do I now choose to walk the mountain instead of taking the easy way out? For two reasons, the first reason is that it is not easy for some like me to walk the mountain. Believe me if there were an elevator, I would take it. Living here has reminded me that we often take for granted things that come easy. The things we have to work for and at are more meaningful to us and worth having. Walking to Church gives me a new appreciation about what it means to “suffer” for Christ. Now before some of you get on the “I walked to school up hill both ways in the driving snow backwards” soapbox, let me explain that I agree walking up and down a mountain to go to Church does not constitute suffering in the Biblical sense. However, it brings me to my second reason why I chose to climb the mountain to Church.

It reminds me that many people do “suffer” mountains to be able to go to Church. Many of the mountains that stand between Church and them are geographical such as in Peru or Guatemala, or physical such as the inaccessibility of the blind to find someone to drive them to Church. Mountains that stand between Church and us can also be religious intolerance and political mountains. Many people on this side of the world face discrimination or persecution for attending Church. They could lose a job or not get a promotion because they go to Church. Or not get a much-needed scholarship for their children to attend a decent school because they attend Church. Even lose their life or the lives of their loved ones. And don’t think it does not happen here, I recently had a friend “questioned” because he was seen often visiting the homes of “Foreigners”. But despite these almost seeming un-scalable mountains, many people chose to climb their mountain in obedience and love for Christ.

Rather makes my little hill insignificant in comparison but it does make for me a good reminder not to take Church and the fellowship it provides for granted. Perhaps one day God will ask me to climb a more difficult mountain, but until that time, I will continue to walk my little mountain if not in necessity then in remembrance of those whose mountains are much bigger.

Think about the mountain you place or is placed between the Church and you. Do you choose to climb it? Is it really a mountain or are you just making a mountain out of a molehill?

And Jesus answered and said to them, "Truly I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, 'Be taken up and cast into the sea,' it will happen.
(Mat 21:21 NASB emphasis mine)

Posted by LR

Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Special Iftar Meal

Ramadan is over and we've just finished Eid El Fitr, the holiday that follows Ramadan. Below is a story about a meal that several of our team members shared with some Muslim friends during Ramadan.

One large family here considers all of us as part of their family and often invite us for meals. One evening after iftar (the meal at the end of the day to break the fast) the father played for us on his i-pod some Koranic chapters about Jesus and Mary. We all became involved in an intense discussion about Jesus and told them what Jesus means to us in our lives. A Jordanian friend who is a strong Christian was with us. It is customary to serve fruit after a meal. As our Christian friend talked she started brandishing her fruit knife in the air as she made her point. Our host told her to put kown the weapon and we all had a good laugh, but they continued to ask questions

On the way home we talked about our discussions with them. I commented that we just have to agree to disagree. But my co-worker has a different point of view. She thinks it’s apparent that they keep bringing up religious discussions because they are seekers, that they are trying to convince themselves of their beliefs, and that when they are around us, they feel God’s Holy Spirit in us. It is they who always bring up religions topics. I have to believe that God will answer our prayers and bring them to the Light and Truth. As my co-worker says, their spirits are responding to His Spirit within us. I think they see the difference Christ makes in our lives. Every day I pray that they put their faith in Him to find true life.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Making the World a Safer Place

I came across this quote a while back and in light of the numerous events in recent weeks around the globe, we become more aware of how true this statement is.

"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don't do anything about it." (Albert Einstein)

Yet, despite what we see around the world, we are not dismayed for our trust is in the words of our Lord and Savior who said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (Jn 14:27)

So, what can we do? Without oversimplifying, let me suggest 3 things: The first two are found in Matt. 22:37-39:
1."Love the Lord your God with all your heart ... soul ... and mind ... and ...
2. love your neighbor as yourself."
3. Paul suggests in I Thes. 5:17 "Pray continually."

Not by our own strength!!
But we are not alone. We have a great cloud of witnesses who have modeled this pattern (Heb 11-12).

May we all be found faithful in following their examples.

Posted by GM

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Ramadan Shopping Trip

This is Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. Muslims fast from sunup to sundown during Ramadan. I have heard stories that during Ramadan things can get crazy because people are in a big rush to get home so that they can end their fast. I was also told that the streets could turn into the Indianapolis 500 and the stores into a contact sport. Well as I said, I ventured out not too far just to the little market or “suuq” up the block to buy a few things, I really did not need anything but it was nice to get out. The walk to the suuq was mostly uneventful with the exception of people who normally would be at work were now out shopping, it was about 2:30 in the afternoon and the streets were busy.

Well I figured the suuq couldn’t be that bad it is just a little store and they just sell a few items, nothing anybody really needed. However, when I arrived at the suuq I found normally rational people transformed by hunger waiting in long lines, for the same things that no one waits on line for before or after Ramadan. I was starting to think Ramadan means “Holiday of Lines” in Arabic. People were grabbing things off the shelves as if it was the last one on earth. Well thank God I needed only a few unessential items and could have come back another time but since I was there I went in to the suuq and I found my openings and grabbed what I could including a few thing I did not want.

Well, I finally made it to the checkout line with my few precious items. The line was long for such a little store and I quickly noticed people would just cut right up front to the annoyance of those who were waiting. Now let me say that this is not to unusual anytime of the year in Jordan where the concept of waiting on line is often absent, but it was worse today than usual. The cutters, as I now labeled them, used any pretext that they could devise to say why they should not have to wait like everyone else. Hunger will make people do silly things and act in unkindly ways. Well, I vowed immediately that I was not going to let anyone cut in front of me. My blood was raised and the challenge was on and I did not want to look weak in front of the other customers. I felt like a defensive lineman whose team was making a goal line stance.

My first challenge was an 65-year-old man; I thought there is no way he is going to get in front of me. However, I made my first mistake by allowing a postage stamp size piece of the counter to show. Well, the man tried to empty his basket of food and put it on the counter on the postage stamp size counter that was left. I guess he figured no one was using it and since the 10 people, standing in line behind me didn’t use it they really did not want to leave the store. This small patch of counter space became an imaginary goal line to me. I defended it with some very skillful movements so the old man was no match for me. He soon gave up and out maneuvered the person behind me using an empty shopping cart. I guess he figured that if he could not get into the end zone, he was going for a field goal.

Now let me say this before you judge me too harshly, normally I would have let this poor man go right a head of me, but this was different. I had things that I needed badly and could not do without and had to get them home before dark, it was hot, and I was thirsty and hungry. I was on a line that was long to begin with, several people had already cut ahead. Also there were numerous other challengers that were successfully repulsed by others in line. Well anyway, with that challenge behind me I was feeling smug and let my guard down. So in circled a young man about 21 to give me a second challenge. The clerk had already begun ringing up several of my items when this young man, apparently with no respect for his elders, put his items in front of my unchecked items. I guess he figured that he could check out in between my things. I quickly repulsed his attack and he ended up in front of the old man who was no match for him. Well finally, I was checked out with all of my much-needed items and left the store in triumph.

On my way out of the suuq there were two men yelling at each other. Apparently, one had parked behind the other so he could not get out. Well, I am still leaning Arabic so I was not sure exactly what they were saying to each other but one guy was telling the other guy to eat a lot of it. “Kull” is the word for eat in Arabic. I think he was suggesting a way for him to break his fast. One thing I am sure of is he wasn’t telling him Ramadan Kareem.

As I was walking down the street, I became very self-confident thinking how much more sophisticated we Westerners are and that I succeeded in procuring 5 lbs of macaroni that will take me 3 months to eat. We would never do anything like this in the states. So in my self-confidence I began humming a little tune. I soon realized that the tune I was humming was jingle bells. Then it hit me Ramadan is not that much different from the weeks before and after Christmas in the states.

I then realized to my shame that we often are caught up in the moment and events of the holidays, and in trying to obey the first of the greatest commandments “To love the Lord you God with all you heart, mind and soul” we often fail to obey the second greatest commandment. Jesus told us “to love our neighbor as we love ourselves.” It often becomes more important to “buy” that hot toy, which will either brake or be forgotten in a week, or those few items we could never do without that sit in our cupboards for years un opened and uneaten. Or to fast all day to show everyone how righteous you are or be seen in Church for a few weeks before Christmas.

The Psalmist tell us that God does “not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.” (Psalms 51:16-17 NASB) The idea here is, that any mere external offering, however precious, or costly it might be to us, is not what God is looking for. Going to Church for the holidays, fasting during the day, giving until it hurts or bankrupts us, or anything else is useless without love toward our fellow man. God demands the expression of deep and sincere repentance; the sacrifices of a contrite heart and of a broken spirit towards Himself and others.

After Jesus told the people listening to Him what were the two greatest commandments a scribe listening to Jesus said “And to love Him (God) with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love the neighbor as himself, is more than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices. And seeing that he had answered intelligently, Jesus said to him, You are not far from the kingdom of God. And no one dared to question Him any more.” (Mar 12:33-34 MKJV) Next time I venture out to the suuq or anywhere else I won’t look at the “things” I don’t really need so wantonly and so what if a few people get ahead in line. Maybe they do have a good reason.

Posted By LR who is about ready for another shopping adventure.

“…in hundreds of ways during these Ramadan days”

All that remains from a burned out tire is black soot and wire. Black soot is covering Gaza these days. Unhappy, unpaid government workers are making their feelings known. We passed many, many burned out tires. Our apartment has a thin layer of black dust covering everything. Even our towels had a thin layer of dust perched on top.

What a mess. Why is it that Gaza gets into your heart so ?
Even our taxi drive on the way in was an enormous cultural experience. The car was held together by electrical tape. Our driver couldn’t quit muttering…at one point I heard him asking under his breath for just “a little order.” These days that is asking a lot !

Having lived outside of the Strip for nearly three years, I find that I can now see Gaza more as others see her. I am amazed at the dirt and garbage. The three year old that takes the garbage sack out to the dumpster can’t throw it high enough to actually get into the dumpster…so most of the garbage is on the ground rather than inside it ….which is convenient for those who have taken to going through the garbage in order to find anything to eat or sell…in order to buy food.

I wanted to pay the people who got out of their cars to try to untangle the huge traffic jam that we all created this a.m.
(It’s Ramadan, you know) People and cars were literally so tangled up that it took four men stopping cars to get us “a loose.” Electricity is still scarce. Hence, no traffic lights.
Hence the traffic jam. To call it a traffic jam doesn’t really capture the full picture. Cars, trucks, donkey carts and people were so tightly packed that we couldn’t right ourselves.

We foolishly got in the middle of a huge demonstration. I had quite a long time to people watch. Gaza is such a strange paradox. The desperately poor wander amidst meticulously dressed businessmen. I admire them so much. We are awaiting the rains still, so Gaza is horribly dry and dusty. Yet men and women walk down the streets with shiney shoes. I have long since quit dusting mine off. Really now…what’s the point? Well, the point is that honorable men and women look their very best. And indeed they do…look their very best. (I must begin again presenting myself better when among them!)

One of our first friends came to help us today. He told us the tale of his family. His wife literally lost her mind and left him about a year ago. Five mufti’s put their heads together to solve the problem. In the end, our friend has to pay his wife 2,000. j.d.’s !! SHE left HIM and in order for her to return home HE must pay HER. WHAT? She had previously destroyed almost everything they owned so we were happy that we could help them (…I am in a cleaning out mood and the storage room was a disaster. AGAIN. ) How I wanted to tell our friend that he really should trade his religion (his word) for my full and rich relationship with the One True God.
Perhaps tomorrow I can find a way to slip that in…again…when
we are working together again. (a little bit difficult. P and I fasted today whether we intended to or not because we couldn’t eat with our buddy around.) We will find a way to pay him and help his family have a little bit of a happier Ramadan.

Due to clashes between Fateh and Hamas, church services were cancelled. (it is right down town in the area where the clashes were located) So we were privileged today to have our own private worship service. Praying still that the Lord will break into our friends’ lives in hundreds of ways during these Ramadan days.

Posted by HL

Friday, September 29, 2006

Iftar with Friends

Iftar is the daily meal that breaks the fast during the month of Ramadan. This past week, one of our co-workers had the opportunity to share an Iftar meal with friends.

I definitely have mixed feelings about Ramadan. In some ways I hate it and in others it is enjoyable and provides opportunities for relationship building and maybe even witness opportunities. I have been invited to eat iftar with the same family the first day of Ramadan during my four years here in this city.

The family have me to arrive a few minutes before iftar begins. I help them set the table and set the food on the table. Then we must wait for the exact moment of sunset. We listen to the call to prayer from the mosque. We may be sitting at the table, and the moment they hear the call to prayer, then we start eating. Usually people break their fast by eating a date and then a bowl of soup. After that comes the main meal, usually rice and chicken and salad.

Later, after clearing the table, we go to the sitting room, where we are served tea and something sweet. During Ramadan there is a special sweet called atayef (a-TAY-ef), which is like a small pancake wrapped around cream cheese, coconut, or nuts and fried. Only during Ramadan do we get this special treat.

After we finished eating, my friend's daughter, Heba, who is a university student, helped me with my next Bible story. I had prepared the story of the baptism of Jesus. She listened and corrected my Arabic, and then we recorded the next story on tape, the temptation of Jesus, for me to practice. I left with her the story of Jesus healing a paralytic. I was thrilled that as she looked it over, she remarked on what a nice story, and she looks forward to translating it from English into Arabic. I love doing stories because it may involve the whole family. They all like to get in on translating and then listening and correcting me. I think it's a marvelous opportunity that as I let them teach me Arabic, they are being taught God's Word.

Posted by PF

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Circus Comes to Town

The circus came to our city in Jordan for the first time! Not exactly what we Americans think of as a circus, but at least it was something for our city, which has the atmosphere of a huge, overgrown village. It was a Russian circus. When people asked me about the animals, I told them there was one animal featured, a dog that was dressed as an elephant! Never have my friends and I laughed so much together as when I told them about the dog that performed as an elephant!

It happened this way: in my English class, we had a lesson which featured pictures of people doing stunts in a circus ring, so since I had heard that a circus had come to town, I suggested that we go together. Only three guys showed up to go with me. They had found out that the circus began at 6:00, but when we arrived at the big tent, no other cars were there. We were told that the first night the time had been changed to 7:00, so the three guys and I went to the doughnut shop for coffee.

It was their first time to be at a circus, except for one, who had completed his medical degree in Russia. He was not that impressed since he has seen much greater performances in Russia. We bought the first class tickets, so got to sit right down next the ring. Of course, the circus didn't begin at 7:00. After all, this is Jordan. So we sat talking and watching a woman sell noisy toys to children. My students said now they understood why it was half price for children. They would end up paying as much because of the toys they bought.

The smells and sounds were overpowering, and we began discussing what it reminded us of. I told them with all the sounds it reminded me of a barnyard! They laughed at the idea of our sitting in a barnyard. That got us into a discussion of the meaning of barnyard and barn! I had just done a story of Jesus birth in the chronological Bible storying that I do with other friends, so I had learned a new word for stable. When I told them this word for stable, they all laughed, because it was a very colloquial word. From that, I had the chance to relate the whole story of Jesus' birth!

The performance included a 65-year-old woman who was able to spin many hoola hoops around various parts of her body. She awed the audience with her slender, agile body because of her age and youthful-looking appearance. There were people on the flying trapeze, a man who stacked chairs at various angles and did acrobatic tricks on them, a man who threw knives all around a brave woman, as she stood against a block of wood, a man who swallowed swords and ate fire, as well as the dog dressed as an elephant.

The guys told me that children today have so much more than they had as they were growing up. They had never seen a performance like this when they were children.

Afterwards we wanted to have our pictures with the performers, but the head of security stopped us and would not allow it. As we were about to leave, I had an idea. I thought it would be delightful if we could meet the performers and maybe take them out to eat, since my student could communicate with them in Russian.

We tried to re-enter, and called out to the head of security who had talked with us. He said, "Sorry, but we could not do so." But he suggested that we come another day and he would allow us to meet them. So, that's a possibility for the future. The circus will remain here throughout Ramadan and then for a time afterwards.

Posted by PF

Monday, September 25, 2006

Our Special Friendship

Our friendship with Dr. G. , a dean at a nearby university, continues to grow even though we aren't actually together as much as we once were. Yet, he still relies on us and contacts us just to stay "close" and constantly is encouraging us to come to his office for a visit, etc. At times when we are there, he will seek our advice and/or ideas about all sorts of things and, on one occasion, had me write a letter for him. Recently, his university held a big conference for educators from all over the Arabic world. There were 85 countries represented. Dr. G. called us and insisted that we participate and we did go with him to a celebration night at a really nice restaurant. We were happy to meet so many interesting people from so many countries. This was a really fun evening for us and Dr. G. seemed so pleased that we joined him and the others for this relaxing evening. About a week later, he called, as usual, just checking on us and he added a comment (unsolicited) that has "rested in our hearts" and to us, very unlike him - he said, "You know, you are like family to me." This is an endearing comment, wouldn't you say? HIS love can do ALL things!!!! We give HIM only praise for HIS love passing through us to Dr G.

Posted by J.&G.A.

Friday, September 22, 2006

A Jordanian Hospital Visit

I was so sick yesterday that I was dehydrated so I had to go to the hospital for an IV. It was interesting to see the Jordanian medical system at work. The Doctor and the Nurse were very good and had a great bedside manner. Everyone there spoke English, which I was grateful for, as I did not really feel like speaking any Arabic. Not only was the service good and quick, I was in and out in about 2 hours, and it was very cheap. It cost a total of about 30 JD or about $42 for the emergency room visit, the medication in the IV and the IV and the two prescriptions. Medical expenses are very cheap here but most people who live here have no medical insurance and have to pay it out of pocket.

The Nurse talked to me about Ramadan, which begins either Saturday or Sunday depending on the moon. This month is holy to Muslims. The subject came up because they were putting up decorations for Ramadan. During Ramadan Muslims fast during daylight hours and eat during the evening. I was told by a cab driver that the first few days are the hardest, as they must refrain from drinking any liquid, smoking, and eating during the day. He said it is especially difficult not to smoke as most of the men here smoke. I am often offered a cigarette in a taxi. Having been a former smoker I know what it is like to have to try and not smoke for a few hours and I also remember how irritable I would become. I thank God that he helped me break the chains of that addiction.

I am told that many Muslims begin a spiritual journey toward the good news during this time than in any other. Dreams and visions are a part of a lot of Muslim’s story of coming to the good news, mostly during Ramadan. I will pray that God crosses my path with some of them.

Posted by LR -- who is feeling some better today.

Don't Jump! Don't Jump!

The remodeling in our office building has been taxing (to say the least) not only to teachers but to the students. This week (the sixth week of this three-week remodeling project) I had commented to the last class for that day that IF one more thing happened, I thought that I would just jump out of the window. Well, you guessed it, that "one more thing" happened and true to my word, I smiled, threw the book into the air, jumped up from the chair and threw back the curtain and the window screen. This large class of men was roaring with laughter as this "nutty old" teacher pretended to get into the "diving" position. Suddenly, one of the men jumped up; ran to me; grabbed me by the arm and shouted, "Don't jump! Don't jump! PLEASE don't jump! We don't want the American Ambassador coming over here thinking we pushed you!" Well, the laughter could be heard a mile away! A co-worker came to the class stating that her class wanted to know what was going on. Interestingly, all of the class understood the significance - no one cared IF I jumped; they just didn't want any American thinking they had pushed me out of the window!!

Posted by GA -- who didn't jump after all!!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Monday Night Visitation

Recently, we ran some errands by taxi . We had the taxi take us to our office. My husband and the driver waited while I retrieved what I needed. When I returned to the car, the driver had given two tapes to my husband. The driver popped one into his cassette player to show us what he had gifted us with and it was the Koran being chanted, one verse at a time followed by the translation spoken in very clear English and we listened until we reached our place. We asked the driver to wait a moment. I ran in and got a full Arabic Bible from the apartment (the driver knew little to no English). We thanked him for his gift to us and we TRIED to tell him that we are followers of Jesus and that this is our Book. He did accept our gift.

We do not know if there is any connection between this event and the one we are about to share, but it is a possibility. As we drove from the office to our place, we passed a large mosque near our home. The driver mentioned to us about the Imam, (mosque leader) and we think he was saying that he and the Imam were friends. We told him that we knew him and his family and that we visited with them regularly.

The above event happened on a Friday night. On the following Monday evening, my husband left the office early because we had eight people for dinner that night. I rushed home as soon as I could to find J standing at the door smiling. I had just missed some very special visitors - a group of men -- the “Monday night visitation” committee of the nearby mosque. These men told him that they visited homes every Monday night.
We are thinking that possibly the Friday night event and our Monday night visitation are connected since we have lived in the same place for two years and the visitation committee just found us.

We are hopeful that they will return - maybe EVERY Monday evening - especially when we are both here. We want to give them refreshments AND the BEST REFRESHMENT - even if just a crumb or drop at the time.

Though this may sound a bit strange to some, we are excited about the potential of this group of men coming to our place. Won't you join with us in asking that this group of men will come again - and again and again and again? We don't believe they just happened our way - we believe HE has "directed their steps" and has a plan - we just KNOW they are seekers!

Posted by J&G who live in Jordan.

Reflections on My First Days #2

I took a cab to meet my Arabic tutor for the first time. Unfortunately I was at the wrong place but my new friend came over by taxi to meet me. The good part about this was that my cell phone was still not working; God does work in strange ways, so I had to borrow a phone. I went over to a stand that sells snacks and drinks that is by the bus station. There a man let me use his phone to call my tutor. Another man who works there, whose name is Maher (meaning skillful or professional), speaks a little English. It is very important to know that first names here have a meaning and it is very important to the individual. While I was waiting for the tutor, I spoke to him and he mentioned if I had know of Toastmasters, again it is amazing how God works, and of course I told him I did. He said that he was had attended a few times and gave me the number so I could contact them. In addition, he gave me his cell number and told me to give him a call, which I plan to do. He is an answer to prayer as I was asking God to send someone to me that could show me around. I will pray that this relationship grows. I am also hoping to make some friends at toastmasters.

Several days later, L had these observations.
I went to my first Arabic church service tonight night. It was a wonderful experience even though I did not understand a word of it. I did understand the numbers to a degree for example when they said page numbers, verse numbers, or song numbers. They sang many songs last night and even had a young person there with a little guitar. I look forward to attending again next Wednesday and I met some very nice people. I could not remember their names but will have to work on that. I also look forward to becoming familiar with Arabic so that I could understand the service.
I have been exploring more the town and shopping in the stores. I found a good place to get Shawarma (a gyro type sandwich) down in town. A funny story, I saw some signs posted on poles around town. The signs are in Arabic so I could not read them. They look like yard sale signs so I ask some people here if they were yard sale signs. They said no they do not have yard sales here because most people sell in the bazaar, that they were signs for children to sign up for school. I was much relived to think that I might have finally escaped yard sales. A few days latter, I was speaking to some other people and they were telling me that they are now seeing signs for yard sales in the area. I guess they have followed me over the ocean. Next thing you know some one is going to ask me to help them with a yard sale. I guess I will have to buy a truck now.

Posted by LR

Saturday, September 16, 2006


The old saying, “When it rains, it pours” is applicable no matter where my husband and I seem to live. Sometimes we visit with our neighbors or they visit us rather spasmodically; then sometimes we are showered with visits of one nature or the other. Yesterday was one of those “pouring” days and I don’t mean rain…but let me back up a day or two.

Late one evening while sitting at my computer desk on the second floor of our flat, I heard a voice outside my window which seemed rather close. In turning around to look, I saw a young man wobbly balancing on our window ledge trying to tie some streamers to our window grill. You can only imagine my surprise as I spoke with him regarding his intentions. In assessing the situation, I realized we were going to have a wedding a few doors down the street and our home was one of the designated ‘decorated’ ones.

Back to yesterday…it all began when a dear neighbor brought over a plate full of wara aynab (grape leaves stuffed with cooked seasoned rice and ground beef). They were still warm and absolutely delicious. After my husband and I indulged, I went outside to see what all the loud banging was about. That is when I witnessed the erection of a huge tent-like structure totally blocking our street and thus closing off traffic from both ends. Various lighting was hung in strategic places and chairs were placed around the parameter of the tent. This enormous structure was decorated with large beautiful red Persian like carpets which became the walls of the tent. This street tent was the designated area for the men’s wedding party that evening.

While outside, one of the neighbor girls invited me into their home for a visit. As we were visiting, the man of the house came in and invited my husband and me for lunch that afternoon around 3:30 p.m. Realizing that lunch here in our neighborhood is not at noon, but in the middle of the afternoon and supper/dinner is not served until around 10 p.m. Anyway, we made a cake and went for ‘lunch.’ As usual the food was absolutely delicious and way too much. We enjoyed roasted chicken, a special rice dish with nuts, and a cucumber/tomato salad with yogurt. Afterwards, tea was served along with my cake, followed by Arabic coffee and cookies. So much for dieting…. During our visit, the man of the house informed us we were to leave the decorations up until after Ramadan was over which we agreed to do. (Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting but it is also a celebration.)

But an interesting thing happened…while I was being invited to lunch by one neighbor, my husband was visiting with another neighbor and later we were both invited to lunch at his home on the same day. Of course, we had to regretfully decline and hope there will be a ‘rain-check.’

I would be amiss if I did not mention that my husband attended the wedding party for the men…a very festive and LOUD party with plenty of fireworks and dancing. You see, in this culture, the men have their party the evening before the bride has her party. So tonight, the groom will go and get his bride and take her to her party. The bride’s party is where she will wear her beautiful wedding gown, a multi-tired wedding cake will be cut with a very huge sword, and her groom will give her a large amount of gold jewelry. By the way, the groom is the only man allowed to come to the women’s party.

As you can see we had a rather full day, but I must admit, I loved every minute of it. These precious people really know how to enjoy food and celebrate a wedding!

Posted by a n a

Reflections on My First Days

We have a new team member who will be studying Arabic in Amman. Here are some of his experiences from his first days in the country.

I arrived last night in Amman at 3 am local time or about 8 pm Eastern Time. It is a little strange but exciting at the same time being here in a different city and in a different culture. I went to Church tonight (Saturday) instead of Sunday because here Sunday is a regular workday for many believers so services are on Saturday night. The service I attended had almost every tongue, tribe, and nation represented. It was really a great experience to worship with so many different people from all over the world it reminded me of chapter five verse nine in the Book of Revelation.

It is strange to me to hear the call to prayer as there is a Mosque right down the road. They tell me that I will get used to it over time

A day or two later, he writes…
I have been quietly observing the people where I live, a very conservative town on the eastern side of Amman. It is a great place to live and learn the Arab language but also to learn the culture. The town is made up of predominantly Palestinian and Iraqi refugees, many who have been here for years. The people here celebrate weddings with a lot of shouting and fireworks. Some people back home would consider it very noisy here. They celebrate weddings with fireworks and walk the streets having conversations, meeting, and greeting each other. Because very few places have air-conditioning here, including my home, all the windows are open so you can hear all the conversations. Even though I do not understand them, I can tell that they are enjoying life during these celebrations.

Tomorrow I plan to go to the store myself, which should be interesting, but most all of the products have English and Arabic labels so shopping is not that hard. I feel less intimidated on going out by myself, I guess there was an advantage on being raised in New York and going to the City often. Living here reminds me a lot of New York. I remember visiting my family in the city and it was very much like here. Having grownup in an Italian culture, I see many similarities with Arab cultures.

Posted by RL

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Greetings from the Beautiful Shores of Gaza

A few days ago, I received the following from an Egyptian-German friend living and working in Gaza. I hope his words touch you as they did me. P.L.

greetings from the beautiful shores of Gaza.

my times of isolation are not so much defined by a social isolation from others who know me, but rather by distance from people i can truly worship with. Some of the categories that are real in my mind mean little to others here. I seek to not only worship and pray as Jesus did but live a life that reflects his. I want to worship God, seek truth, serve the unserved and oppose the powers of deception, the powers of force. Jesus did all these things with a consuming humility to bring to light, to embody the kingdom of God. This is both the God i worship and the Jesus I seek to be.

at times it helps to understand this inner cry for companionship when I recognize the content of my differences with the community I live in. I realized this past week, as i was driving home in a rackety taxi from a volleyball game in Jabalya refugee camp and an afternoon visit with my atheist/agnostic professor friend, that very few people get to see what I see through the eyes of an outsider as I do. As warning messages are reported about the danger of foreigners in Gaza, I remain in part because I do not fear and I may just fit in enough. Along with this rare opportunity comes an isolation that shakes me. Trying to understand, to peer into a society that is unseen by so many, I also have become isolated from the outside world but unlike others around me, who belong here and are known by their own, I am isolated in the sense that I am so rarely understood by people whose exposure to the world has been so minimal. All this sounds elitist.

Gaza is a constant downward spiral, I will spare you the details this time. Suffice it to say I struggle at times knowing there is a kingdom of God made up of disciples that seek to walk the walk of Christ and yet a world such as this one still exists in this cage. i consider myself part of the cause of the hell of this place. i am not surrounded by lambs here, that only seek peace and love each other. I live in a community of broken and often selfish people, like any other place. Some who seek good and others who don't. I live among fishermen, resistance fighters, doctors, thieves and politicians. It is made up of exactly the kind of people that lived in the world that Jesus walked. What concerns me is how forgotten this place is. It is a sense you can get both in the church I attend here, forgotten by its fellow Christians, but much more so in the people all around, forgotten by their fellow humans. They are a marked people, their character has already been decided upon, accordingly, their fate has been determined.

Jesus never lived by pre-conceived notions, but acts rather naive at times towards the people he encounters. It is a trust he lived that knew no boundaries, even when he knew what human hearts were made of. Here I have been shocked by the hospitality and kindness from a people who have exceedingly little. And this has come predominantly from outside of the church. At times strangers, families in refugee camps, friends who live from aid agencies' distributions still invite me in for tea, juice or a meal. This is what Jesus came with, a drink, a meal. In the course of the love story we learn that the drink and meal was himself. and I learn that so much of my existence is about giving drinks and meals, work of my own hands, whether spiritual or physical there is little need to distinguish between these two synthetic spheres. It's the matter of giving that is at stake.

I choose to give rather than take, i find it hard.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Home Again

Thank you, faithful readers, for checking our blog. We have been away for several weeks and have not posted. We are back at home and will be posting again in a day or two.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A visit to Lebanon before the war

In May, a couple from our team and three volunteers went to Lebanon for a week. Our purpose was to pray for the 400,000+ Palestinians and search for ways that we might be able to minister to them in the future. We had named the trip “Fortress Gate.” Even before the war there was so much political division that it was very difficult to gain access to Palestinians. They were behind a wall--in a fortress. However, we were not discouraged because we knew that God had a gate.

The first morning one of our volunteers shared this verse: Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up of you ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in. Who is he, this King of Glory? The Lord Almighty - he is the King of Glory. (Ps 24:7 & 10)

About 60% of the Palestinians live in the 12 UN refugee camps around the country. Most of the other 40% live in the neighborhoods surrounding the camps. The camps are located from the north to the south of the country. Most of them are near the major cities of Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon and Tyre.

We stayed in Beirut and traveled from north to south. In Beirut we tried to follow up on contacts who were friends of friends, but didn’t have much success. We had prayed before and all during this trip that God would open the doors He wanted us to enter so we considered these closed doors an answer to prayer. Although it was difficult to be turned down again and again, we kept reminding ourselves that these rejections were God’s direction for us. Access to Palestinian areas is restricted and Lebanese can’t understand why anyone would want to try. “Why do you want to visit Palestinians?” seemed to be the question we were most often asked. Even Believers were wary of any involvement with Palestinians. It was a very difficult process we underwent as we slowly began to realize how reviled our people group is in that country. We experienced a tiny portion of the rejection that Palestinins in Lebanon experience on a daily basis. We were finally welcomed by an organization in one of the smaller camps that provided services for handicapped children. We were very impressed with the work they were doing and felt that we could partner with this group to help Palestinian children around the country.

As we travelled to the north and south we saw most of the tourist sites. (We were, after all, in the country as tourists.) That was an added bonus that we all enjoyed. While in Tripoli, we did convince our driver to take us through El Baddawi, the smaller of the two refugee camps in the area. We were thrilled to be so close to the Pals we so love. It was a wonderful blessing to be able to look at them as we slowly drove through the camp, praying as we went for each person that God so loves….

Another day we drove south to Sidon and Tyre. In Sidon, we were prevented from entering Ein el Helweh refugee camp by Lebanese military. We prayed anyway as we drove around the outside of the camp. In Tyre, the camp, El Buss, is next to the ancient ruins of the city. So, we stood on the ancient Roman road overlooking the camp and prayed for all the residents.

We had a very good "first trip". We knew in advance that breaking new ground would be a challenge. Palestinians living in Lebanon have limited opportunities for education and employment. They are politically isolated. As a result, most Palestinians live in dire poverty. Because of the history of political and ethnic division it is difficult to gain access to Palestinian areas. However, we are confident that God wants the best for these people. We hope to return to the area soon. In the mean time, we will be mobilizing people to pray.

One of our volunteers made the following comments:

I returned home with a big question mark... ????????????????????

The entire time we walked N,S,E and W... I sensed something. It was difficult to say was different than what we were physically seeing on the surface. It seemed that there was so much hidden just beneath the surface. I had NO idea how true this turned out to be! [Br. Andrew helped me understand this. Upon my return I read his latest book, Light Force, and gasped at the similarities he sensed. He wrote what I sensed.] It was a sad affirmation that my discernment was accurate. I did not verbalize these deep struggles with the team. I did not want to "over spiritualize" things.

I felt no freedom in this land...perhaps because so many of our prayers needed to be spoken in secret silence. Strange. I have never had to be so verbally silent before! It tested my faith. My spirit felt kind of quenched. I had no access to my Bible...which is why the verses on those index cards were such a good idea! I regret that I had not understood this better at the time! I had kind of a dull spirit. Sorry about this. We were in the throes of unseen spiritual opposition and I felt it every step!

One of my distinct memories is standing on the world's largest rock in Baelbek, planting an imaginary banner of C. I celebrate the fact that I had the opportunity to proclaim "This territory belongs to HIM. He purchased on the day of Calvary." to the principalities, powers, and spiritual hosts of wickedness. I remember how our friend got kind of upset with me because of all the "eyes" around. His words surprised me. Even so, I was confident that praise words needed to be released into the air directly to the principalities of the air! His word will not return void! Hallelujah!

This is the brief version of my impressions of Lebanon. Surely, this is strategic work! Will the Lord ever allow for me to return with a powerful prayer team? Only He knows.
I want to thank you for allowing me to be part of this team. I am not over it, nor do I ever want it to be over!

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Dusty Day in Gaza

Gaza is never pretty in August. It hasn’t rained in months so everything is covered in dust. The heat makes everything look tired and dilapidated. People move slowly if at all. When I visited yesterday, everything seemed more forlorn than ever. However, the tension was not as palpable as it was last week.

I was able to arrive in time to worship with the small group who gathered. They seemed to be holding their own. The chaos has developed some predictability. They are without electricity 12-16 hours per day; if they have electricity during the day today, they will usually have it during the night tomorrow. Water remains a problem. Most people have pumps that push the water up to holding tanks on their roofs. Water is intermittent and electricity is intermittent. If the water doesn’t come when they have electricity, the water doesn’t reach the holding tanks. Most people use bottled gas for cooking like people in the U.S. use for gas grills. There is a shortage of gas and people can wait for days to get their bottles filled. I didn’t go into a grocery, but there seemed to be plenty of fruit and vegetables in the market. Of course, very few people have money to buy even basics.

Our food distribution project continues at full speed. We are really proud of our partners who are working very hard to minister to the needy people around them.

I talked with one friend who has been a surgeon for 30 years. He said that in the last few days they were seeing fewer injuries. In all his years of caring for victims of violence, he has never seen the kinds or degrees of injuries that they have treated recently. They have had to amputate many arms and legs because of the severity of the injuries.

I had planned to go with a friend to Deir al Bellah to visit a development project that we hope to jointly fund. My friend had a conflict and had to cancel. When the taxi picked me up to take me back to the border, the driver told me that Israeli tanks and bulldozers had just entered Deir al Bellah. Another example of God’s protection!

The war in the north has captured the attention of the media, but the ordinary people of Gaza continue to suffer. Please remember them in your prayers.

Friday, August 04, 2006

It Doesn't Get Much Better

I heard a great story today that I’d like to share:

Rita is Jewish and lives in a small town adjacent to Jerusalem. (I can’t say where, but you'd know what Biblical even happened there if I mentioned the name.) Rita is also a follower of Jesus. She has been having some remodeling done to her home. Almost all the builders in Israel are Arab. She’s been telling the men who are working in her house about Jesus. (in Hebrew) My friend and local co-worker, Jeries, got a call from Rita earlier this week – It was one of those friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend kind of things. Anyway, Rita wanted him to come out to her house and talk to these men. (in Arabic) One of them, Sa’ad, was very interested.

Jeries took Bibles to give to the men when he went to Rita’s house. Sa’ad told him that he was disillusioned with the faith of his fathers because it does not have the power to change a man from inside. They had a good talk and set a time that Jeries could visit him at home. He lives in a village not far from Bethlehem in the West Bank.

As I write this (Friday afternoon – our time) Jeries is at Sa’ad’s home. Please pray with us that Sa’ad can come to know the Power that can change his heart. We'll keep you posted.

Posted by PL

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Day in Gaza

We went to Gaza yesterday for the first time since the soldier was kidnapped from his post outside southern Gaza. It was a day filled with a lot of emotion. Crossing the border was easy. We zipped along in a taxi with a driver that we have known for a long time. We were chatting and catching up on Gaza news when all three of us realized at the same time that not another car was on the road. Bad sign. Abu Yosef slowed down. Just about that time we saw militiamen on the sides of the road....ready for whatever was going to happen next. Then we saw probably 100 men on the left side of the road almost in a line...were they hiding from the Israelis? Hard to know. Abu Yosef got us through that portion of the road and then pulled over to ask what was going on.
The Israeli army was inside the area just to our left. I read this a.m. that 23 people were killed in that area and in Jabaliya yesterday and last night. sigh.
Just past that neighborhood we turned off to the right and found life going as if nothing was happening just four or five blocks away. Right away I noticed friends greeting one another with big smiles. What a stark contrast to the deserted streets we had just driven through.

Abu Yosef dropped me at the Deaf School. Everyone there was doing well. They were having a big sale for the in house staff. I was welcomed to buy but things were being sold very cheaply and I thought it best to leave them for the Palestinians who otherwise don't make enough to purchase items from the Crafts Shop. I have always been struck by the fact that the men and women work so hard to create the crafts and are never able to purchase anything in the store because their paychecks are the only ones in their homes...and must go for other necessities instead. I saw many of our friends. One of our dearest friends had gone home. He is the father of 8 children. The incursion was very near his home and he left early to be with them. I discovered that Gerry Shawa, our friend and director of the school has taken a break and gone to America. She was one of about 85 Americans and Palestinian/Americans who got out recently when the American government help them all to leave at one time. We saw Suhad, one of our old Nursing students. I assured her that all of her old teachers were praying for her daily.

P went to the bank to conduct our business and then we headed for the compound. As we drove through the city, I thought Gaza looked as bad as I have ever seen least in recent years. The garbage has won. It is always a challenge for the city to keep up with it...but it's apparent that it has now won --hands down. Those of you familiar with the area will remember that the garbage near the compound was always rank...but entrails were everywhere. My thought was how terribly unhealthy it was !! Many times during our visit there, I wondered how we lived there for eighteen years. I also wondered why I am not living there now. The need remains so very great.

Everyone was thrilled to see us. We were welcomed with open arms. Most asked why we didn't come before. Well... everyone who was NOT in Gaza is asking why we went this time !! We could hardly find out how everyone was coping because they were too busy asking about us ! NEVERMIND about us, we live where everyday is a vacation in Jerusalem. We wanted to know about them. We were reminded again of just how gracious and wonderful Palestinians are. They are so tenacious. Almost everyone was doing well, ilhumdulillah.
(praise God) A few admitted to being afraid "...but what can we do? " It's true. What CAN they do ? Nothing except try to find a bit of normalcy in their otherwise abnormal lives.

Death is a constant companion. One foreign friend who has just returned spoke of attending a wedding recently. During the wedding celebrations, five loud booms erupted. Nothing changed, no one stopped the celebrations. The next morning he heard that five people had been killed. He was struck with the complexity of celebration amid death. He is confused as to how to manage it all. It is completely a life of living out Scripture as he rejoices with those who rejoice and weeps with those who are weeping....except that it is happening all at the same time. Admittedly, it is a lot to manage emotionally.

The food distribution program is moving on. P spent a long time working with the men who are managing the program now. We continue to encourage them to give out the food in a good way....with a visit and significant conversations.
It is a challenge just now to do that. Of course, the need is overwhelming and they could give out food all day long and not meet the needs of just the desperately poor. Our goal remains not to just distribute food, although that is a worthy goal, but to distribute food with Hope.

The Lighthouse School is preparing for the coming year. The new classrooms are almost ready. Teachers are being selected for the coming year for the two new classes. Volunteers are there leading a worshop for the teachers. That is pretty amazing !! Parents were at the school-- begging for a place for their children. Of course, classes are already filled. It is exciting to see that one bright spot in all of Gaza.

The Compound in general is okay. We have lost several windows due to the tremendously loud sonic booms. The Israelis have quit that for the moment. Thankfully. We are not bothering to replace the glass until this seems to be over. I asked was there any glass left in Gaza. They laughed and said "yes."

As we were leaving, we visited our friend Mahmoud. His continues to be one sad situation. Of the five brothers, he is the only one working. He is fortunate, he works twelve hours per week with the UN. Even teachers who use to consider themselves fortunate to have a constant job, have not been paid now in five months. Mahmoud's wife has literally gone crazy and is now with her family in the middle camps. Mahmoud is left with four great kids. I noticed that the children are all very thin now. That has not always been true. We will see about getting some food packets to them this week.

Finally, we drove to the Library and spoke to Isam. He and his family are doing well. What could we do except tell them that we are praying for them daily.
It is the most significant thing we can do...and yet seems not enough.
His response was that they could really tell we were praying for them. His eyes teared. My eyes teared. Neither of us dared.... If we started crying, we'd probably never stop.

Leaving Gaza was just about as scarey as entering. We eventually found a safe road to drive on and were able to skirt the problems. The frightening thing is that you don't know what you will find just around the next turn. We left with a lot of emotions. Joy in being able to walk through our fears with the One in whom we trust, Grief in seeing our friends struggle to live a tiny bit normal life.... Gratefulness to the Lord for His blessings to us personally.... Guilt that I am not there with my friends in Gaza sharing their burdens.

We feel all these things. Our friends who just left Lebanon and Syria feel all these things as well. Thank you for your interest in our lives and in His work among our people. We continue to covet your prayers for our adopted countries.

Posted by HL

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Palestinian Christians gather in Jericho

We had the priviledge of spending the day in Jericho at a conference sponsored by the Palestinian Association of Evangelican Churches. We joined about 350 church members and their families. The was the first time in about 15 years that they've been able to have a conference like this. The conference has been a great blessing for many reasons. Like Believers everywhere, they are benefiting from this special time of worship and Bible study. It the midst of the turmoil and conflict going on around them, it was great for them to be able to leave that behind for a few days. The number of Evangelical Christians is relatively small and they often feel isolated. They are enjoying this opportunity to fellowship with others of similar belief.

The conference ends on Thrusday. Please pray for them as they return to their homes around the West Bank.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Worth Reading

Martin Accad, Academic Dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, has published a thought provoking article in Christianity Today on the current crisis in Lebanon. Whether you agree or disagree, this heart wrenching article is worth reading.

Student Conference

Wow, this past weekend we had an amazing opportunity to build relationships and encourage Pal believers who are university students! Thursday night we spent time just getting to know the 20+ students by playing games, laughing, and staying up until the wee hours of the morning (some of them never went to bed). Despite the language barrier, we were able to enjoy our time and laugh at ourselves with our language mistakes. At 6:30 AM Friday morning, the group headed out on a short hike . We walked to an olive grove on a hillside and enjoyed a beautiful view. We also enjoyed a time of singing praise songs, a word of encouragement from one of the students, and traditional Pal breakfast foods. Friday afternoon the rest of the group enjoyed an outing to the pool, while we stayed behind and took a much needed nap. Friday evening was filled with more fellowship, sharing, games, and laughs. We hope that the students were as encouraged by us, as we were by them. Although everyone was exhausted by Saturday morning, it was worth every minute.

Posted by J&MM, volunteers from the USA

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Gaza Homecoming

One of our partners returned to Gaza this past week. He was out of the country when the current conflict started. He sent us the following report which I have edited slightly to maintain his privacy.

"Homecoming is always sweet. My neighbor’s boys asked me all over again, trying to use the English they have learned in school, “what is your name,” “how are you,” “what is your favorite sport?”

This past month Gaza’s main power plant was bombed by Israel. Living on the fourteenth flour, as I do and having limited electricity supplies, complicates life a little, but in no tragic way as it does for many people in Gaza. Walking down the fourteen flights my first morning back, I had almost reached the bottom, when a boy that works in the electric appliances shop on the ground floor greeted me with a big smile and gave me a flower. I took it to work with me. The night I arrived, someone that I didn’t really recognize proclaimed, “welcome home.” The taxi driver that took me to work recalled driving me three months earlier and knew where to take me. In the next few days I will make the rounds in my little neighborhood, Mohamed the guard of the building, Saber the shop keeper, Mohamed the vegetable and fruit man, Abu Alaa my landlord, Wesam the internet guy, Ahmed the hairdresser. At the Arab sweats shop, where I bought desserts for my guests, they were using candles in order to invite customers in. It gave the place quite the rustic feel.

For most in the Gaza Strip the many incursions that followed the exploding of Gaza’s power plant, which ironically was bombed likely using U.S. weapons while being built and insured by the U.S., had more severe effects than climbing extra flights of stairs. With the start of another war on the Lebanon-Israel border the world’s eye has shifted away from Gaza, but the destruction has gone on there. Hikmat, his family and his son’s family will not so quickly forget the day their fig trees were uprooted, their front yard destroyed by Israeli army tanks, their walls smashed and what was left standing of the house riddled with holes. For days the family has been carrying drinking water in buckets to their home, while the sewage spews out the now broken pipes. Hikmat’s oldest daughters periodically peaked around corners of blown away walls while I talked to their mother and youngest brother, Mohamed. Hikmat’s grandson jumped out of the second floor window during the Israeli attack and was at the hospital with his father. Mohamed’s siblings played on the old water tank, now blown apart. Israeli troops, reportedly there to look for a kidnapped soldier, left behind them a path of destruction and death.

After seeing these scenes with my own eyes, warfare remains a mystery to me. How can the human mind, especially a ‘cultured’, ‘liberated’ Western mind of an Israeli soldier believe that such a weeding out of state enemies will bring about any positive change? I saw nothing but despair, frustration and renewed hatred in the ravaged scenes I witnessed today. Fields, most family’s only source of income were left behind with crops and equipment leveled underneath tracks of tanks, houses destroyed, a number of resistance fighters are left dead, and hundreds more, only six, seven or ten years of age are born.

I prayed with many families before handing them a box of food. One woman commented, "Hhow do the Americans that subsidize Israeli activities consider themselves Christians?" I remained speechless; every house I entered I saw a little clearer the compassion of Christ."

Posted by PL

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Neighbor with Hemophilia

Recently, a member from the Jordan Pal team had the opportunity to go to a National Hemophilia Conference which drew interested health care providers and persons experiencing this bleeding disorder from all over the country and surrounding areas. An invitation was extended by a local physician specializing in diseases that involve bleeding and clotting disorders. Since the team member had been working closely with some friends who have an eight year old boy with the same disorder, she was able to go to the conference with them. A guest physician and other team members from the Canadian Hemophilia Foundation spoke, and a visiting Canadian nurse held a mini workshop on intravenous training for parents to prepare them in how to handle bleeding emergencies. All persons experiencing bleeding disorders along with one or both parents had to have their blood drawn and examined. This event turned out to be quite a cultural experience. Now please know that the conference itself was very good, but as customary in this culture, there was too much going on at any one time which considerably increased the noise level in the room making it difficult to focus on and hear the speaker. For example…lab technicians were set up in the same room where the speaker was delivering his prepared message and in another corner of the room, a very loud puppet show was being presented all at the same time. You can only imagine the confusion which took place. Also the lab technician had a problem drawing our little boy’s blood as he was very loud and not very happy or cooperative. However, the physician would not let us leave without his blood being drawn, and of course he wanted the member of our team to do it. PTL, our Heavenly Father guided her needle without any problem. The evening concluded with a nice buffet supper where everyone tried to get their food at the same time with some pushing and shoving...again, quite cultural…even humorous. Please continue to remember this precious little boy and his family.
Posted by AF

Friday, July 14, 2006

A Family Picnic in Jordan

Yesterday we visited one of my husband’s friends and his family. C and S were invited as well. We started with coffee in their home and then drove to Jerash for a picnic. The women drove together in one car. This was the wife (L), T and S and the house helper. We had a very meaningful conversation. L opened the conversation and we talked of her views on life and afterward. Then we had the opportunity to share about what our book says about the same topics. We talked of why the cross was necessary. Of each person's individual choice. Of peace in our hearts we live with daily in spite of circumstances in the world. Of our daily reading and how we can know the author through his book. And of our assurance 100% of where we will spend eternity. We talked so much back and forth that her husband needed to tap on the window once we had stopped and tell us to continue talking on the way. We talked of our love for each other because we were loved first. After all that we were still eager to visit again and it was a really easy visit. We had a picnic and played basketball using a branch as our basket. We intended to walk through Jerash, but were having such a good picnic that we never made it in to Jerash after all. We felt very comfortable and are eager for visits on both sides. Our boys did so awesome and also had an easy visit due to the activity even though the children did not speak much English.

Posted by TM

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Volunteer Project in Jordan

Recently part of the Palestinian Team in Jordan had the privilege of having a volunteer group join us as we made our way to an outlying village for the purpose of having a free health screening clinic. Our team partnered with some national friends who acted as our interpreters as well as another team currently working in this village. Twelve of us set up five screening stations to include identification of problems related to eyes, blood pressure, diabetes, scoliosis, and upper body physical assessment. Our efforts were truly blessed in that approximately 70 people were screened. The villagers received us with open arms and even fed us breakfast and lunch. They were so gracious and kind and many relationships were formed. The villagers were encouraged to know that their identified health problems would be followed up by our partners currently working with them. One of the volunteers really enjoyed interacting with the children and they seem to flock to him like he was the 'pied piper.' Another volunteer, our optometrist, was able to identify many eye problems which afforded her counseling several patients and giving some great advice about eye care. One man and his wife had such bad lungs we had to speak very strongly to him about giving up smoking as it was affecting his entire family. Smoking is so much a part of this culture that it will be difficult for him if he chooses to be compliant. Many referrals were made to local physicians... however, the problem may be a lack of money for them to be able to go. It was so rewarding to see how receptive everyone was and to observe our volunteers as they realized that they did not have to speak the language for the village people to know how much they cared and loved them.

Posted by af

Our Volunteer Team

Em Ehab in Nileen

I helped today with food distribution in Nileen, a village of maybe 10,000 in the West Bank. In the first home we visited we found the husband at home. He has a job as a pharmaceutical distributor, but all the chaos has disrupted his business. We sat together in a room that he said was about 350 years old. His grandfather and father were village elders and they used the room in the past to meet with people for village business. (The walls were about 1.5 meters thick.) In the older part of the house was his sons’ bedroom complete with computer. (350 years old was the new part; he claimed the older part was 1700 years old; maybe not, but it was obviously ancient) The new within the old was a striking picture.

We were welcomed enthusiastically in the next home we visited. Our hostess loves Americans… all except George Bush. She was glad that we came because she’d been thinking she’d like to meet someone who could talk to him about the problems we have in the Middle East…

In the next home we met Em (mother of ) Ehab. Abu (father of) Ehab works as a fruit seller and makes about $200/month. They have five children ranging in age from 17 down to 2 years old; 2 boys – twins almost 16 and 3 daughters. Em Ehab measures her life by wars – she was born during the 6 day war; she was engaged a week before the first uprising started, the twins were born around the time of the first Gulf War and so on. She told us that she used to have big dreams for her children. They would be married and build a house; their lives would be better than hers had been. Now it is hard for her to imagine them ever getting big. She goes to bed at night and thinks: Maybe they won’t wake up in the morning or maybe a bomb will hit our house in the night. She hears about the children being killed in Gaza and thinks: They were like a flower that bloomed and was quickly gone. As we left we gave Em Ehab a sack of food. A volunteer was with us and she gave Em Ehab a scented candle. Without a doubt she is showing her neighbors the gift that her new American friend gave her. Please pray with us for Em Ehad. May that candle be symbolic of the witness we left behind. Ask that the light of that witness grow stranger and stronger.

Posted by P.L.

Monday, July 10, 2006


"You, dear children are from God and have overcome them (false teachers), because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." (I John 4:4)

We were struck by this verse the past few weeks as we encountered many situations that could have discouraged us. Our volunteer teams arrived from the US in the middle of June and it seemed that there were events around us that sought to derail or distract us from the task ahead of us. We faced issues of transportation, computer failure, no hot water for almost a week, problems with plane tickets, and a leaky bathroom ceiling!

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers...of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God..." (Eph. 6:10-13)

While we don't want to attribute everything to the work of the prince of this world, we want to acknowledge that he seeks to distract, demoralize and discourage us and keep us from focusing on what is important. We are thankful for strength to face these trials and the faith to remain committed to the task. We continue to marvel and be thankful for God's faithful provision. In each of these situations, we have seen God at work.

Posted by G&TM

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