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.