Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas under Hamas rule - BBC article

Following is a BBC article by Katya Adler

Gaza City Earlier this year, the Islamist Hamas party took control of Gaza, home to a thriving Christian community now preparing to celebrate their first Christmas under Hamas rule.

Palestinian Christians are known as Nasserine - the people of Nazareth. Manawel Musallam - priest, headmaster and Gazan - is a rotund, avuncular man, fond of wearing berets. I have come to his office to ask how Christians in Gaza were faring on this, their first Christmas under the full internal control of Hamas. "You media people!" Father Musallam boomed at me when I first poked my head around his door. "Hamas this, Hamas that. You think we Christians are shaking in our ghettos in Gaza? That we're going to beg you British or the Americans or the Vatican to rescue us?" he asked. "Rescue us from what? From where? This is our home."

Extended family
The pupils at the Holy Family School, Gaza City, all call Manawel Musallam "Abunah" - Our Father in Arabic. His is a huge family of 1,200 children and, although the school is part-funded by the Vatican, here, as in all of Gaza, Christians are the minority.

Our identity is a multi-layered one
Ninety-nine percent of the pupils here are Muslim. This is one of the reasons Fr Musallam says he does not fear the Islamists. "They should be afraid. Not me," he chuckled. "Their children are under my tutelage, in my school. Hamas mothers and fathers are here at parents' day along with everyone else." But there is more that binds Christians and Muslims in Gaza than their children's shared playground. After the bloody scenes of Palestinian infighting this year, it is easy to assume Gazan society is irreconcilably split - both politically and along religious lines.

There were those chilling incidents in June when men with beards were shot for looking like Islamists. Men without beards were shot by Islamist extremists who thought they were non-believers, even traitors. But actually the situation is far less clear cut. Take the music room-cum-prayer hall at the Holy Family School.

Nativity play
On one of the walls hang huge photos of what the irreverent might be tempted to describe as the Gazan Catholic's Holy Trinity - the Pope, the Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the (Muslim) Palestinian president. I found a group of 10-year-olds on stage, rehearsing their Nativity play, watched, with great enthusiasm, by a group of their Muslim friends. Mary and Joseph squatted on stage. The girl playing Mary, clasped a tube of scrunched-up brown paper wrapped in a scarf, which, for rehearsal purposes, was posing as baby Jesus. "You see," Fr Musallam told me, as he gazed indulgently at the goings-on on stage. "Our identity is a multi-layered one."
"Of course, I am a Christian believer, but politically I am a Palestinian Muslim. I resist Israel's military occupation, obviously not with weapons. "The Jihad can never be mine but with my words, my sermons, I am a Palestinian priest." On stage, four wise men, instead of three (probably due to a casting struggle) were paying their respects to the paper bag.
"We have lived alongside Muslims here since Islam was born," said Fr Musallam, waving his arm at the stage.

"They have a special word for us, the Christians of Palestine. They call us Nasserine - the people of Nazareth. They recognise that we have always been here.
"Even the more extreme Muslims see a difference between us and other Christians they regard as enemies and call Crusaders."
There is no evidence to suggest the Hamas government here officially discriminates against Christians but its takeover in Gaza - its military wing's leading role in armed resistance against Israel, along with the Islamic Jihad faction - have all led to the increasing Islamisation of Gazan society.

And that has encouraged some extremist Muslims to take action. A Christian bookshop owner was killed here a couple of months ago. There was a kidnap attempt on another Christian recently. And a number of Christian families we spoke to say they had received death threats.
They question Hamas' willingness to take action to protect them. However, it was under Hamas armed escort that we met the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah, on a special pre-Christmas visit to Gaza. It was quite a spectacle. The Patriarch, dressed in a purple cassock, stepped out of a black, shiny Mercedes at the Latin Church in Gaza City.

'God's creatures'
A crowd of police cars screeched to a halt all around him, lights flashing and sirens screaming. Bearded gunmen dressed in black jumped out to guard him.
In previous years, the Patriarch's Christmas sermon has concentrated on the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli military occupation but this year he preached steadfastness in the face of intimidation by Islamist fanatics.

Christians have lived alongside Islam in Palestine since its beginnings
"They forget we are all God's creatures," he told a concerned-looking congregation.
"But nobody can tell us Christians how to dress, how to live or how to pray".
The patriarch called on the Hamas government to take responsibility and to protect the Christian citizens of Gaza, along with everyone else.
As the crowded church was belting out hallelujahs, I stepped into the church courtyard for some fresh air. The Muslim call to prayer was beginning to echo from the myriad of mosques all around. I thought how this reflected the situation in Gaza in Christmas 2007 - that while the muezzin were on loudspeaker, the church bells here are played from a cassette tape.
A nervous young nun adjusted the volume - loud enough to peel through the church but not to penetrate its walls - it might risk offending Muslim Gazans passing by.

Gaza Christians Keep Low Profile - AP ARTICLE


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Gaza's tiny Christian community is keeping a low profile this Christmas, traumatized by the killing of a prominent activist in the wake of Hamas' takeover of the coastal territory. Few Christmas trees are on display, churches are holding austere services and hundreds of Christians hope to travel to the moderate-controlled West Bank to celebrate the holiday in Bethlehem. Many say they don't plan on returning to Gaza.
"We have a very sad Christmas," said Essam Farah, acting pastor of Gaza's Baptist Church, which has canceled its annual children's party because of the grim atmosphere.

About 3,000 Christians live in Gaza, an overwhelmingly conservative Muslim territory of 1.5 million people. It has been virtually cut off from the world and its residents driven deeper into poverty since the June takeover by Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.

Christians and Muslims have generally had cordial relations over the years in Gaza, but that relationship has been shaky since Hamas seized control and tensions were exacerbated with the recent death of 32-year-old Rami Ayyad. Ayyad, a member of the Baptist Church, managed Gaza's only Christian bookstore. In early October, he was found shot in the head, his body thrown on a Gaza street 10 hours after he was kidnapped from the store.
He regularly received death threats from people angry about his perceived missionary work — a rarity among Gaza's Christians — and the store was firebombed six months before the kidnapping. No group claimed responsibility for the killing, and no one has openly accused Hamas of persecution. But Christians fear that the Hamas takeover, along with the lack of progress in finding Ayyad's killers, has emboldened Islamic extremists.
Hamas has tried to calm jittery Christians with reassuring handshakes and official visits promising justice.

Hamas "will not spare any effort to find the culprits of this crime and bring them to justice," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. He insisted the killing was not religiously motivated.
At the Baptist Church on Sunday, just 10 people attended the regular weekly prayer service, down from an average of 70. There was no Christmas tree in sight.
Farah said the church's full-time pastor, along with his family and 12 employees of Ayyad's store, have relocated to the West Bank, where President Mahmoud Abbas heads a pro-Western government. Farah said he prayed for forgiveness and love among Muslims and Christians.
Community leaders say an unprecedented number of Christian families are already migrating from Gaza — rattled by the religious tensions and tough economic sanctions Israel imposed on the area after the Hamas takeover.

While no official statistics were available, the signs of the flight are evident. Rev. Manuel Musallem, head of Gaza's Roman Catholic church, said he alone knows of seven families that sold their properties and left the area, and 15 more are preparing to do the same.
Musallem blamed Israeli sanctions and excessive violence in Gaza for the flight.
"In previous years we didn't see this rate of migration," Musallem said. "Now, exit is not on individual basis. Whole families are leaving, selling their cars, homes and all their properties."
The signs of despair are evident at Ayyad's home. Posters declaring him a "martyr of Jesus" hang on the walls. There is no Christmas tree this year.

Ayyad's older brother, 35-year old Ibrahim, said his 6-year old son, Khedr, was nagged in school about his uncle's murder. Muslim schoolmates call him "infidel."

Ayyad's wife, Pauline, 29, left for Bethlehem a month ago with her two children. She said their 3-year-old son, George, has been shattered by his father's death.
"I tell him Papa Noel (Santa Claus) is coming to see you, and he tells me he wants Papa Rami," she said tearfully during a telephone interview.

Pauline, who is seven months pregnant, said she plans to come back to Gaza for the birth.
But many Christians privately said they would use their travel permits to leave Gaza for good, even if that means remaining in the West Bank as illegal residents. Israeli security officials said they were permitting 400 Gaza Christians to travel through Israel to Bethlehem for Christmas.
A family of four, refusing to be identified for fear their permits would be revoked, have sold their house and car and packed their bags. The wife has transferred her job to the West Bank and enrolled her son and daughter in school there. "We fear what is to come," said the husband.
Fouad, a distant relative of Ayyad, said he also is packing up. He said his father, a guard at a local church, was stopped recently by unknown bearded men who put a gun to his head before he was rescued by passers-by.

"We don't know why it happened," the 20-year-old police officer said. "We can't be sure how they (Muslims) think anymore."

Those who are staying are trying to limit the risks. Nazek Surri, a Roman Catholic, walked out from Sunday's service with a Muslim-style scarf covering her head.
"We have to respect the atmosphere we are living in. We have to go with the trend," she said.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Tennessee Volunteers #7

Hello everyone,

We started our day with our usual falafel breakfast (for those of you that have never had one they are DELICIOUS!), followed by a quick stop in a local store to pick up a remembrance or two to bring back with us. We met with everyone on our team here (we were 14 strong) for a prayer meeting as we were anticipating some difficulty getting into Nablus. And we got it. Our plan was to visit with the Samaritans (living in the exact same location they lived when Jesus spoke with the woman at the well). We were not allowed through. Change of plans, backtracking to another checkpoint leading into Nablus. This time we were allowed through and we had the very rare blessing of visiting Jacob’s Well. The actual well where Jesus met with her. Because of the political tensions here, it is really difficult for anyone to go there. We pulled water from the well and were refreshed by the same waters that refreshed Jesus 2,000 years ago. It was special to be in that place reflecting on the fact that He promised to provide living water. . .and that He keeps that promise to those who believe. From there we travelled through old Nablus (at one point down a street that was just wide enough to drive through and NOT open the car doors!) to an Anglican church to meet with the pastor who would lead us to another small village to the north. We visited with the 55 Christians there (out of 2,500 citizens). We shared dinner together and afterwards the men talked, C enchanted the children by giving them suckers and taking their photos and L & K learned to make the Arabic coffee. We ended our visit by praying and singing together. Then off for the long drive home and an hour long wait at the checkpoint out. When we got back this evening and talked through all we had seen and experienced today, we decided the words for the day were diversity, flexibility, tension, reflection and family. We are continually encouraged by Jesus’ ability to draw hearts together from all over the world. It is not such a big place for those who have placed their trust in Jesus.

We love you all and will be home soon.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Tennessee Volunteers #6

Hello there!

It is the evening of our sixth day here and each day brings something new for us to think and pray about. We are learning much about this culture that explains why things are the way they are. Today we had the opportunity to meet an incredible woman who has spent her entire life working with orphans. To be an orphan in this culture is not a good thing. Being an orphan doesn’t necessarily mean your parents are dead. It is more likely that the children have been abandoned or that the father has divorced the mother and she cannot care for them. And, of course, there are the stories of abuse. The woman we met has made it her life’s mission to live out James 1:27 as she not only protects and cares for the children, but battered women as well. The sad thing is that these children and women are outcasts in this culture and their futures (their physical futures) will be very hard. What we saw in the heart of our friend was mercy and love in action. We didn’t meet any of the women, but we did get to spend time with the children and we had such fun with them. We took their pictures with a Polaroid and as T pointed out their smiles were bigger when they saw their photos than when he took them! Then they glued their photos to a card, which they decorated with lots of stickers. They really enjoyed it. We shared a snack and then some of the girls wanted to show us a dance. We laughed when we quickly figured out it was the Macherena. T can do that dance fairly well! Once again, in the midst of such pain and hardship, we saw what the love of Jesus can do for a person who has opened their heart to Him. He is truly the only way we will see real lasting change here and at home.

Please pray for us tomorrow. We anticipate an increase in spiritual warfare. We know you have been praying for us and we are grateful. We love you and miss you, and are praying for you as well.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tennessee Volunteers #5

Hello dear family and friends,

Today was difficult and remarkable. We went to Bethlehem again delivering food and meeting people. I think the best word we have to describe where we were is “scarred”. Hearts scarred by unnecessary violence and suffering, buildings scarred and ruined by wars with guns. And the wall. We can see it everywhere. It is hard to understand why the persecutions are allowed, but we serve a sovereign God and we know He hears our cries to heal this land. We don’t want you to think it’s all bad though. We have met such wonderful people, full of joy and love for each other, for Jesus and even for “the foreigners” (that would be us!). They’re fun to listen to when they talk with each other, very expressive as the talking (simultaneously, of course) gets louder and louder. It can go on for minutes and then our translator will tell us what they said and we get an explanation that’s maybe five or six words. We’ve figured out that it’s not always WHAT is said; sometimes it’s just the pleasure of saying it! They are very sociable and always help each other out.

We did experience an honest miracle today. We travelled in two cars today and were on two completely different routes with one group leaving Bethlehem a littler earlier than the other. One member of the second group accidently left their passport in the other vehicle. That’s a real problem here because you go through several check points to get in and out of the West Bank. P prayed before we started driving. When we came to the most critical check point it got a bit tense because the guards were pulling everyone over. Every single vehicle. When we got up to the line, if any of the guards looked at us at all, they just turned away. EVERY OTHER CAR was motioned over into a right lane to be checked again which left the lane in front of us open and clear. So we just drove through. We barely even slowed down! We did try to show them the passports we had but the guards literally turned away from us! We laughed as we drove through and understood first-hand how Paul felt when he walked through the prison doors unnoticed! It will not be difficult to remember the joyful feeling we experienced at that moment but it will be difficult to describe. We serve a mighty God!

Remember those in prison as if you were fellow prisioners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourself were suffering.
Hebrews 13:3

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tennessee Volunteers #4

Hello all,
Today has been a good day and a difficult day. What we witnessed the last two days, as we delivered food to non-believers was political persecution. Today, we witnessed first-hand the hardships of a people persecuted for their faith. But we saw something else too; brightness in the faces of the people we met that reflected the joy of knowing Jesus. This is not an exaggeration and we’re not trying to be “churchy” because it’s what you might be expecting to hear. It’s the truth. We delivered food, and you cannot imagine how much it is much needed, but as we visited with each family, what they hungered for most was for us to pray with them. Here is one example of how God knows us and anoints us for special times: we visited one home and the husband, although a believer, would not go to church with his wife. He said he did not like the cliques and the fact that the pastor had never visited him to see what his needs were or to teach him about Jesus. He talked about that at length. After several minutes of just listening, our translator asked P to pray. Just before he began to go to the Lord in prayer, the translator stopped him and said “are you a pastor?” The answer, of course, was “why yes, I am.” The translator, grinning from ear to ear told our friend “see here, a pastor has come to pray with you!” I wish you could all have seen the face of our new friend when he realized God had sent a pastor from so far away to ask him about his needs and to pray with him. God is never late in answering prayer or keeping His promises.

Because the needs here are unbelievably great, there is a limit on how much food each family can receive and those who received food today will likely not get more for quite a while. Pray as Elijah did for the widow in 1King 17:7-14, that the food they received today will not run out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tennessee Volunteers #3

Hello dear family,
We are hoping and praying that all is well with you. We made quite a few visits again today. More and more we are struck by the kindness and generosity of the people we meet; giving freely with nothing to give. With most of the families we have met, the husbands are either out of work or they work to keep their jobs but they have not been paid for many, many months. They are passionate, well educated and intelligent. We’ve met several families whose land has been taken from them and it is now inaccessible behind the wall separating Palestine from Israel. It was particularly troublesome today to meet one couple whose back yard is only feet from the fence; a beautiful young couple that just want to work and raise their families. The same thing we all want. We listened to their story and our hearts became burdened for them. They have been stripped of work and of honor. There are so many walls here, both spiritual and physical. Pray for these people that all of the walls separating them from freedom will be torn down.

We have been working hard to learn a few key words so we can at least say hello, thank you and good-bye to the people we meet. We have a list with phonetic spellings and have to look at it frequently to make sure we’re saying the right thing at the right time. Truly, the same word said with a different inflection can mean two totally different things. For example, the same word said a slightly different way might mean bathroom or pigeon. That might explain some of the strange looks we get sometimes when we attempt to speak without our translator. The highlight of our vocabulary lesson this evening was when T was teaching our host/leaders how to say goodnight in Arabic. J Thanks T!

We miss you and appreciate you all.

Tennessee Volunteers #2

Hello dear families and friends.
Today (Monday)was a beautiful day. We delivered the food baskets we prepared last night and met some truly lovely families. We are finding the Palestinians to be warm, inviting and very open. We saw lovely gardens outside most of their homes (no grass and the only thing green is the leaves on the trees, but still beautiful) with olive, fig and pomegranate trees. We learned that when you visit a Palestinian home and are invited to drink tea or coffee, it is impolite to say no. And while it was delicious, it became clear that you can only do so many visits in a morning because it’s also impolite to ask to use their facilities! But it was worth every sip to have the opportunity to visit.

After we finished delivering all of the food, we visited the Church at Emmaus. It was once a very popular tourist site, but is now rarely visited because of the separation of Palestine from Israel. We walked on the original Emmaus road where Jesus met the two believers whose eyes were opened and they knew Him. We broke bread together as we lunched on another part of the ancient road just outside of Emmaus. We were high on a hilltop and you could see all the way to Ramallah in the background. All along the hillsides as far as we could see are step agricultural plots with ancient (1000 year old) hand-made rock walls. It’s very dry here because it’s only rained twice since last April. One of those days was yesterday. Thank you Lord. This evening we made more food and hygiene bags which we will deliver tomorrow.

Our apartment is in a very busy part of the city. We can see a lot from our 4th floor (no elevator, 71 steps) apartment. J Our legs are getting a very good work out and there is no need for additional aerobic exercises! We had a group of friends visit this evening for a meeting of the minds. It was an incredibly passionate time of unity. T’s big take-away today was walking through the city when a little boy about 10 years old pointed at him out of the blue and said “I love you, do you love me?” T’s immediate delighted response was “Yes, I do” and the little boys face lit up. A connection made thousands of miles from home. Thank you for your prayers. We are praying for you as well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tennessee Volunteers #1

We said good-bye to the team from Texas this morning and an hour later we welcomed a group of volunteers from Tennessee. We are truly blessed to have these volunteer group enhance and advance our work among Palestinians. Below are some of their thought about their arrival and first day:

Dear family and friends,
As you all finished an amazing race this morning, we’ve just begun one. We arrived safely. No problems at any of the airlines with connection points, and although the flight over was long, we did get a little rest. Enough to stay awake and busy our first day here. Thank you for praying for us. Today, before we got settled into our apartment in West Bank, we picnicked with our hosts on pita and humus, on a promenade overlooking Jerusalem. The food was delicious and the view is spectacular. We could see walls around the temple mount. We could also see the very tall and long wall that separates Israel from the West Bank. We walked the same path Jesus took down from the top of the Mount of Olives to within several hundred yards of the Eastern Gate. Along the way, we saw the place that He prayed for His Father to “take this cup from me.” A bit later as we toured the outside walls of Jerusalem, we stood on the very steps in front of the Hulda Gate that Jesus would have walked through as He entered the city. It is magnificent to see this place and walk on the very steps where so much of the 4,000 years of history you’ve just learned about took place.

We are at our apartment in West Bank. It is rainy and a little cool this evening, but we did get to walk to a store room together to prepare bags of food and personal hygiene products that we will deliver to a local village tomorrow. We also prepared small hostess gifts of candles and tea-towels we brought to give to the ladies we meet. One of the people we’re assisting told us they are able to provide continuously to those in need through the generosity of others. He also told us of the many needs of some of the people here and that delivering food and other necessities is a great opportunity to show how much they are cared for. It also opens the doors for them to get to know our friends in Palestine better. Please know that a portion of your giving goes to this effort. We are honored to be here to represent you, but you are just as much as part of this as the workers that are here.

One of the spiritual highlights of the day today was praying at the western wall. It is considered one of the holiest places in the world, and as we covered our heads and placed our hands on the wall, it was easy to understand why. We prayed for all of you. We also witnessed people grieving and crying for something missing in their lives. After a Jew prays there, they walk out backwards because they do not want to take their eyes off the holy place and possibly miss seeing the Messiah come back. We will pray that they do not miss Him either.

That’s all for today. We’re very tired and going to bed. We’ve got along day planned for tomorrow, but we’re excited too, and looking forward to it.

Love to all.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Texans in the West Bank #5

It is difficult to find words to do justice to the history and significance of the “old city” in Jerusalem. Invaded twenty-eight times, dominated by twelve different foreign powers, claimed by three world religions – Jerusalem is a multi-layered marvel, full of conflicts, contradictions and re-used stones.

Today, we followed the path Jesus took from his arrest until he was laid in the tomb. (Of course, the exact location of several of these events is hotly debated and the appearance of many of them has been so radically altered by the “faithful” that they bear little, if any, resemblance to what people of Jesus time would have seen and experienced.) In spite of this, to walk some of the same paths (and even some of the same stones) that Jesus walked, to see the land and the people, and to experience some of the same conflicts and tensions that he faced, is a sobering and enriching experience. It is also sobering and encouraging to realize that Jesus’ love and salvation reach beyond human barriers and boundaries. They penetrate the hearts of people and draw them to him any time his people respond to his call.

It is also difficult to find words to tell about our experience tonight at the Culture Center of Ramallah. A new film, which tells the story of Jesus’ ministry through the eyes of Mary Magdellan, was presented there and we were privileged to help. Over 1200 people came. The theater only seats 800 so many were standing. A thousand copies of the film were handed out at the end. We were divided into two groups. Some of us prayed for those who watched the film. The rest of us helped a group of about ten young Palestinian Christians work with about 120 children under ten who came. Before the showing, we met with the young Palestinians and prayed for the showing. This is the first time that the film has been shown to the public and no one was sure what would happen. But we knew who would be in control It was awesome.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Texans in the West Bank #4

Early this morning our team headed for Bethlehem, birthplace of ourLord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We met with the Palestinian Christianleadership in Bethlehem in preparation to go in several teams to takefood supplies to needy Palestinian Christian families. One particular home we visited included a ninety-two year old motherand her daughter. The daughter thanked us for the food and shared howChrist had healed her from blindness. As she talked, she stood up,raised her hands in the air and began shouting praises to God for hishealing and protection. We all joined with her in praising God forHis goodness.

I am always humbled by the faith Palestinians Christians have inJesus. Each team visited eight to ten families, bringing food and theblessings of Christ. We heard story after story of hardship, illnessand poverty. Yet their faith in Christ remains strong. I am always humbled by that fact.Later in the day, we drove down to Jericho to visit some believers from Gaza. They had just evacuated from the Gaza Strip, several of them having death threats on their lives from people who want them to renounce their faith in Christ. These are all members of the same church where Rami Ayaad was a member. Rami was a believer who was martyred for his faith in Christ several weeks ago. The grief and sadness of these friends was evident as we gathered with them for prayer. It was clear the Holy Spirit was present in the prayer meeting that night. God's comfort, blessings and peace was among us as we sharedour love for the believers. I pray for God to use the death of Rami to reach the people in the Gaza Strip for Jesus Christ. As we rode back to our apartment that night, we reflected on our deep abiding love for these believers and continued to pray God's blessings and protection upon them all. Please join with us in this prayer.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Texans in the West Bank #3

We started the morning about 9:00 a.m. with a devotional before going out to some nearby villages. Our first stop was to deliver books to a school in a small village of about 600 people. The school has 120 elementary students in grades K-6.

Upon arrival at the school, the children were on a recess break and we were greeted by both the students and school staff. We were received with many smiles by the school staff and children. The children wanted us to shake their hands as we walked into their school grounds.

Numerous photos were requested, as the children wanted their pictures taken so that they could see themselves on the digital camera lcds. Here at the school we delivered 60 well-received books to their modest library. Also delivered to school staff were hunger relief supplies.

From the school we walked down the road to a home that was visited by the PAL Team last year. The home is located just across a narrow street from the mosque. Last year the team painted the inside of the home and delivered items to the family.

This year as we walked onto their property, we were greeted by three women and four children. We were shown yesterday's new arrivals to their small goat farm, two baby goats. The area where the goats live is attached directly to their house and just outside of the kitchen.

The women invited us into their home for tea. We visited for a time, talked about their families' and gave the children some stuffed animals. We also provided some hunger relief supplies.

The older woman of the home showed us some impressive needlework she has done. She showed us two dresses that were decorated with needlework. She also showed us some of her smaller items, including pillowcases and purses. A number of her wares were purchased by the PAL Team.

From this house, we drove away from the Village back towards our apartment. We stopped along the way at hillside location with a view of the Village just visited. Here upon this dry and dusty hill we prayed for the small Village, the children and their families. During our prayer, we could hear the call-to-prayer sounds coming from the mosque.

We proceeded next to one more home. We drove to another Village who was an acquaintance of one of the PAL Team members. Here we were greeted by a younger man then two women, one much older than the other.

Here at this location we were shown the closeness of the family unit. There were five homes or so near each other. All of residents of these homes were related and it appeared to be a tight-knit family unit. There was much excitement by the family members as a brother was to be married tomorrow. His wife-to-be was from another village about 45 km away.

We were served juice to drink by the young man we were visiting. This was the first time we had a man serve us while the women were present. The two women were sitting and talking with our group as the young man served us the drinks.

We visited with the two women and young man for a time. The one to be most engaged in the conversation was the woman who was perhaps 35 or so. We provided hunger relief supplies to the five related families. We then joined for a prayer of blessing on tomorrows wedding, for much-needed rain and for the families.

The homes visited today are stretched financially since the only work available for the men of these families is through day labor. Here it is a disgrace for a man not to work, however it is extremely challenging, if not impossible for many to sustain their families.

Onward we went to our apartment for lunch and a break. From here, six of us drove to the Dead Sea. We had the opportunity to stop and take some pictures of some hillside caves.

Upon arrival at the Dead Sea, we observed many uniformed teenage girls engaged in prayer. They appeared to be Hasidic Jews given their style of reading and prayer. Walking down the path to the shoreline, there were people coming up from the water whose skin looked like it was covered with tar. Some people cover their bodies with the black mud found at the bottom of the Dead Sea as a rejuvenating skin treatment.

We were able to gather some stones from the shoreline and test the waters with our toes. Sunset came shortly after arrival at the shore, as the sun sets about 5:00 p.m. We could see the lights of Jordan across the Sea on our way back to the apartment.

We arrived back at the apartment about 7:00 p.m. for a time of supper and fellowship.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Texans in the West Bank #2

We began the day with breakfast and prayer for the families we would visit today. Our prayer was for the H S to go before us and prepare the hearts of the people.

We traveled to a village which is about 8km from the town we are staying in, but we had to travel about 25km to get there due to road access around the mountains.

We divided into two teams to be able to visit more families. Our team visited with 3 families. Each visit was to a family including several generations... a mother, daughters and/or daughters-in-law and many grandchildren. Each family was obviously very poor but insisted on serving us coffee and tea, which was very good. There was only one man present in one family, none in the others. The women said the men were away looking for work.

The second family, where the uncle was present, was grinding wheat to make flat bread as we arrived. After the uncle finished grinding, he came in to be with us while the daughter prepared the bread. She used an outside oven consisting of hot charcoal under stones. The dough was flattened, like tortillas, and placed on the hot stones to bake. We were given two flat breads as we were leaving. It was delicious.

Each family had heavy burdens that they shared with us of poverty, lack of work, health problems and family members separated from them because borders have changed. They can no longer cross borders to visit family.

Our purpose was to show them love through our visit and encouragement and small gifts for their children. My prayer is that each family will remember our visit each time they eat the food.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Texans in the West Bank

We started out in New Jersey airport and ended up here. Seven of us arrived on Saturday morning and have gotten off to a great start! I and two other team members visited and encouraged a good Palestinian friend of ours, while the rest of the team toured outside the Old City of Jerusalem...seeing key Biblical sites: Mt. of Olives, Garden of Gethsemani and Caiphas' house. Virginia was taken back by the lifesize statue of Peter's denial...Peter's hands were lifted in denial and his head seemed to be shaking "No, I don't even know the Man." As I write this, I see the irony of this statement....That is why we are here! Day one was full!

Today we worshipped the Lord with local Palestinian Christians. They sang in Arabic as we sang and hummed along. Some songs we recognized by the tune...but others???? No clue! I sung along inserting my own words in a form of a prayer over the church members. To my surpise, the message echoed my prayer. God is in our midst!

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Holy Land

Days Seven and Eight

Our time was almost up and we were given the blessing of being able to tour some of Israel. We traveled to the Sea of Galilee and the area surrounding it. We saw with our very own eyes the water on which Jesus and Peter walked. We saw the shore where Jesus ate fish with Peter after His resurrection. We saw the Mount of Beautitudes, Capernaun, Tabgha, Peter's home and other Biblical and historical sites.

This trip has been so much more than any of us imagined. We have been blessed and we pray that we have been a blessing. More we be given the chance to come back in the future!

God's timing

Day Six

(sorry for the delay....we didn't have internet access the last few days while in country and I have had the time to blog since returning home)

We went back to the school on this day. We were supposed to pass out the pictures we took of the children and show them how to decorate their cards. We were told that we would only have 30 minutes to do this with all six classes. We had the cards ready with all the stickers inside to make the process faster. We went into the classes and the smiles and laughter on the faces of the children and the teachers was indescribable. They were all giddy and loved seeing their pictures and showing them to their friends. We went to each class and then were ready to leave. The head master told us that we could stay until after their recess break. We stayed and played ball and took more pictures. It was just a glorious morning. What was supposed to be 30 minutes turned into more than 2 hours ....God's timing not ours! We were told that our visits had erased all the bad mental pictures the children have of Americans. We pray that they saw our genuine love and will one day ask why we love them and others will be able to tell them the real reason we came to visit.
It was a bittersweet goodbye. We would love to be able to come back to the school in the future and see all the children again.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Happy Village

Day Five

Once again we were blessed! We traveled back to the village to give out more food. We gave at least 25 bags of food and chips to the families in the village. We were invited into a home to visit. We were given coffee and chocolate. The coffee here is VERY strong. We continued around the village and gave out food, smiles and love. May their hearts and minds be forever changed and softened. The women and children here are very beautiful (helwa). We got to visit at the Mayor's house. The hospitality of the people here is humbling. They insist on bringing coffee or tea and sweet for you to enjoy. They will not let you help and they seem to enjoy the company. Our prayer is that we have opened the doors for future visits and that they will one day entertain listening to the REAL truth and accept it.

We were taken to an overlook of Jerusalem ....breathtaking!

Afterwards we got to travel to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity. We had a wonderful tour guide. The amazing thing was to be in a building that was built in the 3rd century. It is said to be the oldest church still standing in the world. The story is that when the Persians came through they were destroying everything including the churches. They came upon the Church of the Nativity and there was a mosiac of the Wise Men on the outside wall. The Wise Men were dressed as Persians so they believed that it was a holy site for them and they left it alone.

We have had an amazing trip here. We have learned to love these people and our hearts so break for them. May their eyes, ears and hearts be opened!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Happy School Days

Day Four....

Marhaba (Hello)
What an awesome day!!! We saw prayers answered today in so many ways. We arrived at the village today to do crafts with the children at school. There was an issue at first which required us to stand in the gap and pray silently. Immediately, we saw answered prayer. We were allowed to go into each classroom and interact with the children! The first class we entered we had our hearts stolen. There were beautiful brown, blue and grey eyes shining and smiling back at us. They said their ABC’s (in English) for us….it was so special. We then began our crafts (foam popsicle puppets and bookmarks) and took their pictures. They were having the time of their lives and so were we….just a blessing both ways. We made candied apples (apples wedges with powered cherry jello) and watched as the children enjoyed the treat. Each class was told that they were a blessing and that we were so thankful for them. The day was fabulous. We were told that the children in the school would probably never forget that we came to see them and love on them. We pray that this will open doors and open hearts and minds. Seeds are planted.

Afterwards we traveled to the Dead Sea. It was a long but beautiful drive. It was very interesting how the terrain changed in such a short distance. It became much warmer and much dryer. No vegetation was seen. Then suddenly we saw groves and groves of date trees. It is amazing to see what water or the lack of will do to the land. We arrived at the Dead Sea….we waded in and then you just lay back and ….FLOAT! We had such a great time there.

This trip to the West Bank has been very eye opening and very humbling. It will never been far from our minds what is happening here and how much prayer is needed here.

Salaam (Peace)

Monday, October 22, 2007

Loving on the people

Day Three
Good Morning!
We slept a little later today (I believe we are tired :)).
We traveled back to the village to give out food. We were able to give out food to 25 families. We visited in the homes and were treated once again to coffee. We were given bread to take with us when we left. The men were away working or something. We gave the children bouncing balls and lollipops….what beautiful smiles they have when you smile at them. We played ball with the children and visited with the mothers. We hope to see these families again this week.

We traveled up the road to over look the village and pray for the people there. The olive trees are amazing to behold…some are hundreds of years old. We stopped and relaxed for awhile. We prayed for all the villagers and for everyone that is here loving on these people.

We were taken on a “secret” trip. Once we got there our guide told us this is where Jesus walked with two companions to…..”The Walk to Emmaus!” We were very very excited to be there. The Monk was so kind to walk us around and tell us about the history of the site. We were taken into the Basilica where we sang “Amazing Grace”. Some of us could barely sing realizing where we were sitting and the fact that Jesus might have been right there. We saw the remains of what was a Roman road that could have been the exact road which Jesus walked. Several of us were very overwhelmed and the tears flowed. Jesus walked on this very land we are walking on now.

We came back to the apartment and have been having great fellowship with each other and our new friends.

Tomorrow will be another great day to do God’s work.

Worshiping with the Palestinians

Day Two
Good Morning! Today we went to worship with other Christians. What an amazing and humbling morning. We sang English while they sang Arabic to “Count your many blessings” and “King of kings”. The people there are beautiful and very friendly. How awesome to worship the Lord with other believers in their land in their language. How BIG is our God!

We visited a village to arrange what we could do with them this week. We were treated to coffee and chocolates.

Afterwards we drove over to a creek on a mountainside and prayed for the village. To pray in the Holy Land just excites the soul.

We got to enjoy the food of the land for dinner. We had falafel sandwiches and shawrma sandwiches. Yummy!

Worshiping with the Palestinians

Day Two
Good Morning! Today we went to worship with other Christians. What an amazing and humbling morning. We sang English while they sang Arabic to “Count your many blessings” and “King of kings”. The people there are beautiful and very friendly. How awesome to worship the Lord with other believers in their land in their language. How BIG is our God!

We visited a village to arrange what we could do with them this week. We were treated to coffee and chocolates.

Afterwards we drove over to a creek on a mountainside and prayed for the village. To pray in the Holy Land just excites the soul.

We got to enjoy the food of the land for dinner. We had falafel sandwiches and shawrma sandwiches. Yummy!

Off We Go

Day One
The North Carolina team left home to travel to the West Bank. We got an earlier flight to Atlanta to avoid the bad weather that was in the area. No problems with security at all. We had a sit down dinner at the airport in Atlanta. We relaxed until we had to board the plane. Our flight would take 11 hours. We all got settled in for our long trip. The food on the plane was a lot better than we all thought it would be…then we fell asleep.

Okay we have arrived in the West Bank. What a beautiful land. It is much hillier than imagined. There is construction every where. We just imagined that there would be no more room to build on…fascinating.

We settled into our apartment and met our new friends. Looking forward to what is in store for tomorrow.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A Tribute

Many of you know by now about the murder of our friend, Rami Ayyad, in Gaza this week. It was our honor to attend the funeral. Please be in prayer for Rami's family and the entire beliving community there. These are hard days.

Much has been written about the attack. I've copied a couple of articles below. The first is from the international press. The second is written by a friend of Rami's who worked in Gaza until this past summer.

Christian leader killed in Gaza

Believers in Gaza are mourning the loss of a Baptist leader killed this past weekend. It is believed he died for taking a stand for his faith. Rami Ayyad, 29, a prominent member of Gaza Baptist Church and manager of a Christian bookstore owned by the Palestinian Bible Society, was kidnapped Oct. 6 shortly after closing. His body was found the following day about a mile from the store. No one has claimed responsibility for his death. He had been shot twice and struck with a blunt object. Ayyad leaves behind a wife, Pauline, who is pregnant with their third child, and two children under the age of 3.

Hundreds of fellow Christians gathered Oct. 7 for his funeral. He was buried next to his father.“Rami was the most gentle member on the team, the ever-smiling one,” a colleague said. “He was the face of our Bible shop, always receiving visitors and serving them as Jesus would.” A Baptist worker said Ayyad worked the front desk of the bookstore and regularly answered questions about his faith. “Rami was known for his easy manner with people,” the worker said. “He was bold in his faith and not ashamed of the Gospel.”

Last week, Ayyad told his wife that he had noticed people following him. A couple days later, he closed the bookstore and never arrived home. That evening, friends contacted him by mobile phone after he didn’t show up to a children’s program at the church. “He said he’d be delayed another couple of hours,” the worker said. “He also spoke with his wife.” His body was discovered the next morning.

The Baptist worker describes local believers as shocked and shaken by Ayyad’s death. Those closest to him described him as “a hulk of a man,” “dynamic” and “extremely likeable.” “He was the guy that if anything [in the church] needed to be done, he did it,” the worker said. “He was known as a peacemaker.”

In recent months, tensions between Muslims and Christians have escalated. The Bible Society store was attacked last spring when a bomb was detonated at the door of the building, damaging the first floor. No one was injured. Other believers have been robbed and threatened in recent months, but this is the first known kidnapping and murder of a Christian in the Gaza area. Baptist workers ask for prayer for Ayyad’s family, the local community and for those who murdered him.

It is estimated that only 2,000 evangelical Christians live among the 1.5 million people who populate the Gaza Strip. The majority is Muslim. Less than 1 percent claim to be Christian. Of that percentage, most are Greek Orthodox.

My Friend, Rami

The last time I saw Rami we were at the beach near Gaza City. A group of us were in the water and I was trying to force Rami under water. Rami was a big man, weighing at least twice what I do, needless to say, I did not manage to get him to budge. When he in turn came after me all I could do to protect myself from suffocating under him was flee. Eventually I was able to sneak up on him under water and pull his legs out from under him and then escape again.

There are around 3000 Christians living in Gaza today. Rami was the office director of the Teacher’s bookstore, a Christian bookstore in downtown Gaza City. The store sells Christian books and offers computer and language lessons, which are attended by Palestinians from across the Gaza Strip. When I would visit the place on occasion Rami was always there on his swivel chair cracking jokes. Few people entered that did not already know him.

Gaza can be a place of sadness, Rami always reminded me much more of the mentality of Egyptians laughing and joking no matter how depressing life becomes. On Saturday afternoon Rami closed his shop as he always did at 4:30. He had told his brother that three days earlier he had sensed he was being followed home after work but had not made much of it. Two hours after closing up he called his wife and told her with much uncertainty that he hoped to be home in two hours and not to worry. He was not able to say where he was or why he was there. Rami never came home. Friends and family searched for him until late into the night. At 5:30am on Sunday morning his body was found beaten, a bullet through his head, another through his chest. His wallet, ID and watch were gone. No one has made any statements, no group has taken responsibility.

This is the first time in Gaza’s recent history for a Christian to be kidnapped and killed. Sadly, such incidents do occur in revenge killings usually of political nature but never with religious causes. In Gaza, Muslims and Christians live and die side by side, sharing every element of the Israeli occupation and containment that has been a reality there since most people alive today remember. Rami had no political or factional involvement, nor was his family implicated in any family feuds. Rami’s boss was quoted in the Independent saying "We don't know who was behind the killing or why. Was it for money, or was it because he was selling Bibles?"

The heart of the matter is the fact that Gaza is a place overrun with violence. Readers of this blog have followed the complexities of the makeup of Gaza’s social and political makeup, I will not repeat again what I have so often before. Violence here has deep roots in injustice and occupation, but beyond this every individual, every political grouping, every community makes the choice of projecting their experience outward and returning violence for violence. Gaza is deeply entrenched in violence. In Gaza victims of bloodshed often themselves become shedders of blood.

Rami experienced the harshness of occupation, the limitation of curfews, Israeli military incursions, civilian targeted sonic booms, restrictions on travel beyond the 365km2 confines of the Gaza Strip and the strife of civil war. Rami chose to respond to violence with laughter, love and peace. The strength to live such a life is what I hope for Rami’s killers, it is what I hope for every Palestinian living and born into the living hell of Gaza today.

Friday, October 05, 2007

May you be well every year

May you be well every year!
(Roughly translated holiday greeting)

Observations and opportunities from one of our team members

It’s been a couple of weeks since the fasting month started - Ramadan. For those of you who don’t know, it is the 40 days when Muslims abstain from food, drink, sex, and sometimes smoking during the daylight hours and then eat and drink and party during the night. I have lived through many of these months and I can’t honestly say it’s the most wonderful time of the year… People are cranky because they’re hungry and traffic is terrible because everyone has to go to the same places at the same time and there are more accidents on the street because no one gets any sleep this month and driving skills get EVEN worse. But there are many positive things about this month. I get invited to lots of people’s houses for some great food and there are lots of new soap operas on TV. They play 24-7 and people are glued to the TV, passing the time until they can eat. I am currently watching an exciting program that is set in Syria in the French colonial times. Apparently, the Syrians are known for the quality of their soap operas. The one I have decided to make sure to watch is the most popular. At 9.00pm every night, our living room is packed with neighbors who don’t have satellite TV as we wait to see if Um Esam’s busybody neighbor will put trash in front of her door again or if the evil spy masquerading as a blind beggar will kill someone else…

...It has been great for my language anyway.

But the most important part of this month is the fact that people are pushing themselves as hard as possible to do good things. They give to the poor and read their holy books and stop doing evil things like wearing make-up and plucking their eyebrows. Opportunities to share the free love of Christ that we can never earn by our own abilities are everywhere.

A couple of weeks ago I gave a Book to a friend I met at the gym. She promised to read it, although when I visited her Monday, she said she hadn’t gotten around to it (she does have 6 kids, the youngest 2 are adorable but energetic twins). I was disappointed because she had seemed really interested when I gave her the Book, and she was the one who brought up the subject that led to me give her that gift. But I did get a chance to share again in front of her, her two oldest daughters, and her neighbor. They listened very carefully and seemed interested.

I later got a chance to go back to this house and break fast and spend the night with them – her husband was out of town. We broke fast together and then watched TV and talked and ate all night. We went to bed at about 2 and got up at 4.30 to eat. It was fun to be a part of that experience, and while I don’t really want to do it again, I’m off to another friend’s house tonight for the same exciting experience. I’m looking forward to someday when I will get to sleep…

The best part of the night was that M agreed to meet with me once a week to read the Book together and do a language exchange. After we had a long and mostly uncomfortable conversation about JC, I was a little concerned that she wouldn’t want to do that, but she seems excited to meet with me. Now she has heard the whole story twice from me, and I pray that she’ll keep thinking about it.

During this month, please pr that God will work in the hearts of Ms all over the world. Pr that He will send dreams and visions. Pr that He will speak to the hearts of people so that they will see how futile all of their works are. Pr that people will be really begin to seek God during this time. What a powerful God we serve!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Gaza's Forgotten Christians

We came across the following two articles and thought you might find them interesting.

Gaza's Forgotten Christians
Dan Wooding
ASSIST News Service
GAZA CITY -- “Caught amid the infighting between Hamas and Fatah and Israel’s retaliation for rockets launched at its southern cities is an easily overlooked segment of the population: Christians number only 2,000 among 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip—less than 1 percent of the population.” This was revealed recently by Nicole Jansezian in a story posted on the Israel Today ( website.

She added that “if you break it down even further, evangelical Christians number far less than that.” “We are a minority of minorities,” Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, told Israel Today. “It is really difficult. The Christian community here is 2,000 including Catholic, Greek Orthodox and evangelical Christians.” The six-floor Gaza Baptist Church, the only evangelical church in the Gaza Strip, ministers to 150 to 200 people.

“In the latest round of fighting, an Israeli bomb landed on a Hamas office just 300 feet from Massad’s home shattering all of the windows,” Jansezian continued in her story. “No one was injured, but the consequences of a war they are not involved in are continually getting closer to home. “Frequently, one Palestinian faction or the other commandeers the church’s buildings to use as a lookout point. Once, a library worker was literally caught in the crossfire and shot in the back. He has since recovered.

“The church driver wasn’t as fortunate. The 22-year-old newlywed was shot and killed in a Hamas-Fatah shootout, an innocent bystander. “Not long ago, militants carried through on a threat to bomb the Gaza Bible Society where Massad’s wife is a director. Now the church itself has been threatened.” Massad said, “There is a small militant group that hates everything western and Christian and in their minds, they are trying to clean up the city. They are a narrow-minded group and the government is unable to control it.”

But, Jansezian said that the Gaza church isn’t playing victim to the circumstances. Instead the Christians are running clinics, libraries, bringing humanitarian aid to the needy and carrying on meeting. They meet openly at the church. “One thing that strikes me is that you don’t hear negative language from them,” Labib Madanat, director of the Bible Society in Israel and Palestinian territories, told us. “Their language is positive, a language of mission: ‘What is my role as a believer; what can I do in this situation?’” “I’m not saying it is not hard, that they don’t have fears,” he said. “There are troubles, threats, danger and sometimes they are down. But the overall sum is they are a group of people who are resilient, totally dependent on the Lord and positively thinking of what God wants them to be in the Gaza Strip.”

Her story continued by saying, “Madanat said the church worldwide needs to encourage believers in Gaza. Compared to believers in the West Bank, the believers in Gaza are more ‘focused on what God wants them to do in this situation. Gaza is much more difficult. The sense of need of total dependency on the Lord is much stronger.’”

The American Consulate has been warning all Americans to get out of Gaza because of the constant dangers. Massad, who also holds American citizenship, was asked by the consulate if they want to leave. “Without any hesitation I said no,” he explained. “This is where we feel God wants us to be at this time and it is a privilege to be in the midst of God’s will.”

Gaza’s forgotten Christians

The church worldwide needs to encourage believers in Gaza, who number only several hundred among 1.5 million Muslims and are caught in the crossfire of everyone else's Nicole Jansezian

Caught amid the infighting between Hamas and Fatah and Israel’s retaliation for rockets launched at its southern cities is an easily overlooked segment of the population: Christians number only 2,000 among 1.5 million in the Gaza Strip—less than 1 percent of the population.
And if you break it down even further, evangelical Christians number far less than that.
“We are a minority of minorities,” Hanna Massad, pastor of Gaza Baptist Church, told Israel Today. “It is really difficult. The Christian community here is 2,000 including Catholic, Greek Orthodox and evangelical Christians.” Gaza Baptist Church, the only evangelical church in the Gaza Strip, ministers to 150 to 200 people.

In the latest round of fighting, an Israeli bomb landed on a Hamas office just 300 feet from Massad’s home shattering all of the windows. No one was injured, but the consequences of a war they are not involved in are continually getting closer to home.

Frequently, one Palestinian faction or the other commandeers the church’s buildings to use as a lookout point. Once, a library worker was literally caught in the crossfire and shot in the back. He has since recovered.

The church driver wasn’t as fortunate. The 22-year-old newlywed was shot and killed in a Hamas-Fatah shootout, an innocent bystander.
Not long ago, militants carried through on a threat to bomb the Gaza Bible Society where Massad’s wife is a director. Now the church itself has been threatened. “There is a small militant group that hates everything western and Christian and in their minds, they are trying to clean up the city,” Massad said. “They are a narrow-minded group and the government is unable to control it.”

But the Gaza church isn’t playing victim to the circumstances. Instead the Christians are running clinics, libraries, bringing humanitarian aid to the needy and carrying on meeting. They meet openly at the church. “One thing that strikes me is that you don’t hear negative language from them,” Labib Madanat, director of the Bible Society in Israel and Palestinian territories, told us. “Their language is positive, a language of mission: ‘What is my role as a believer; what can I do in this situation?’” “I’m not saying it is not hard, that they don’t have fears,” he said. “There are troubles, threats, danger and sometimes they are down. But the overall sum is they are a group of people who are resilient, totally dependent on the Lord and positively thinking of what God wants them to be in the Gaza Strip.”

Madanat said the church worldwide needs to encourage believers in Gaza. Compared to believers in the West Bank, the believers in Gaza are more “focused on what God wants them to do in this situation. Gaza is much more difficult. The sense of need of total dependency on the Lord is much stronger.”
The American Consulate has been warning all Americans to get out of Gaza because of the constant dangers. Massad, who also holds American citizenship, was asked by the consulate if they want to leave.
“Without any hesitation I said no,” he explained. “This is where we feel God wants us to be at this time and it is a privilege to be in the midst of God’s will.”

Thursday, September 06, 2007

School starts in Gaza

A team member living in Jerusalem shared these observations:

We had the privilege of being in Gaza last Saturday for the first day of school. We watched as first through fourth graders lined up outside the school building at the Christian School in the middle of town. One of the teachers noticed that the first boy in line had some spots. They decided that it was chicken pox. They sat him down to one side and told him he’d have to go home. He started sobbing; I thought his heart would break. He had looked forward all summer to returning to school. I thought it was a real testimony to the love these children feel at this school.
Last year one of the parents told me that his son who was in kindergarten got up every morning at 5:30, put on his school uniform and waited by the door until it was time for school. He told his dad, “If you try to make me go to that other school, I’ll run away and go to live with Auntie Samira( his teacher).” Most of the 110 children in the school are from very poor families.

There were demonstrations while we were in Gaza. The situation between the political parties has been relatively quiet this summer – by Gaza standards, but the conflict seems to be heating up. The economic situation seems to only get worse. The problems with electricity made the news, but a related, unreported and more serious problem is water. People depend on pumps to get water to tanks in their homes. When there is no electricity, water doesn’t flow and people run out.

Thinking about Bread

A team member in Jordan shared this insight with us:

The other day as I was walking through the neighbourhood, I observed something I had never seen before. A man stopped in the middle of a busy street, picked something up and placed the object on the top of the cinder block fence. As I walked past, I noticed what he had picked up. It was a couple of pieces of old bread (dirty and driven over).

When I asked my language tutor about this, he went on to explain the importance of bread in this culture. He told me that if a piece of bread falls on the ground, it is to be kissed, brought up to the forehead and then returned to the table. I have also seen bags of bread hanging on the outside of the garbage bins. My tutor said that people don't just throw away bread, instead it is placed in a bag and people will come and pick it up to feed their livestock.

"Bread" in Arabic is "Khobz" or as the Egyptians say it "Ayish" which means "life or living". In a typical Arab home rarely does a meal go by without bread on the table. While they do have sliced bread (its often dry and crumbly), the typical bread is pita bread. And it melts in your mouth when it is served hot!

As I contemplated this scene and understood more fully the significance of bread in this culture, I can't help but be reminded of the one who said "I am the bread of life ... no one who comes to me will ever be hungry..." Later on, he says "I am the living bread..."

So the next time you sit down to have a sandwich, or enjoy bread with your meal, take a moment to remember those for whom bread is a part of their daily living and ask that they would encounter the one who is "the bread of life ... the living bread".

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Bitter & Sweet Goodbye

One of our team members in Jordan shared the following story about a frien'ds goodbye party.

One young man who loves us as family whom we have known for two years, has desired for all that time and more to travel to Australia. Oscar has had a close relationship with us and is around MOST of the time even though he speaks almost no English. We have always been amazed that he will spend so much time with us similar to what some of our students do even though he met us through some students; we were with him as we traveled around Jordan many times and he has even taken us out-of-the-way places that others have never even thought to show us; he even took us on a picnic in the mountains near the new summer palace that is nearing completion for the King. Oscar finally worked out all the details for the journey of his dreams. Two weeks ago, he arranged for someone to come from Amman, pick us up after my late finish at the center that day, and drive us a long distance (to and from) to be with him and his family the night before he left. We had a wonderful time being with this great host of family and friends – all extremely happy and excited for O and this great event. What a celebration!!!! And we were very glad that we had taken a lot of western party sweets (not candy) since there seemed to be sparse goodies for them to serve with the coffee/tea to the great number of guests. There were lots of cousins from just born all the way up to university level since this is a very large family.

Naturally, we were way out in a distant village and it was already late when we began our journey there that night, but we wouldn’t have missed this event. As we joined the “going away” celebration , My husband was with the men and I was in the area with the women and the dozens of children. After the usual cultural greetings to Oscar’s family and friends, the children warmed up to me, relaxed and slowly began to recite all their English words, count from one and say the alphabet for me. Then one little girl asked me to sing and I did; they heard ALL the choruses we sing with western children, my funny “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” “act” with cute motions they can all do (even the adults) , and, finally, the softer, more gentle, sweet songs about Jesus. I ended with the “Love in any Language” song and TRIED to teach them the signing for that song. Of course, they asked for more. We were HOT, tired and yet, “refreshed” by the love we felt with O’s family and especially the opportunity I had to share my faith with O’s older sister (a teacher) who talked at length with me about Islam and her faith. She listened intently at HIS story and how HE lives within and gives us all this “joy for the journey”! We had lots of hugs and kisses as we left late that night. We, too, are thrilled for O as he begins this new chapter in his life. The fact that we probably would never SEE O again pricked our hearts and we shared with each other that perhaps WE probably would never again one-on-one be able to share more about Jesus Christ with O. YET, we are prayerfully confident that HE can and will bring that special person into O’s life immediately upon his arrival to show THE WAY as O continues “seeking” the answers to all his questions and he finds that Jesus IS truly “THE WAY, THE TRUTH and THE LIFE”.

From Sonnets to the Savior

Rita was relaxing in the waiting area as she prepared for her English class. She had previously asked me to explain some of the Shakespeare Sonnets . As I sat with Rita during a short break and thumbed through her huge English lit textbook, I came upon a section with several different translations (referred to only as “biblical writings”) which were ALL 1 Corinthians 13. I told Rita that I was a Christian and that the text in her lit book is found in our Bible. Rita seemed very interested as I told her how happy my life is because I have accepted the gift of the great love that is spoken of in that scripture – that it is truly joyful to experience that kind of life. I told her that if she would like to do so, I could bring her an English/Arabic Bible and she could compare it to her textbook versions. She wanted to do this and the next day I gave it to her. Even though I had already told her she could have the Bible, she asked me about a week later if she could keep it a while longer since she was reading it. JOY! JOY! Can we ask for more? HE had touched her heart through HIS WORD and she was wanting “more”!!!! I was so happy that HE gave me the great thrill of having Rita ASK if she could keep it and I could tell her that she would always have it to remember our conversation and then I had another sharing time with her. PTL! I/we have thanked HIM again and again for the power of HIS WORD – and the thrill of seeing HIM at work within R’s heart.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Happy Day for Many, but a Sad one for Some

The Tawjihi socres are out. This is the exam that all high school seniors take. If you aren't used to this system, it may be hard to understand. The exams are given over a week or ten days - one subject/day. This score is the only one that counts. If you don't pass, you don't graduate from high school. If you don't do well, you don't get into a university. Choice of college major depends on this score. THIS IS A BIG DEAL!!

One of our team members shared the following article that captures some of the drama.

Palestinians fete school exam scores
The cell phone network collapsed under the load of frantic calls Tuesday, newspapers printed special editions and the streets reverberated with the boom of gunfire.

It wasn't another day of calamity in the West Bank, though.

It was an emotional response to the publication of the results of the "tawjihi," or high school final exams, with pass or fail determining who will be university-bound and who will be relegated to menial jobs.

Many Palestinians are obsessed with education as a ticket out of their embattled existence. They have one of the highest literacy rates in the Arab world and often seek work abroad for lack of opportunity at home.

The release of the scores is an annual gossip-filled ritual that gives no privacy to those who fail.
The names and scores of those who passed are published in newspaper supplements, posted on the Internet and read aloud on local radio stations. It's a national pastime to check the lists for who's included, and — more importantly — who is not.

Critics said there's too much learning by rote and that it's unfair to students and parents to put so much emphasis on a few tests; grades accumulated throughout high school are not counted toward graduation.

"The system puts huge pressure on students because it measures their accomplishments in one exam, which is unfair," said Walid Batrawi, a writer in the Al Ayyam daily. "I can't remember anything I studied for the tawjihi."

This year, there was another twist to the publication. The rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza released the scores on different days, in their ongoing wrangling over legitimacy. Hamas-ruled Gaza published its list last Thursday, while the moderate West Bank government released it Tuesday.

Education Minister Lamis al-Alami in the West Bank said she won't recognize the Gaza scores unless they are forwarded to her, which Hamas has refused to do since it considers the West Bank government illegal.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired the Hamas-led government and installed a new West Bank-based Cabinet after the Islamic militants seized Gaza by force in June. The fighting between Hamas and Fatah raged as students in Gaza took the exams, which began on June 11.
With the release of the West Bank results Tuesday, few cared about politics, though.
In the town of Jenin, hundreds of students gathered outside the local education department in the morning to get their results. Some adults fired guns in the air in celebration, while others carried trays of honey-drenched sweets on their heads, to pass around to bystanders on hearing good news.

In Ramallah's downtown Manara Square, students set off fireworks, drivers honked horns and vendors sold special newspaper supplements with the scores. Sana Abdullah, 17, bought one and found she'd gotten 72 points out of 100. "I feel bigger than the world. My joy is enormous," she said.

Across the West Bank, the Jawwal cell phone network and Internet service collapsed for more than half an hour under the volume of calls, with everyone talking about the scores. In Gaza, the Internet and cell phone networks were down for several hours after scores were released Thursday.

Tawjihi season is good business for newspapers and local TV and radio, which make extra money for congratulatory ads.

Neighboring Egypt and Jordan have a similar system of high school exams.
In Jordan, results were announced Saturday. Hundreds of students rushed into the streets of the capital, Amman, some in flashy convertibles. At night, camel-hair tents were pitched on main intersections in several upscale Amman districts, where tumultuous celebrations were held.

In the Palestinian territories, the passing score is 50 out of 100, although universities generally only consider applicants with more than 60 points. Many of those who didn't pass — more than 40 percent of nearly 80,000 test-takers this year — were holed up at home.
Mohammed Thabet, a student in the West Bank city of Nablus, failed three out of 10 subjects, including math and English, meaning he won't get a diploma. His parents had spent $250, or about half the average monthly salary, on private tutors.

"One thing that made me fail is that I didn't have money to buy cigarettes," Thabet said, adding that the Palestinian uprising, which erupted in 2000, also disrupted his studies. Thabet said he'd try to retake the three tests next year.

The percentage of those failing was slightly higher this year than last. Al-Alami, the education minister, noted that teachers had been on strike for the first two months of the school year and that students were for the first time tested on a new curriculum.

Girls, in general, do better than boys, she noted. In high schools with an emphasis on the humanities, which have more students than those in the scientific stream, the top 10 scorers were girls. Al-Alami said girls often study harder because they tend to go out less than boys, a result of conservative social norms.

In the Ammari refugee camp on the outskirts of Ramallah, Wala Abu Musallam's 92.9 score made her mother, Alia, cry with joy.

Alia Abu Musallam distributed sweets in the local mosque, and has already made plans for her daughter to go to law school, despite the tight family budget. "The joy of the tawjihi is even bigger for me than the joy of a wedding," the mother said.
Associated Press reporters Mohammed Ballas in Jenin, Ibrahim Barzak in Gaza City and Jamal Halaby in Amman, Jordan contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press.
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Saturday, July 28, 2007

A late night visit

A team member who lives in Jordon shared this story about a visit to a farm.

Two years ago we met J H at a service shop when we had an electrical problem. Yesterday, J H called (yes, he had saved our telephone numbers for a long time) and wanted to visit with us, extending an invitation for us to travel to his village in the late afternoon. The village, a distance from where we live, offered a much-welcomed cool breeze. We toured the village and the large “tribal” farm (most of the cousins, etc., are retired military persons, live there and together work this farm with almost every kind of fruit and vegetable, rabbits, chickens, sheep, etc.) and later a large group (women, children, youth, men) gathered and sat among the many trees enjoying coffee, fruit of the land, and great fellowship. Ultimately, PTL, the conversation turned to God, Jesus, and stories from the Bible and most of the group had either details, comments, and/or questions. Words are not adequate to say what we were both experiencing as we felt HIS presence in that time. We were able to share more in depth than in many days and we spoke boldly, freely and with voices of praise, thanks, and adoration for all the love that Jesus has given through our acceptance of HIS great gift of eternal life. During that nearly “hour of power”, we sensed only HIS power filling us with responses, thoughts, words – concluding with talk of the “miraculous” power of God -- and we KNEW we had touched a chord within the hearers. We spoke of how our finite minds can NEVER understand the infinite, miraculous power and love of Almighty God nor of HIS mighty acts and miracles. We relished hearing these Muslim persons sharing what they know about Jesus. This visit ended near midnight – and this was BEFORE our night meal, but the fruit held us until we returned home. What a wondrous journey with HIM totally in control. How blessed we are that we can share HIS love and message with some of the seekers in this world! Sitting on a hillside, far from the city, with strangers, nothing but the quiet, beautiful night sky full of stars GOD held us all in HIS arms and loved us last night – some as HIS children; others as those whom HE loves as HIS own, too – so much that HE gave HIS SON for us all.

Letters and Germans

One of our team members who taches English posted the following story:

Recently a student asked me, “Why do you always talk about the Germans?” I had no idea what this student was asking and with the help of other students, pursued a conversation about the possibilities of what could have been said that would be about the Germans. Unable to think of a single thing in the lessons, in class conversation time, etc., that could possibly have been about the Germans, I asked the inquiring student again if he was sure it was the word “Germans” he had heard. The student said that it was. I asked him to repeat as closely as possible what was said that sounded like that. The student replied in very good English, “Letters and Germans”. I laughed out loud because I knew immediately what he was asking about. It is my practice to address the class as “Ladies and Gentlemen” when there are both male and female students attending. Of course, when the mystery of the “Letters and Germans” was explained, the students were roaring with laughter and no one could keep from laughing for the rest of that class (and others that followed). Besides the fun everyone had with the event, there was also a great “teaching moment” on new words. The “Letters and Germans” student was and has been a great sport about this incident and none of the group will ever forget it. PTL for misunderstandings that offer such good fellowship.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pomp and Circumstance!

I recently had a fun Arab experience that I thought I’d share with you. I got to go to the graduation of my friend Melinda. It was a crazy day!

We woke up at 10.30 (I had spent the night at her house the night before) ready to wash Melinda’s shirt, get her skirt fixed at the tailors, buy shoes for her, and get our hair done at the salon before 4.00. Did it happen before 4.00? Ha ha. We didn't even leave the house until about 2.00! That was the beginning of an exciting day. We rushed out of the house (late) in a car borrowed from the neighbors. Her dad is a clever man, but driving is not one of his main skills. We will talk about some of his skills later. Anyway, we got lost and barely made it to the graduation on time. Mel ran off while we parked. Then came the hard part. Getting into the grad. Apparently people actually want to go to graduations here. No one wanted to go to mine except for my grandmother, but even I might have wanted to go to my graduation if there had been drums and dancing and confetti. But not the massive crowds. We couldn’t make it in any of the doors, so we went to the main gate where Mel’s dad proceeded to use all of his influence, yelling at the professors lining up inside the gate to let us in. The guards were insistent that no one was allowed in that gate, and they were really sticking to their guns. But Mel’s dad was not giving up. He’s about 4 feet tall and he was taking on the big dude, insisting that they let him in to see his daughter. Meanwhile, Mel’s mom gave up and pushed her way inside the auditorium (she’s hefty and has sharp elbows). I followed with Mel’s sisters but we couldn’t make it. So we went outside just in time to see Mel’s dad finally get in through the gate! But he didn’t see us so we were stranded outside. Just when I was thinking that this might be a funnier story if we never got in, Mel’s “close guy friend” who was there with us, helped us force our way into the auditorium. We were standing up on the side where we could barely see Mel’s dad up in front sitting right by the stage. Meanwhile noise-makers and drums are going off like nobody’s business and there is a man on stage trying to give a speech. He asks for the music to be turned off and for the drums to stop, but they don’t so he keeps going on anyways. Seriously no one could hear him at all. Finally he gave up and started announcing names. We got out of there relatively fast after that to be greeted outside with even more chaos-dancing, singing, ululating, and candy-throwing. Apparently people throw candy and give out chocolates at graduations, a custom that I am very fond of.

Finally we left, but it still took us about 15 minutes to get out of the parking lot because no one wanted to give way for anyone else. But I learned an important thing that day—never wear high heels to a graduation. I was trying to be cool and fit in with the crowd but after 3 hours of standing, I was in serious pain. I usually follow the policy of never wearing high heels at all, but foot comfort is one of the sacrifices I am making for JC over here. Girls here love their fancy shoes and seriously look down on flipflops (in my opinion one of the greatest inventions in the history of fashionable footwear).

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Summer Camp!

I just got back from a week-long summer camp for Palestinian orphans and disabled children. And by orphan, they mean missing at least one parent. They go to the beach for a week of swimming and activities and dancing. And very little sleep. I am still recovering, but I had a great time and made lots of new friends! Of course, it’s always easy to make friends with kids. After a few hours when people got used to me, I began to feel like the Pied Piper. I had my own special entourage of little girls braiding my hair, teaching me dance moves, and fighting over who got to hold my hand. It took me a little while longer to make friends with the boys, but after doing hand-stands and flips in the water, crossing my eyes and playing with their bugs, I was in. I received endless bouquets of nicely arranged flowers (that were not supposed to be picked). I spent hours in the water, which I loved except for the sunburn on my face that is now peeling (but this is the first time my legs actually got whiter while I was at the beach), and many many hours dancing. My girls tried to teach me, but I don’t think that’s my special gift. I did learn how to do the dibkeh, a traditional dance of my people which strongly resembles the hokey-pokey when I’m dancing it, but looks really cool when they do it. Man, those kids can dance! I had such a good time getting to know those kids-the little girl who cried for her mother everyday, and the boy who could dance like nobody’s business who almost missed the performance at the end of the weeks. I also got to talk to a boy who told me about his father’s second wife, and how difficult that was for his mother (he wasn’t an orphan or disabled so I’m not sure why he was there, but I liked him). And of course, the little deaf girl who finally got up and danced with me on the last night was really adorable. We both had no idea what we were doing, but it was fun! Then there’s the shy little boy I stalked with my camera because he was so cute. He always pulled his pants up all the way to his chin. I can’t wait to see them again next year. Maybe some of you will be there too!

I am so not good at blogs! Sorry about the oddly placed photos. Hope you enjoy them anyway.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

North Carolina Volunteers # 2

Day 1

Things are all in order! Checked the bags over and over and made final changes. Phew! Everything was okay and checked within limits by the grace of God. The flight, though delayed, went without a hitch. First stop to take a picture in front of the fountain. Here we go!

Day 2

Got the much needed rest and were ready to go about 4:30 am….wait there was no place to go! A few hours later we were prepared to meet and greet the first children we were to see. We enjoyed hearing the plans and dreams of the school for the girls. The girls baked cookies with the kitchen crew, then charmed us with their hospitality, and finally showed creative talent at jewelry making. The idea started simple and then grew to fashionable sets to share with friends. We were asked to be friends and accepted beaded jewelry gifts. Of the finest jewels we will wear, these will be thought of as priceless gifts to never part with.

Day 3

This day we walked where the Lord walked, envisioned where the Lord suffered, and finally saw where the Lord rose! The amazing scenes that we have only known by words, now have been seen, touched, and experienced. There was definitely a moment held between the savior and his believers then and now. After traveling through, we were able to shop. We were greeted by many people ready to help us choose not only one, but quite a few things to enjoy.

Day 4

Church in Arabic! The songs of worship and a sermon spoken for all to receive, was an experience to relish. After the service we were met with warm hearts and gentle hands of grace. We learned of the area’s tradition as well as how the Lord was working among the people. The evening of this day was the day of final preparation, before starting the English camp. We spent some time organizing craft supplies, tying up story lines, and finally finishing up the gift bags. The excitement and anticipation were in full swing....

Day 5

Today was the big day! The first time to meet the girls that would be having fun with us for days to come was finally here! Things went well, and the group was able to meet changes in plans with creative solutions. One impressionable thing that was provided, was a child to translate the puppet show. How could we have asked for a better translator? Even in translation it was difficult for her not to laugh while telling the story! Hugs were plentiful, songs rang through the halls, and English was taught through the international language of love.