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.