Friday, October 17, 2008

Tn Team 10/17/08

Hello friends, today we visited the girl’s orphanage in what used to be Bethany. Bethany is where Lazarus lived and died and was raised from the dead! Such sweet girls, (and two little guys). CH brought canvas bags for them to paint and she and Ms. BB and Fee brought lots of stuff to put in the bags. It was a great project and the kids loved making them. Two of the girls sang for us and they had such sweet clear voices, and then Fee and S---t told a Bible story. Before we left, we played one of their favorite games . . . “sea and shore” or “barha and bar”. B---n was the first one out, but they called it a practice run and let us start over. He was in the final three the second time (and it saved his pride!). When it was time to take group photos at the end, we were told to say “habeeb”, which we did very loudly, and very often, until everyone was laughing. We totally had a blast. There are some sad stories about a few of the children, but they are bright and intelligent and cheerful. The house mothers we met were very kind. We were glad to see them again this year and will be honored to keep them in our thoughts, trusting God with their futures.
There will be no blog tomorrow. We are going to spend the day at the Sea of Galilee around Tiberius and Capernaum (can you imagine!?) before we board our plane to come home. Please keep us in your thoughts that there are no delays going through security or customs. We will see you Sunday morning for the 11:00 service!

TN Team 10/16/08

Marhaba! Hello! Today we delivered food and jackets to several homes. It was really cool. We were, again, graciously welcomed into the homes of the people we met. In fact, we had some very interesting conversations and a couple of new doors are now opened for our resident friends to follow-up on. And that’s a very good thing. B---n bought a soccer ball to take specifically to the home of the man with all the children. The older children were in school, but he was a hit with the younger boys . . . and they could really play! When we left, B---n gave the ball to one of the boys and S---t told him whenever he played with the ball, he should think of B. It was a good day. When we were finished with home visits, we went to the Garden Tomb and shared the Lord’s Supper. If that weren’t enough, after that, we visited the Baptist Prayer House. The purpose of the prayer house is to “praise, pray and proclaim.” We were invited to the prayer room and let me say it was quite an experience. Everything in the room is designed to draw you into prayer. We were grateful for the experience. Tomorrow, we’re off to the orphanage. Thanks for thinking of us. We love you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

TN Team 10/15/08

Hello friends! Today we visited the West Wall and prayed for every “As You Go” name that has been submitted. It is really something to stand there, realizing that Jesus saw that very wall. And then, when you begin to pray it becomes even more special because God inhabits the prayers of His people. The jackets came in today so we’ll distribute them tomorrow to the family with 60 children. B---n is hoping to play soccer with the kids. It rained today, so hopefully it’ll be dry enough. We’re also going to distribute food and make home visits. That’s always good because we get to meet and spend time with people. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

WB 10/14/08

Marhaba! Kayef Haleik? We hope you are all doing well. We are. Today was an easy day but we did visit the olivewood man in Bethlehem and picked out the Christmas ornaments we’ll sell this year so we can continue to support our six children at the Lighthouse School in Gaza. You’re going to love them so plan to save some of your Christmas shopping dollars because they’ll make beautiful gifts! After Bethlehem, we made our way to the Dead Sea. B---n, CH and Ms. BB got in the water to see how much their scratches from the olive harvest would burn. According to B---n the answer was “a LOT!” He found scratches he didn’t know he had. The 60 jackets ordered for the family we visited the other day are supposed to come in tomorrow and we’re supposed to deliver them. Keep that in your thoughts, please, as we really want the opportunity to go back there. We miss you and look forward to seeing you soon.

Monday, October 13, 2008

TN Team 10/13/08

Today was an exceptional day. We picked about 300 pounds of olives from 16 trees in Beirzeit. We worked with the family who leased the trees. It was very hard work and we are very tired, but it was an eventful day and much was accomplished. We’re thankful for the opportunity and are grateful you are thinking of us. As an aside, S---t, the one who has experienced a hot shower the last two days is extra grateful. The rest of us are refreshingly chilled!

TN Team 10/12/08

Hello everyone. It’s late Sunday evening and we’re just finishing our day. We visited the First Baptist Bible Church this morning. CH and Fee made a craft with the children during Sunday School while the rest of us attended the worship service. It was really cool. Of course, it was all in Arabic, but one of the members told us the speaker would be preaching about the parable of the ten virgins from Matthew 25, about how we need to be prepared because we don’t know the time and place. We felt very welcome there. After service, we were invited to lunch at the home of Jad and Cynthia. It’s an understatement to say we enjoyed visiting with Jad and hearing his stories. He’s quite an amazing person to get to know. We were especially gratified to get to meet and sing for Cynthia. She has been a major influence in this area for over 50 years. She suffers from MS and Alzheimer. Jad says the Alzheimer’s is a blessing from God because she doesn’t realize she’s suffering the debilitation of the MS. That kind of shook me. It shook me more when he took us back to meet her and from the room we heard him say, “Cynthia, it’s me, Jad, your husband.” I thought about how much he loved her and how hard it must be for him. We all went in and sang to her. When we sang “Jesus Loves Me” her face broke into the sweetest grin. She couldn’t remember that Jad was her husband, but she recognized the name of Jesus. B---n questioned what would be the one thing he remembered when he couldn’t remember anything else. That may ultimately be our testimony. Definitely something worth thinking about.

We miss you and we’ll see you soon. Tomorrow we’ll be helping a local family harvest their olive trees. That should be quite an experience.

TN Team 10/11/08

Marhaba from your friends from Tennessee! We arrived yesterday afternoon about 5:30ish. It was exciting for the three of us who have been here before because we recognized so much and feel so comfortable. It was more so for the others who are visiting for the first time and seeing the land with fresh eyes. The apartment hasn’t changed. . . it’s still 72 steps up! But the view, once you’re up there is way worth it. We got up early this morning and went to the falafel stand. It was as delicious as we remembered and even B---n tried one. I think we shamed him into it, but he actually liked it and I was proud of him! Unfortunately, Mike, the stand owner, was not there. Apparently, he’s been traveling stateside, but is due back any time. I’m hoping we get to see him before our visit is over.
Today we delivered food to and visited with some very nice families. A lovely young woman was especially intrigued by Fee. She came and sat beside her and the two of them chatted for about 30-40 minutes (without knowing each other’s language beyond a few words!). It was sweet to watch. It was especially gratifying to watch S---t interact with the men in the villages. His ability to communicate seemed to really put them at ease and the men were very glad to have the chance to talk with him. In one of his more colorful conversations there was great discussion about Noah and Moses. We’re reminded of the things we have in common and that at the end of the day, there is only one major difference between us.
Think about our field personnel, P & L, that God will give them discernment and wisdom as they lead us. Also that the families we visited families we visited will not suffer any negative consequences from local authorities because of our visits.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Say Jibna (Cheese)

Last week several of our team members participated in a picture project. They took pictures of the children and then helped them make a frame to give to their parents. It must have been quite an experience for all involved. A couple of them tell about their experience below.

Last week’s photo project was fun and tiring, and although cutting things out of foam isn’t my forte, I got pretty good at making hearts and letters and Palestinian flags.

The project seemed simple enough: go to local school, take photos of all the children and teachers, and make frames for the photos. The first day taking the photos went fairly smoothly, although many children were absent due to some confusion about a national holiday. It was fun taking photos and hanging out with kids that day. The second day, making frames, was when the fun really started. Glue, scissors and lots of children is always an exciting combination. The stickers went fast, and in spite of our “one sticker per child” rule, I continued to notice frames with several stickers on them. Teachers tended to be particularly frustrating as we would assume they’d know better, and yet they persisted in defying our one-child-one-sticker rule, helpfully putting several stickers on a favorite child’s frame. Still, each day we learned how better to perfect our system, and we ended up making lots of new friends. In just a few days we helped hundreds of thousands of children…or maybe a little less…maybe just a couple of hundred…but I could swear that I cut out a hundred thousand little hearts.

While we were at the school, the principal told us that when we come and help them, they feel as if we are sharing their burden with them. I was able to tell him a little about the reason why we want to help bear their burdens. Another teacher at the school smiled for a picture that I took of him. He told me that he almost never smiles, but that “there is just something about you that makes me smile”. He is one of the teachers who invited us to dinner, so inshalla, I’ll will be able to talk more with him.

Monday, June 02, 2008

God love the Palestinians ... and so do we

Team members in Lebanon shared this story.

One thing that is amazing to us is that no one can understand why we want to help Palestinians, including Pals themselves. At the center where we teach English on Thursday mornings, one girl argued with us for about 10 minutes trying to convince us that we can’t possibly REALLY love Palestinians and want to work with them. She just couldn’t understand why we would work with them “of all people,” and she kept saying “but we can’t pay you.” We kept telling her that God has placed a love for Pals on our hearts and we want to help them as much as possible. I think we convinced her we were serious, but she still didn’t understand. She said “I’ll have to go and ask God why He would do that.” Hopefully as we go back week after week she’ll see that the love really does come from God and not from us!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

From Mlouquiya to Jesus

One of our team members in Jordan tells about a couple of recent visits she had with friends. For more about grape leaves and mlouquiya see the note at the end.

I went to visit an old friend and found her sitting with her friends and neighbors rolling grape leaves on the porch. I sat and visited with them for a while and then my friend asked me and another friend to go inside to eat mlouquiya ( greens). So we were sitting and eating and soon got into a conversation about life. I was able to share with her. This is one of many experiences I have had as I spend time with old friends who are also “People of Peace” and always have lots of visitors and family in their homes.

I was also invited to visit a new student’s family that lives in the Jordan Valley. This was an answer to prayer because I have been praying that I would meet a new family this term. My friend, Fatin and another friend of hers went with me for the first visit. The student’s family asked me to come back for another visit and stay all day. I’m going to go in two weeks and help them make grape leaves. I am looking forward to getting to know the whole family. I have 3 students who are members of this Palestinian family.

Both stuffed grape leaves and mlouquiya are very common Palestinian dishes. This is the best time of year for stuffed grape leaves because the leaves are new and tender. The leaves are washed. Then a small amount of rice, cooked meat and spices are placed on the leaf and rolled up. Usually they are cooked with a tomato sauce, but every family does it a little differently. Mlouquiya is a little difficult to explain. It is small green leave that is boiled. If it is boiled a long time, it has the consistency of boiled okra.

Friday, May 16, 2008

An Attentive Captive Audience

One of our team members in Jordan shares about an exciting opportunity:

One of our local believers from our home study group was at the bus station waiting to board a bus for his intended destination. As he waited, another person approached him and asked if this was the bus that he needed to take. When both of them boarded the bus, the new friend began asking "J" what kind of work he was in. "J" replied that he worked for the church which caused the man to begin questioning him. As "J" shared with the man, the other passengers became very quiet listening as "J" shared his personal testimony along with the gospel message. As one of the passengers exited the bus, he turned to all the other passengers and said, "What this man has spoken is the Real Truth and I believe every word of it." "J" was so excited as he exited the bus realizing that all 20 + passengers had heard the message of salvation. Our Heavenly Father is so Good! Pray with us for those who heard "J"s words.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

He is Risen

He is Risen Indeed!

If you think we're a little late with this Easter proclamation, we are celebrating Eastern or Orthodox Easter. (Who knew there was more than one Easter? There is more than one Christmas, too!)

Several of our team members had the great privilege to worship with Evangelical Arabic Churches this morning at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. It was a great time of worship together. A pastor from Palestine, Texas brought greetings from his congregation. (Most of you probably didn't know there was more than one Palestine.)

One of the local pastor's spoke. He reminded us of the joy we have in Christ because of his death and resurrection. Because of that joy, we have a responsibility to share the story with others. No one needs to hear it more than Palestinians. Please keep them in your prayers this Resurrection Sunday.

A Busy Day

One of our team members in Jordan shares a recent experience about shopping, Burger King and how God is redeeming a bad experience.

Because of our being so busy I have missed spending time with one of my closest Palestinian friends. Finally, last Sunday we got to go shopping together. She is always my best shopping buddy, and she knew that I needed to buy something new to wear for Easter! (We celebrate Greek Orthodox Easter in the Middle East. This year on April 27.) I had thought I probably would not have time, but she told me we must go shopping. Also on Sunday I had arranged with my women’s English class to meet for lunch at Burger King. Because one of our English units was on food, including the history of certain foods, like the hamburger, we decided not only to read and talk about it, but to experience it. I had asked them if they wanted me to have hamburgers brought to our class or if they wanted to go out, and they wanted us to go out. So, I invited my shopping friend to meet with us. I knew she would enjoy meeting my students.

My shopping friend had an interesting experience to share with me. We had an accident a few days after Christmas, when we were on our way to make a visit. I had felt that somehow God must have a plan for me to meet the young man who hit me and his family. I had already told my friend that we must visit them. As we sat down to eat she told me about a school trip she had made with one of her classes, and guess who was the driver of the bus they had hired!!! He turned out to be the father of the young man who had hit me! He told her how grateful he was that I had been forgiving and did not press charges. He told her that he wants us to visit him! Imagine!!! Of all the hundreds and hundreds of buses and bus drivers there must be in this city, God arranged this encounter! For sure, he has something special for this Palestinian family.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Fun with Arabic

Learning Arabic is a life-long process. Just when you think you've mastered a few words, they change. The following was posted by one of our team members who can laugh - today - about some of his learning experiences.

Learning Arabic can be fun and frustrating at the same time. I have to admit that I hated taking English grammar classes when I was in school as a kid. I think most people agree that grammar is boring with not much use in the real world. Well, I am leaning that might be true in your native language, but when trying to learn a new language, learning grammar of that language can be very helpful and even fun at times. For any of you who have attempted to learn Arabic you know there are very few things that are fun when it comes to the language.

While living in one part of the Middle East, I learned to say to the gas station attendant (there is no self-service here), “fillilha.” I kept trying to figure out what Arabic verb the word derived from. In Arabic, you can take a verb and add a pronoun to create a direct object of the verb. For example, the word “suft” means I saw. Therefore, if you add the pronoun “ha” for her, she or it, to form “suftha” it now means I saw her. Well I knew that the “ha” apart of the “fillilha” corresponds to the car, in Arabic words have gender, and the word for car “sayyara” is feminine. See I told you grammar could be fun.

However, for the life of me I could not find the verb “fillil” anywhere, not even in the dictionary. I finally asked my Arab tutor what verb in Arabic this came from. He looked at me quizzically and said “how I don’t know it is English”. I said “English!”, and then it hit me the word that I though was Arabic was just the English word “fill” with the Arabic object for it attached. The il might come from definite article meaning “the”. So “fillilha” means fill the car or fill it. I guess the word could be called Engbic or Arablish, some might just call it Gibberish.

Now here comes the not so fun part, as soon as you think you understand the rules for Arabic some Arabic speaker will change them on you.

After moving to another part of the Middle East, I had to learn many new rules and I am still learning. On a recent youth outing with a Palestinian friend, we stopped to get gas. Now I have stopped to get gas with this friend many times. After I told the gas station attendant “fillilha” which my friend had heard me say numerous times, he finally broke down and said emphatically “you should use Arabic.” I told my friend that I learned to say it that way and in fact, I have heard many Arabs say the same thing. He said yes but it makes you sound like a foreigner. I quickly pointed out to him that I am indeed a foreigner. “No you sound like you are from Jordan” he said “that is a different kind of foreigner than the kind of foreigner you are”.

He also lectured me that if I was going to live here I should talk more like the locals. Wanting to learn as much as I could and not wanting to appear to be the wrong kind of foreigner, I relented, putting aside a trusted and familiar often-used phrase for a new one. So I said to him “OK what do people here say”. He replied “full”. “Full” I said excitedly “that is not Arabic nor does it even sound right in English.” He said “yes but they know what you mean”. Needless to say I don’t go to gas stations with him anymore.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

I was in Gaza two weeks ago.

A lot has happened since I was there, but I wanted to give you an update of what I saw in Gaza. Every time I go to Gaza I think, “It just can’t get any worse”, but then the next time it IS worse. There were few cars on the street. The taxi driver that took me from the border, Erez, to Gaza city told me that he was using diesel fuel that he got when the wall at the Egyptian border was broken. He had one more container and then he didn’t know what he’d do. A limited amount of fuel has been coming in on Mondays. I was there on Sunday and when I left in the late afternoon that were cars parked for several blocks in front of the gasoline stations in anticipation of the fuel coming the next day. Yesterday, I talked to a friend in Gaza who told me that gasoline was selling for about $8 per liter. Yes, liter – NOT gallon.

The situation with gas is just an example of how life has become. (Friends did tell me that the electricity supply is more stable.) There is less and less money and food and other essentials (if available) cost more and more.

And yet, people carry on. Friends that I talked with were doing well. I worshiped with a small group at the local church. It always amazes me how resilient and strong our Palestinian friends are. Please continue to pray for the Believers in Gaza. Next weekend is Orthodox Easter. Many of the Christians have applied for permission to leave Gaza to celebrate Easter in Jerusalem. Pray with us that the necessary permission will be granted.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Church “Outing”

One of our team members who lives in the West Bank shared this recent experience.

Recently forty-five members of the Palestinian Church I am attending went on an outing to Jericho to a picturesque park located at the base of the Mount of Temptation. On Fridays, thousands of Palestinians go there to barbecue, relax, and socialize with family and friends. When we arrived at the park, all of the places where a large group could gather were taken. The only remaining place was under a large Bedouin tent conspicuously in the middle of the park. The reason no one was sitting there was because you have to have your food catered from the restaurant to sit there but like everyone else, we had brought our own barbeque. Therefore, we should not have been allowed to stay there either, but God had other plans. For reasons, only God knew at time, the owner let us all use the big tent in the middle of the park without buying any food from the restaurant.

Well this location in the middle of the park made us very conspicuous and of course everyone was wondering why we were able to sit in such a privileged location and to be honest, so were we. After we settled in, we began to sing Christian songs and praise the Lord. In a very short time, we noticed that we were attracting a crowd. It seemed we were the main attraction at the park. As we sang, I saw children in the audience singing with us. Many adults and children stopped by that day and enjoyed the music and the short sermon given by our pastor. After we had finished singing, many people came to get out of the hot sun to talk with us. Many where asking questions about the songs we sang and what the pastor was saying.

I asked my friend why so many people were interested in us. He said that they don’t see many Christians worshiping outside of a church building, he said “we hide ourselves in the buildings too much”. Many here are afraid to come into the church buildings, and many Christians are afraid to come out, so what we are and how we worship is a mystery to many.

On this day, we all thought we were going on an outing but in reality it was our worship and love for Jesus that was being exposed for all to see. We were faithfully revealing our light just as God wants us to. Many people saw that light this day not because we spent hours and hours preparing some outreach program but because we were faithfully showing our love for Jesus. God made all the arrangements; he booked the stage, invited the guests, and arranged the music. All we had to do was be faithful. We may never know what impact we had on our audience that day, but God does. Our Church is planning more outings.

Friday, March 28, 2008

An On-coming Truck

Salvation can be a difficult concept to understand for people of any culture. It is especially difficult for Palestinians from a Muslim background because "good works" are so important. One of our team members shared the following experience and a great analogy she sometimes uses.

I’m helping a Palestinian study for a comprehensive exam over everything they have studied in two years and is mostly in English. I have been able to meet the whole family. We had a discussion of eternal life the other day. My student was concerned that I won’t go to Paradise. I shared what I believe and the problem seemed to be that, if salvation is a free gift, what would keep you from being bad? I compared it to someone who pushes you out of the way of an on-coming truck and dies saving you. How would you feel? What would you do for that person’s family? Would you want to make something good of your life because of that other person’s sacrifice? God’s love makes you want to be good.

Pray with us for this family. Not only are we asking that they'll understand, but that they'll experience salvation.

A New Friend

One of our team members who lives in a country where Palestinians are a minority shared the following about a new friend.

Last week I went down to a Palestinian area to visit a friend. I met this lady last summer, but I’d thought she hadn’t liked me. She’d been sort of standoffish and cold to me. I ran into her again when we went down to her area to check out a humanitarian project we are funding there. I gave her my number and she said she’d call me that night. Apparently she did call, but somehow I missed the call. About a month later, we were back in her area, and I told her to call again because I really did want to talk with her. I thought that would be it, but that weekend she called and we talked awhile. She invited me to come visit her that week because she was off for a couple of days. I usually avoid overnight visits if at all possible, but for some reason (must have been God because it sure wasn’t me), I just said yes. So a couple of days later, I hopped on a bus and went down to her area. The visit was amazing! This girl really opened up and shared her heart with me. I listened to her struggles and got a chance to share with her. Later that night I got a chance to share again in front of her brother. Both of them listened very well, and my friend said that the whole story and the idea of salvation was very beautiful. I left her with a movie and a book. Anyway, that whole visit was exciting. My friend has called me several times since the visit, including once on Easter to give me Easter greetings. I’m praying that she’ll soon know the power of our risen Lord.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Happy Mothers' Day

One of our team members worked in Gaza for several years. She shares these thoughts about Mothers' Day.

The deep bonds with Palestinian friends from Gaza continue. Last Friday, the first day of Spring, was Mother’s Day in the Middle East. I have made it a tradition to telephone my “Palestinian mother,” Sitt Z. every Mother’s Day. (“Sitt” is s title of respect for older women.) During the three years and eight months that I spent in Gaza, she “adopted” me and always calls me her American daughter. Even though it’s been a few years since I have seen her, we feel as close as ever. Some of my friends in America still have a prayer card with her picture and prayer requests and sometimes ask me how she is. She has no idea what impact she has made upon people and how widely she is known, because during one of my stateside assignments I told everyone everywhere that I spoke about her and requested prayer that the Holy Spirit would work in her life. I have left tapes and Scripture with her and shared many Bible stories and the plan of salvation with her. So far she is still a devout Muslim, but I pray that God will give her a vision that will convict her heart of truth. Now in her eighties, she said one prayer request is that we get to see each other before she dies!

Not only do I have a Palestinian “mother” that I stay in contact with, but I also have a “spiritual Palestinian son.” He called me on Mother’s Day. His family is still in Gaza, but H. has now lived in the United States long enough to become an American citizen. He and his wife have one young son and are expecting another one. What a blessing to know how God has changed him, having opened his spiritual eyes before he left Gaza! Indeed I am so thankful for God’s guidance and intervention!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Limits of Love

Where have we been? Well, we're still here. We appreciate your prayers and thought even when we don't post very often.

We read a great article about reconcillation today entitled: The Limits of Love. (Click on the title to read the article.) Great food for thought.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Gaza's Christian population wanes

This is an article from
January 15, 2008

By Erica Silverman - GAZA CITY , Gaza Strip — A small group of Palestinian Christians stands outside Gaza City's Baptist Church on a Sunday morning, waiting for the generator to power up. The church is cold and dark in the dead of winter, Israel having reduced fuel supplies to Gaza in an effort to pressure Hamas to halt rocket fire into Israel . Freshly bound prayer books, containing traditional American hymns, are tucked into the backs of the chairs in the fifth-floor prayer room. But there are no visible religious symbols in the room or outside the building, constructed about a year ago with the help of Christian donors in the U.S. and abroad. Just eight worshippers are present for the service, compared with more than 100 who attended Sunday prayers six months ago.

Gaza 's small Baptist community is dwindling rapidly. Pastor Hanna Massad, who attended seminary in California , took refuge in the West Bank after congregant Rami Eyad was killed in October. Mr. Eyad's religious bookshop was bombed in April. Mr. Massad and his wife, director of the Gaza Bible Society, which is now closed, still hope to return. Life has become increasingly difficult for Christians in Gaza since Hamas seized control of the coastal strip in June. Most Christians do not hold Hamas directly responsible, but they are calling for increased protection and accountability. "The Hamas leadership, on the political level, wants to live side by side with the Christian community, but we are not sure who is responsible for Rami's murder," said Mr. Massad.

Ihab Al-Ghusain, a spokesman for the Hamas-run Interior Ministry, condemned the killing but said there had been no progress in the investigation. Some suspect an Islamic extremist group was behind the attack. Church elder Farid Ayad, 67, now leads the Baptist service. "As a child, I learned from the American Baptist Mission that was here since 1954," said Mr. Ayad. The mission left in 2001, but a representative from the Southern Baptist Church remains in Jerusalem . Clergymen in Gaza estimate there are about 3,000 Christians still living in the Gaza Strip. Most are Greek Orthodox, but there are also a few hundred Catholics and a handful of Baptists. They live among some 1.5 million Muslims in the 140-square-mile territory. Some Christians believe the Hamas government is tr yin g to protect them, if only to improve their image in the eyes of the West. But for others, the threat has become too great.

Over the past few weeks, Israel granted temporary permission to hundreds of Gaza Christians to travel to the West Bank for the holidays. At least six families — more than 40 people — did not return. Wael Hashwa and his family of four are now living in the West Bank town of Beit Zahur , near Bethlehem . "We are living here month to month, waiting for the situation to improve," said Mr. Hashwa, who was employed by a now-closed organization of Christian ministers in Gaza . The Baptist community, self-described as evangelical, has been a principal target of the extremists because of its missionary work, which has been halted.

"Christians get killed here, let alone a Muslim who converted," said Ashraf, 36, from Gaza City , who declined to provide his last name. "I stopped going to church even before the coup." Father Artymos, originally from Greece , leads the St. Porphyrius Greek Orthodox Church, founded 1,600 years ago in Gaza 's old city. Christians and Muslims live peacefully together in Gaza , said Father Artymos, but conversions and the construction of new churches are prohibited.

The Rev. Manuel Musallan of the Latin Church in Gaza City blamed Israel for the woes of his tiny Catholic community, which also runs a school with 1,200 students, many of them Muslims. "The embargo is inhumane. It attacks the innocent here — children, the sick and the elderly," he said. "If Gaza is to be prepared for peace, this is not the way." Father Musallan meets regularly with the Hamas leadership, but members of his congregation are not as confident. "We are afraid Hamas is targeting Christians," said Issa, who manages a designer-clothing store in the city center. Issa, who asked that his full name not be used, returned on foot from a Christmas holiday in the West Bank with bags of clothing to refill the barren shelves of his store. Attacks against Christians have been rare in Gaza , but the Christians fear that small, well-armed, Islamic extremist groups may see Hamas rule as an opportunity to weed them out. Hamas has increased security in Christian neighborhoods and near churches. "There are groups in Gaza , only a few, that share an al Qaeda ideology, and we will stop them," said Mr. Al-Ghusain, the Interior Ministry spokesman.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

National Geographic Article

National Geographic has an interesting article on Bethlehem posted on the web.

It ends with a quote by the mayor of Bethlehem: "This can't be a place where calm never exists. If the world is ever going to have peace, it has to start right here."

It is long, but well worth the time.

Christmas Party

Posted by one of our team members living in a Middle-East country where Palestinians are a minority.

I had a good time with my Palestinian friend at our Christmas party. In fact, although I invited several friends to the party, only my Palestinian friends showed up. It worked out well, though, because lots of my roommate’s friends came and there wouldn’t have been room in our house for everyone. Anyway, three of my friends heard a very clear presentation of the Way and got books. And it was at the party when I talked to my friend about working with her at her refugee camp. She was very excited about that. Later that week, she called me and invited me to her house. I was really excited about that because it’s almost always me doing the initiating in all of my relationships, but in this case it wasn’t. So we had a good time together and when she gets back from her Eid visit to Lebanon, we’re going to get in contact again. Later that same night, we visited some of roommate’s friends in that camp, and I met another Pal girl whose father is exiled to Libya because he’s been a little too friendly with Arafat and his crew and the government here got suspicious. We’ll see how that friendship will progress!

Christmas visits

Posted by one of our team members living in Jordan

On Christmas Day, because I always expect tons and tons of visitors all afternoon and evening, two of my university-aged, Muslim students came to help me through the time. They are great dishwashers, and also help me in serving guests. Only one family had come and left before they arrived.

While we were waiting for more guests to arrive, I was playing Christmas music, and they were looking through some of my picture albums. During the Adhan, or call to evening prayers from the mosques in my neighborhood, they asked if I would turn off the music out of respect for the call to prayer. After I did so, I asked them what’s the difference between playing music and their chatting, because they did not stop chatting during this time. They were not quiet nor were they praying. They said they didn’t know. It was just something that their parents had taught them to do. They didn’t know why. I told them that through music I can worship God and it helps me feel His presence. They apologized for their request.

I began thinking “What insight this is to all of us!” I hope that gives them reason to think about and examine their faith, why they do the things they do. I’m so glad to see them and other young people thinking about their beliefs and no longer, as generations in the past did, accept everything taught in Islam by their parents and imams, without reasoning and questioning!