Monday, April 13, 2009

Notes from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land

An Easter message from the Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) -

The church also provides a monthly calendar page at
This month's calendar celebrates the al-Mahaba Kindergarten and its outdoor playground. I'll post the text and the prayer below. There is a beautiful photo on the calendar.

1. Bishop Younan's message

Hope renewed after visit with the women to the tomb
Easter message, April 2009

Bishop Dr. Munib A. Younan

And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. (Mark 16:2)

In a world of great disparity, something unusual is happening – rich and poor alike are in despair. The events of the day – the world-wide economic crisis, global climate change, the bombardment of Gaza, the instability in Pakistan, the bush fires in Australia, the earthquake in Italy, the rash of shootings in the U.S., the rising levels of poverty – these occurrences have united all in a sense of despair that might have been something like Mary, Mary Magdalene and Salome felt. They approached the tomb that day with a sense of having buried their reason for hope.

For these three women, Christ’s triumphal entry of Palm Sunday has turned into the gloom of Good Friday. The adoring crowds less than one week before have scattered, and a handful of women, whose love for Jesus is undiminished by his death, are left to offer one last sign of respect for their fallen leader and to bury with him their fallen hope.

As I sit in my office in Jerusalem, people run to share with me news of hopelessness. Some of our members approach me asking, “We’re losing our rights to live in Jerusalem. What will the church do as Jerusalem has fewer and fewer Christians?” As I move through the city streets, the merchants ask me, “Did you hear that 88 houses in Silwan are scheduled for demolition? Did you hear that settlements are expanding? What do the world’s churches say about this?” Some ask, “Will there ever be peace based on justice with economic development? Will Israel ever give us land so all can live in peace?” Others say, “Israelis have their own state. Why do they continue to live in fear? Is this what motivates them to elect politicians who promise to answer their fear with more oppression of Palestinians?” One of my Jewish friends said to me, “Yes, we understand this fear in Gaza. But can you also understand the fear of many Israelis in the south who fear rockets from Gaza?” As I watched the bombardment of Gaza earlier this year, my heart was deeply troubled. “Do not all three monotheistic recognize that God has called life sacred? Is this sanctity of life not only for one people but also those who might be called political enemies?”

All these and other troubling questions allowed me to join the women on their way to the tomb. Indeed, circumstances tempt all to be like the women, preparing to bury the last of our hope among the dead. Like the women who planned to tend to their lifeless master’s body, we tend to that which feeds our hopelessness. We anoint our suspicion of the other by proclaiming our faith traditions “true” and theirs “false.” We feed our fear by building 30-foot (8 m) high concrete barriers. We nurture our grudges by speaking falsehoods about our neighbors. We arm our hatred by building evermore destructive weapons. We escalate violence by seeking revenge.

When I visited Gaza last month, I felt I was joining the women in their hopelessness on the way to the tomb. I was really taken and overwhelmed by what I saw. The devastation there reminded me of the aftermath of an earthquake. As I walked through the streets or visited the hospital and clinics, it struck me that not a single child was smiling. I came back to my office in Jerusalem, near the Holy Sepulcher, the original place of the tomb, feeling like the women must have felt, accepting the reality that Jesus was dead. Hope was dead. Faith was dead. Love was dead.

It is in such times when things are at their worst that the church must be at its best. It must follow its master to the cross. But the cross was not the end of the story. It must pray for and use its prophetic voice to call a new reality into existence. In the words of the great American civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr., the events of holy week speak to this necessity. “There is,” King writes, “something at the very center of our faith which reminds us that Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter.” While world events at large proclaim hopelessness, the Easter message “reminds us that the universe is on the side of justice. It says to those who struggle for justice, ‘You do not struggle alone, but God struggles with you.’ This belief that God is on the side of truth and justice comes down to us from the long tradition of our Christian faith.” What Dr. King says is true – that the church must work for justice as well as for life with hope.

We Christians approach the tomb prepared to bury our hope. But we can, like the women on the first Easter morning, be transformed by the risen Christ and bury our hopelessness instead. Let us leave behind in the empty tomb all those things that are empty of hope – hatred, revenge, violence, fear, discrimination, insecurity, greed and the like. Let us emerge with those Spirit-given gifts that nurture hope – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Let us tend them more carefully than we tended our former hopelessness. Let us not lose hope that peace and security are coming. Freedom is coming. Justice is coming.

I am not a prophet. I do not know what the future holds for the people in my land. But the Bible, which is ultimately a book of hope, guides my response. The story of the bible holds my faith, my love and my hope. The prophet Isaiah, confronted by his dispirited, oppressed people, reminded them of God’s faithfulness to them. For example, in Isaiah 43:18-19 he says: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

So I remind my people and our neighbors that God has preserved us in this country for the last 2,000 years and will continue to do so. This is not an empty hope. For our God is a God of hope, faith and love. Our God is faithful. He who raised Jesus from the dead is capable of raising our hope sooner than we think.

On May 17 our church will celebrate three milestones: 170 years of evangelical mission, 50 years since the synod’s establishment and 30 years of the Arabic bishopric. When I think about how the church has seen times of affliction and trouble as well as joy, I see that the ELCJHL story is ultimately one of hope. God works through us and in us to be Christ’s living witnesses. The risen Lord uses this small church in big ways. He calls us to be living witnesses and proclaim the Easter message of resurrection in order to give hope in a hopeless situation. I have learned that the strength of the church is not in the numbers, buildings or wealth but in our living witness. Our might is in our ability to transmit the hope of the resurrection in a hopeless situation. Our value is in our ability to bring the good news that ours is a God of love and justice -- not only to our people but also to our neighbors.

Please pray that the risen Lord will continue to empower us to proclaim the good news and to work for justice, peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. Please pray that our church may continue to be an instrument of peace, a beacon of hope, a broker of justice and a ministry of reconciliation.

In this time when fear is a uniting factor, let us as Christ’s church proclaim the message of the empty tomb – the message of hope. And let us do so not just at the triumphal end of holy week. Let us do so even during the darkness of Good Friday. The world needs this hope now more than ever before. Let us witness for this hope of resurrection for both peoples, the Palestinians and the Israelis, and for the three religions. Let us affirm that it is possible to live in peace. It is possible that our children may live together and may share Jerusalem. As long as there is a living Lord, hope is ever revived. Please pray for peace with justice for Jerusalem and all of the lands called holy.

Just as the angel at the tomb sent the women to share the good news of the resurrection, this same angel sends us today to bring a message of hope to a hopeless situation, to a fearful world and a divided country. Full of hope, we continue to shout from Jerusalem,

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Al Masih Qam! Haqan Qam!
المسيح قام حقاً قام
وكل عام وأنتم وعائلاتكم بألف خير

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL)
PO Box 14076, Muristan Road • Jerusalem, Israel 91140 • +972-2-626-6800

2. ELCJHL Calendar

Playground offers children fun, exercise and education

There are many exciting qualities of the ELCJHL al-Mahaba Kindergarten, but one of the very best is the outdoor playground. The playground features a large wooden structure equipped with climbing ladder and slide, a beautiful garden surrounding the space and an ample area of grass for running and playing. There also is an assortment of fun equipment such as bicycles, balls and a petite slide for the smaller children.

Some days our activities include attending to the garden. The kids learn how to care for the plants and keep the garden watered and tidy. We feel that the outdoor playground not only allows the children to expend their energy in a positive manner, but it also improves their gross motor skills and social development. People just cannot help but stop and take a look at the smiling and laughing children when they pass by al-Mahaba Kindergarten’s outdoor playground. Feel free to stop by any time and see for yourself!

Prayer: Heavenly Father: We thank you for these little ones and for those we entrust with their care. May the lessons and life skills they learn at al-Mahaba stay with them all their lives, helping them to live in peace and harmony with all of God’s creation. Look after all the children of the world, especially those who don’t have safe places to play. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

This article was written by Paul Kacynski, who is a volunteer at the al-Mahaba Kindergarten through the ELCA’s “Young Adults in Global Mission” program. He is a member of Bethel Lutheran Church in Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

World Council of Churches' World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel, `Living Letters' report

Friends, this note introduces a project of the World Council of Churches (WCC), World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel. Following that is a report from the WCC "Living Letters" group that visited the Middle East in March.

First, World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel, 4-10 June 2009

World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel
WCC member churches, related organizations and ecumenical networks will make a common international witness for peace in Palestine and Israel through a week of action in early June 2009.

Churches and related organizations in Palestine and Israel are at the centre of the initiative, including the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme of the WCC []. Parish and national groups in Australia, North America, Europe, South Africa and the Middle East join them by taking one or more of the following actions:

1. Pray with churches living under occupation, using a special prayer from Jerusalem.
2. Educate about actions that make for peace and about facts on the ground that do not.
3. Advocate with political leaders using ecumenical policies that promote peace with justice.

The action week's message is that now "It's Time for Palestine": It's time for Palestinians and Israelis to share a just peace; time to end 60 years of conflict; time for freedom from occupation; time for equal rights; and time for the healing of wounded souls.

Concrete plans are emerging in at least 11 countries. A kick-off in one parliament? A mock settlement near another? National candidates debates? Ex-soldiers breaking the silence in church? Parishes listening to Muslim children's prayers? It's still early for all the details but high time to share the news.

Many people have been busy. There are three months to go -- long enough to get organized but too short to not be moving forward. Churches together can do a lot for peace and for the hope that sustains people until there is peace.

Go to the gateway page - - and look for prayer, education and advocacy resources in the column at left. This page will grow as links and news are received from participants.

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Next a report about the WCC "Living Letters" group that visited the Palestine and Israel last month.

World Council of Churches - Feature
02/04/2009 11:03:11
By Emma Halgren
Free photos available, see below

Churches around the world must speak out and act for justice in Israel and Palestine, church leaders told members of an ecumenical delegation visiting the region from March 7 to 14.

Members of the delegation – a Living Letters team visiting on behalf of the World Council of Churches (WCC) – learned of the many ways in which churches in the region cooperate to provide social services and advocate for peace and justice. But as the already low Palestinian Christian population continues to dwindle, and life becomes increasingly difficult for Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation, the work of churches is coming under strain, and support is desperately needed, the delegation was told.

"Living Letters" are small international ecumenical teams travelling to locations around the world where Christians strive to overcome violence. Their goal is to express the solidarity of the ecumenical family and learn how people are dealing with the challenges that face them.

Throughout the week the delegation met with local church leaders Patriarch Theophilus III of the Holy City of Jerusalem and All Palestine, Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Fouad Twal, Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and the Rev. Robert Edmunds, representative to the Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani in Jerusalem.

The leaders told the group that many factors were contributing to the high rates of emigration of Palestinian Christians, and to the suffering of Palestinian people as a whole. These included discriminatory housing policies, the demolition of Palestinian homes to make way for Israeli settlements, high rates of unemployment, and violence from Israeli settlers.

In addition, a strict permit system imposed by the Israeli government severely restricts, or in many cases prohibits, the movement of Palestinians within (and to and from) the West Bank. These restrictions affect all aspects of Palestinian life, making everyday activities like selling farming produce, obtaining access to medical treatment and education and visiting friends and relatives difficult, hazardous and often impossible.

"Don't leave us alone", plead church leaders

Patriarch Fouad Twal said that after 60 years of occupation, there was a strong sense of powerlessness among Christians in Palestine.

"We still pray," he said. "And we believe in the power of prayer. We are hopeful with the new US administration. But we need countries around the world to support us."

Patriarch Theophilus III said that a strong Christian presence in the Holy Land was extremely important, and that his Patriarchate was working hard to promote reconciliation in the region.

"Christians need moral support – they need to feel that they are not alone. One very important contribution to the peace process is education – initiatives that allow young people to get together, to get to know each other's religious symbols, to remove prejudices," he said.

Bishop Munib Younan said it was important to understand that injustice now could fuel extremism in the future, across all three religions in the region. Already this was being manifested in numerous ways, he said – for example, in the rise to power of ultra-orthodox personalities in the Israeli government, in the strong support for Israel by Christian Zionists, and in the quest for power among Islamic fundamentalists.

Nowhere was the impact of these tensions clearer than in the recent war on Gaza, said Bishop Younan. A team of clergy recently visited the Gaza Strip. What they saw there in the wake of the December to January Israeli air strikes was destruction on a monumental scale, and a people traumatized by the violence they had experienced.

"I've travelled a great deal in the world, and this is the first time I've seen children without a smile," said Bishop Younan. "The children of Gaza cannot smile. Where is the conscience of the world?"

The time for negotiations had passed, he said, and it was time to act. "The churches must not keep quiet about this. They must be prophetic voices. Don't leave us alone in our struggle. Help us by raising your voices to speak more clearly on justice, the sharing of Jerusalem, an end to the occupation, and a viable state for Palestinians, living side-by-side with the state of Israel."

Rev. Dr Naim Ateek, founder and director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, issued a similar call during an evening meeting with the Living Letters team. Ateek, whose book A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation had been launched the previous night, said there was a desperate need for prophetic voices on the Israel-Palestine issue, particularly Christian ones. "If all the churches were willing to speak up, we could work miracles here," he said. "We have great weight, which we have not used."

Courage needed to challenge occupation

The need for US leadership on the issue – and the importance of advocacy by US churches to encourage this leadership – was a recurring theme throughout the visit. The Rev. John Thomas, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in the United States, was also in Jerusalem and the West Bank in March as part of a visit to ecumenical partners in the Middle East. He and two UCC staff members accompanied the Living Letters team on several of their meetings with church leaders and human rights organizations.

He was struck by the changes that had taken place since he last toured the area in 2005: the expansion of illegal Israeli housing settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; the transformation of once-makeshift checkpoints into elaborate terminals through which Palestinians must pass in order to enter Jerusalem; and the growth of the Separation Wall which now cuts deep into the West Bank.

Thomas said the Palestinians he met expressed little hope of a change in their situation. "The sense of abandonment and vulnerability is profound, the sense of political powerlessness pervasive."

He challenged members of his own church to speak out on the issue. "The question for us is whether we can be brave enough to challenge an occupation seeking to claim the souls of all involved, and that demeans and dehumanizes even those it seeks to privilege," he said.

"As citizens of the nation that provides billions of dollars a year to support the occupation, we are deeply complicit, and therefore called to a particular responsibility to say, 'No longer in my name!'"

More information about the Living Letters visit:

Photo gallery:

Sixty Years of WCC Policy on Palestine/Israel, 1948-2007 (in brief)

WCC member churches in Israel/Palestine

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