It is sometimes forgotten that the Reformation was as much concerned with school as it was with church and home. Appreciating the role of education in directing church and society back to the source of the Christian faith, the reformers were committed to the schooling of the young. One of Martin Luther’s first acts as a reformer was to propose that monasteries be turned into schools, while one of his last was to establish a school in Eisleben, where he died in 1546.
It is in that spirit that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land has established and maintained, with the help of church partners, a sophisticated network of private Christian schools. The Canadian Lutheran World Relief Global Encounter group visited two of those schools today.
The first was a school attached to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah. The school was established in 1979. and currently serves 480 students. 60% of the students are boys. Girls are fewer because some of the Catholic schools take girls only and some parents prefer their daughters to attend those schools.
At one time Ramallah was 100% Christian, but today that has dropped to around 10%. About 30% of the student body is Christian. The curriculum is designed by the Palestinian Authority. Previously the curriculum in Gaza was Egyptian and that for the West Bank was Jordanian. In addition to the standard curriculum students learn English and German.
Separate classes provide faith training for Christian and Muslim students and also “dialogue classes” so that students can discuss differences and similarities in an atmosphere of respect and trust.
Children pay 70% of their fees while the remaining is paid by donor church partners. Support of these schools is a church priority project for the Evangelical Church in Canada.
During a time of coffee and fellowship, we were shown photographs of the 2002 damage to the school when Israeli troops broke into the school during a raid on Ramallah. This was the only school that was attacked.
We then made our way to the Beit Sahour region near Bethlehem. This is the area from which it is believed the shepherds who came to see Jesus were located.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church School of Beit Sahour prides itself in academic excellence. 278 of 298 graduates attended university and the only who did not go to university were young women who decided to get married. The school is rated number one in the percentage of students who exceed 90% in exams and overall fifth in academics in the region.
Both boys and girls basketball teams have been area champions for four years running and they are regular winners of the soccer tournament among Lutheran schools.
But you should have heard the choir and seen the dancers! The choir of about forty boys and girls blew my socks off. It was the Christmas moment I had not experienced this year – the one that makes you just a little (or a lot) emotional. The choir sang Christmas hymns for us in Arabic which could match any well trained adult choir. The sound was robust and full of harmony and it was terrific to see young men who enjoyed singing. The dancers, who were recently engaged by the Palestinian Authority to travel to Spain to promote tourism to Palestine, were phenomenal and clearly enjoyed their craft.
We concluded our visit with a bagged lunch with the students and a short tour of the campus.