Reflections as we leave the Holy Land

[Monday, January 18]

We are at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv waiting for our flight to Geneva through Frankfurt. From my own point of view, I experienced everything I had hoped for his trip. I gained firsthand knowledge of the work of the Lutheran World Federation and the ways Canadian Lutheran World Relief has partnered with LWF and other agencies in the region.

I was struck by the commitment and professionalism of the teachers and enthusiasm and energy of the students at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope School and the Lutheran School at Dar-Kalima. The attention to academic excellence and positive outcomes was outstanding.

We learned about the work of the International Center attached to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Christmas. Pastor Mitri Raheb, who at one time literally had a gun held to his head by Israeli soldiers, told us about the work of the Center in providing a great variety of programs benefitting children and youth.

I believe we were encouraged by the work of the Lutheran Environmental Education Center at Talitha Kumi. The staff are really trying to make a difference by taking a positive message about environmental stewardship into the schools and community.

The LWF Vocational Training Center and its strategic focus on training young Palestinians in occupations where they could achieve personal success and build a rewarding career held special significance for me. The training seemed excellent and the examples of metal work and wood crafting were excellent. There is also training in automotive repair, sheet metal work, telecommunications, and plumbing and heating. The attempt to involve more young women in this training is forward thinking in this part of the world. I went away with a personal commitment to want to raise additional funds over what CLWR is now providing to the work of this school.

A highlight for me, and I’m sure for the others, was our visit to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and the private session we held with Bishop Younan of the Evangelical Church of Jordan and the Holy Land. This man’s singular commitment to his church and the gospel and his insights into the dynamics of human relationships was very special for me.

Of course, the jewel of the Lutheran presence in the Holy Land has to be Augusta Victoria Hospital and the tremendous work it does. It was sad to see all five paediatric dialysis beds full, but at least it was able to serve those in need. You cannot help but be proud of the CLWR contribution in expanding geriatric care at the hospital and Executive Director Robert Granke and others are working diligently behind the scenes to secure funding to expand this service into a separate building of perhaps as many as 90-120 beds. The hospital doesn’t remain static in its service to diabetics or its oncology and radiation treatment programs. Work is ongoing towards installing another machine and there will be mobile mammography units going into the Palestinian settlements along with mobile preventative medicine teams.

We cannot overlook the work of others and we saw the way the Lajee Center at the Aida refugee camp was helping young people find a peaceful means of protest through art and creative projects such as documentaries. The Ecumenical Center at Tantur is providing great resources for scholarly research and ongoing education as well as providing a sensitization to interfaith experiences and promoting useful dialogue.

You don’t visit the Holy Land and not tour the religious sites. Certainly we did. I found some of them a bit garish and the dispute among churches claiming the same space or alternate spots as more accurate than others was disappointing. On the other hand the visit to the Sea of Galilee and the various locations of different gospel stories was very helpful. Having seen so many sites across both Palestinian and Israeli territory means I will never read the Bible again without these visions in my head.

We spent some great times in fellowship at meals and having a float and mud bath at the Red Sea. The Canadian flag was hoisted and the national anthem played for us as our ‘Jesus Boat’ set sail on the Sea of Galilee.

Well our next stop is Geneva. We will learn more about the work of the Lutheran World Federation and other agencies housed here and certainly we will look forward to getting a report from the ground on the latest efforts in Haiti.

I want to conclude the Holy Land section of this blog by sharing with you news I received while in Jerusalem. The Physicians for Human Rights, Israeli section, released news about 17 cornea transplant patients from Palestine. It seems that during the Christmas season American hospitals do not perform many transplants. As corneas come available they are sent around the world for the use of qualified recipients. Seventeen such people from the Palestinian settlements set out for Jerusalem hospitals. They were held up at the checkpoints by Israeli Defence Forces long enough that the corneas expired and these people were unable to receive the transplants in spite of the vigorous intervention of the Israeli doctors.

That’s the reality in this part of the world.

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