It’s not easy on a Sunday, trying to have a leisurely day in Palestine. There are no benches or parks from where you can people watch. You have to find a piece of a wall to lean on. There are no cafes or wine bars to hang out in, to relax. There are no places where you can plant yourself in between your journey. You head to your destination or stay in at home. They don’t have a dog to walk, there are no public tennis or basketball courts, no bowling alleys, picnic tables, beaches, playgrounds for kids, no place to gather, so you are on your own or with your family. You can shop for your daily bread, but you don’t have to walk far. I really take for granted the many available options I have to spend quality relaxing time.
On my way to the Christmas Lutheran Church of Bethlehem, I heard some beautiful singing at the Catholic Church of the Salesians. Their youth group were all wearing scarves, so it must have been a special Sunday for them.
This the 3rd Lutheran church I have been to. These churches are the ones we Presbyterians partner with in ministry in Palestine. Lutherans, or the evangelical churches as they are often known, are a minority among the more populated Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches. After all, they had a 1500-year head start. Rev Mitri Raheb, the pastor here, spoke at St. John’s a couple of years ago, talking about the occupation and how faith communities are responding with peacemaking efforts.
Also leading in worship was Rev Kate Tabor, our Presbyterian mission worker based in Jerusalem. I saw a German peace worker from 2 Sundays ago, who I got to know at the Lutheran Church of Beit Jala, and the Nasser family, of the Tent of Nations (see earlier blog). They all worship regularly here. Dahoud Nasser told me that the children at this week’s camp were upset because from their hilltop, they could here the bombs hitting Gaza, about 60 kilometers away. Then he noted that of course, for the children of Gaza it is overwhelming.
Here in Beit Sahour, you would never know there is a war on – so close, yet so far. At times I don’t now what to think or feel. Should I weep? I can’t really empathize with people because I really have no idea what it is like for them, how they experience the brutality, the fragility of life, with such stoicism. Can I laugh with them? That almost seems so irreverent. I am greeted often by adults and kids, even though I am strange looking. I can at least say “hi”, “Marhaba”, as I look at them face to face, human being to human being, affirming their existence, honoring them as persons of value – they are known.