The First Lutheran Church group visited Taybeh and Taybeh Brewing Company to learn about delicious Palestinian beer. Below are some pictures from the day. IMG_6153

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The morning began with news that our bus driver couldn’t get out of his village and our bus wasn’t able to leave the lot. This news was followed by news that during the protest we witnessed yesterday a young man was killed by Israeli soldiers. He was not a part of the protest, he was walking to work. His funeral was today and all of Bethlehem shut down as a sign of respect and solidarity with the family who lost their son. As we were coming back from Tent of Nations we got caught in the traffic caused by the beginning of the funeral procession. It is heart breaking to witness, this microcosm of the conflict here.
IMG_6140In the midst of it all we heard words of hope from our brothers and sisters at Tent of Nations who are tireless in their work toward peace. Hope in the words of young people at Bethlehem University that are determined to get an education to better the lives of their people. Hope in the actions of the glass artisans who continue to create their beautiful art in Hebron.

 

There is hope here. There can be peace. When the people of God, all of us, stop and listen to each other and work to make sure all have a good life.

-Pastor Karyn

It’s morning here in Bethlehem and there is steady traffic flowing down the street as I sit on the balcony. In front of me is a terraced hill with an old dwelling on it surrounded on each side and above by more modern buildings. Bethlehem is for me where the contrast of ancient and modern really comes alive. It is also a city most people come to for a few hours and then leave to go back to Jerusalem, which is only about 15 miles away. It is also a city surrounded by a wall that seriously restricts the movement of thoseIMG_6127 who live here, making access to schools, family and holy places outside the city very difficult. Even traffic in the city is effected because streets that once went through are now dead ends. And so it was not surprising to find a protest happening as we tried to navigate our way around.

 

It is hard to have hope when your way is blocked at every turn, when politicians talk but nothing changes, wheIMG_6138n it seems as if your suffering is ignored and so the people take to the streets in protest of the occupation. So we did not get a chance to talk to people or explore the Old City of Bethlehem because it was safer to stay closer to the hotel. While it is an inconvenience, it is a small taste of life here in this holy city. That is what we came to learn: what is going on here and how can we help change it. So we enjoy the hospitality of the staff and engage in conversation with one another and explore the neighborhood. Today we will venture farther out and pray for peace for this land.

-Pastor Karyn

There are moments in every pastor’s life when you sit back and look around and are in awe at what God has done. 3 years ago when I first visited the Holy Land, I knew that God was asking me to work for peace and justice here in this place. I had very little idea what that would look like and it scared me. It meant being a voice and standing up and putting my own self at risk of ridicule and scorn. I haven’t done all that I could do in the last 3 years. Yet last night, as we sat in a large circle on the patio of our hotel with sirens and helicopters as our background, the balmy breeze cooling off the day, our group processed the day and began to ask the hard questions; and in that moment I saw a little of what God has done through me in the last 3 years. Finally, I had brought people here, to this place that instantly felt like home to me and they are hearing the stories I heard and they are wrestling with many of the same questions and they are hearing the call to work for peace. The reality is, no one person can make peace happen, we can each do something, but until the collective voice of people outside this land raises up, peace will be elusive. So these two weeks, the Spirit of God is working in the hearts and minds of 19 pilgrims creating peacemakers.

Yesterday we began early to avoid the heat of the day at the City of David just outside the Old City. Hiking the tunnels was an awesome experience and sitting next to the Pool of Siloam and remembering the story of Jesus healing the blind man was amazing. Then we heard from the people of Silwan, an Arab neighborhood that is in the shadow of this archeological site. It is heartbreaking to hear of the struggles they go through even though they are part of Israel. They live in substandard conditions, they struggle to do the simplest things, they find their way blocked at nearly every turn by the government.

Then we traveled from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem, a stark difference. It is like going from Tijuana to La Jolla in the matter of minutes. When we traveled to Mt. Herzl we heard from a former Israeli soldier about his service and the work he now does for underprivileged youth in Jerusalem. We ended our day with a visit to Yad Vashem, the holocaust museum. It was a powerful experience for us all and provided us with a deeper and broader picture of the conflict here.

This morning we head to Bethlehem where we will hear more about the birth of Jesus, talk to more peacemakers, visit the contested city of Hebron and open ourselves further to the Spirit of God. Amazing things are happening within this small band of pilgrims and I hope, in a small way, we are making a difference through our willingness to listen to those we encounter.

Pastor Karyn

Today’s blog post comes from Pastor Karyn Bodenschatz

It has been a full two days as we learn the land of Jerusalem. We are finding that our trip is unlike many that our tour guides do; we spend a lot of time listening and experiencing as we seek deeper understanding. As the leader, who loves this land and the people who live here, there is no other way to visit and I am overcome by the openness with which the people who I lead approach each day. As one of them said, “You have talked about this for several years now and we listened, but now we understand.” If we left today, I would be happy with what has been accomplished, but we have many more days left to explore and learn.

DAY 3

On Saturday we entered the West Bank for the first time. It raised a lot of questions when we had to let our Israeli guide off the bus before entering “Area A”, that area controlled by the Palestinian Authority. It is good to see the reality of this land and the consequences that follow the many agreements and disagreements. We visited the oldest city in the world: Jericho, where several of our folks rode a camel! We also talked about the history of the place, from before the famous “Joshua fit the battle of Jericho” story and to Jesus and beyond. We experienced the incredible Palestinian hospitality as each time we got of the bus someone greeted us with a tasty treat. While in the area, we learned about water issues from the Auja Eco Project and the struggle they have as they try to provide clean water to those who live in the West Bank.

IMG_6122The afternoon was spent relaxing at the Dead Sea. We all enjoyed at least dipping our toes into this ancient sea ­- many choosing to float. It was just what we needed after all the walking we did the day before. The evening found us talking with members of the Parent Circle. It was a powerful evening as we listened to two men tell us their story of heartache and grief. Each had lost a daughter in the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Each talked about choosing between retribution or reconciliation. Each talked about how strange it was to consider talking to the other. The Parent Circle talks to hundreds of people and schools every year as they try to promote peace through conversation and connection. As they say, “We bang our heads against the wall of hatred again and again and create cracks of hope.”

To say that hearts began to open is an understatement. We began the shift from tourist to pilgrim. The story came alive, ancient and new.

Day 4

IMG_6100Yesterday included a bishop, a rabbi and an imam which sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but in fact made for an interesting intersections of faith and ideology. We began with worship at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. We expected to be a part of their usual English speaking service but were surprised with a joint Arabic/English service with the commissioning of their Young Adults in Global Mission! On top of that we were privileged to hear Bishop Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land preach. He challenged us rise up as the church to help bring about peace. To pray, to advocate and to be bold as we work toward healing and peace. We were reminded throughout the service to love our neighbor.

Following worship we met with Rabbi Daniel Roth. He led us in a study of Leviticus text that calls for the people of God to….. wait for it….. love their neighbor. We are beginning to sense a theme. That study led us into conversation around the conflict and possible solutions. We have begun to see that it is not as easy as our politicians or some religious leaders would have us believe.

We then walked more of the Old City heading from the hotel in the Christian Quarter, through the Armenian Quarter to the Jewish Quarter where we made our way to the line to get into the Temple Mount. Being at Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock is an inspiring thing until Orthodox Jews decide to come and pray. They believe that the spot on which the Dome of the Rock is is the place of the Holy of Holies, so they want to get as close as possible to pray there. However, on that spot now is the holiest place for the Muslims. When the Orthodox Jews appeared, the women began to yell that Allah is great and soon a few men joined in. It was an audible and visible reminder of the conflict. It is hard to describe the feelings that overcame me at that moment. I knew that I was a witness to the encounter and that it was important for me to watch and listen as these young men walked through surrounded by police but my heart broke at the pain that was being expressed by the women. The situation here seems so hopeless in these moments.

Many times in the past three days we have heard that Christians are key to bringing peace to this area. Not extreme Christians, but those of us who seek peace, who follow Jesus’ command to love God and love neighbor. This moment at the Temple Mount made it clear to me that those who are calling for Christian intervention are right. Following our experience at the Temple Mount we went to the Western Wall and prayed. It is quite the experience to stand with people from all the world and pray. Praying for peace seemed an appropriate thing to do there in this holy place.

IMG_6107But wait, we weren’t done! We followed up our walk with a meeting with an Imam from Al Aqsa mosque. He too spoke of loving our neighbor as the only way to peace. The evening ended with an incredible meal in the home of a Palestinian. It was everything I have come to expect of a Palestinian family and more because it was followed up by live music and dancing. I was overcome with emotion as I watched the people of our group finally getting up and dancing with our hosts, having fun and in the way of things, building bridges of peace.

We are at the beginning of our second full day in Jerusalem and already our heads are full of the wonder of this amazing city and questions about the things we have seen. The clash of the ancient and  modern was never more clear than when we walked the Stations of the Cross through the narrow streets of modern day Old City Jerusalem. As one person put it, “It certainly wasn’t like what I have experienced at church as we walked from one station to the next and the shop keepers were yelling ‘2 caps for 20 dollars’. I wonder what would happen if I did that next time in church.”

The reality of tension between Israel and Palestine was visible in the increased presence of police yesterday as Muslims made their way to the mosque for their sabbath and Jews headed to the wall later that evening to greet the Sabbath.

It was with joy that we heard about the work of the Lutheran World Federation and Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem during a tour. The money that we give to them through the ELCA and our tax dollars help them do important work with Palestinians.

For me, the most poignant moment came when we sat in the garden tomb and read the story of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. It was easy to imagine the women coming to the tomb and the disciples running to look and Mary pleading with “gardener” to show her where the body of Jesus was. In that moment I was reminded of my own unworthiness to be loved by God and God’s overwhelming response of love through Christ.

As we made our way to the Western Wall near sunset with our Israeli guide Ari, we could hear the church bells ringing and then the call to prayer and then the joyful singing at the Wall. It was an auditory reminder that 3 faiths inhabit this land and a sign of hope that one day this place could be a light on hill, proclaiming peace.

We are incredibly blessed with our two guides: Ari and Nabil. Ari, as I mentioned before, is an Israeli Jew and Nabil is a Palestinian Christian. Both offer us a perspective we would not normally hear and are fearless in their answering of our many questions. We have already benefited from their expertise and knowledge.

Today we head to Jericho and the Dead Sea and this evening we meet with representatives from the Parent Circle. I am sure that as the day goes on the questions will continue to come, the Spirit will work in us to call us to the work of peace and justice and our faith will be strengthened.

Shalom/Salaam

Pastor Karyn

Three years ago I woke up in a foreign land to the sound of the call to prayer ringing through the valley. I sat outside and watched the sun rise over Old City Jerusalem and I knew I was in a holy place. Later that day, the ringing of the church bells and the call to prayer filled the city as two of the three religions that occupy the land called it’s people to prayer and it was overwhelmingly beautiful. I was forever changed by that trip and I cannot wait to introduce others to the incredible beauty of the land we call holy and the deep generosity of people who live there.

-Pastor Karyn