Saturday, April 5, 2008

It is I. Do not be afraid.

Much has happened once again today.

But before I describe it ... aren't the pictures great!! Thanks to Felicity for her creative work! I am thinking of you all and you are very much in my thoughts and prayers. Hope you get some ideas for more pictures and links today!

I have also come up with some thoughts for prayer - hope they can be passed on too!

I am thinking of you all for tomorrow's service, please pass my greetings on to everyone and especially to Chris Lammiman and to Marion Hartwell as they take our services.

How much to write?

Michael McGarry in his introduction back at the beginning of the week told the salutary tale of three people who had visited the Holy Land.

One stayed for a week and wrote a book on his return.

One stayed a fortnight and wrote an article.

One stayed a month and could write nothing.

As we move from one speaker to the next, from one situation to another, we see things from yet another perspective.

The complexities of the Holy Land are immense. The more you learn the more you realize how little you know and understand.

Morning Prayers

The day began at 6-30 with a Catholic mass and a reading from John 6 and the disciples caught in a storm on the sea. Jesus joins them over the water and says, "It is I. Do not be afraid.

Evening prayers came back to the same story, half remembered for a reason that will become apparent.

It was a moving passage to begin and end the day with. In the middle of the storm, a presence, the presence of Christ who says, It is I. Do not be afraid. Simply a presence. A presence that takes away fear.

Well, I'll eat my hat ... on the other side of the wall in Bethlehem!

Morning prayers over and breakfast finished, I packed my bag, complete with my new sun hat and set off for the check point. On the other side who should I meet but a bunch of taxi drivers. One seemed to recognize me. I mentioned my hat. I soon had a crowd of taxi drivers around me, one of whom opened his boot and presented me with a hat.

My trust in human nature was restored. As was my hat!

I didn't have to bargain for a taxi today, however, as I was to going to be picked up by my friend's van.

Owner of a wonderful souvenir shop, I hoped agains hope that his van would turn up.

In due course the van turned up. We had to wait for another party who turned out to be from Papua New Guinea. One of their number was from the Uniting Church of Papua New Guinea, one of our mission partners through the Council for World Mission. He lived in Port Moresby … but didn't remember Maureen Williams who spent a couple of years out there with CWM more years ago than my new found friend could remember!

The bus deposited me at the shop just as a contingent of my fellow travelers on our Journey of Reconciliation at Tantur arrived, hot and sweaty, on foot. They had set off before me and I had arrived first. I felt a bit sheepish getting out of a mini bus … but my friend, the shop owner, was only too pressing that the others should come and sample the delights of his shop and get a good discount too!

I took my seat with my friend's father by the door of the shop and was soon enjoying a Palestinian Mint Tea and talking with the 86 year old. His father and grandfather before him had served as priests in the Church of the Nativity.

Fluent in seven languages, English, Arabic, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Greek and one other, it made you realize what an international and world city Bethlehem was.

Only two of his seven sons were still in Bethlehem with their families and each owned a shop. The other five were in the States, one a neuro-surgeon. One branch of the family had emigrated as long ago as 1917, arriving in the States at the Statue of Liberty that year.

There was a sadness about him as he felt the sadness of losing his wife, but also as he felt the sadness of the plight of his people in Bethlehem.

By now many of our walking friends were on the way back and they all came into the shop, to Johnny's delight and to their pleasure with a good discount available too!

The morning came to an end as those who wanted it were offered a lift back to the check point.

I followed on in another car and negotiated the check point on my own. The indignity of the residents of Bethlehem was all too plain as I waited in line behind a queue of Palestinians.

Through the checkpoint I was back for lunch at 12-30 and in time to get on the bus at 1-15 for Hebron.

To Hebron - a Peace-making Presence

An ancient city that claims to be the location for the tomb of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Rebekkah. It is a big city on the West Bank, accessible only on a 'settler road'. Those are the roads closed to Palestinians and open only to cars with an Israeli number plate, officially licensed minibuses and coaches like ours.

Our visit started with a troubled charity facing a very uncertain future.

Where are the rights and wrongs? Their appeal to us was to publicise their plight. Do we know enough to do so? Who can investigate? Does this kind of thing make it to our news? If not, why not?

We met members of the Christain peacemaking team, one of whom knew a predecessor of mine long ago. A Quaker, he told of us the World Council of Churches' Ecumenical Accopaniment Programme. That is another initiative that simply sends Christians to be alongside people on the West Bank and in other trouble spots. Being simply 'a presence' there often made all the difference.

In Hebron, their work is simply to be a presence in the old part of the city.

In the heart of the ancient city centre is a Jewish settler presence of 400 people. They are guarded by 2000 Israeli soldiers, with a massive number of road blocks. The settlers often harass children particularly of Palestinian families as they go to school. The Christian Peace Makers simply go along to the road blocks and accompany the children to school. That way they are a calming presence in the town.

They were invited into Hebron back in the early 1990's when an Israeli soldier attacked and machine gunned a group of Palestinians before himself being shot by other Israeli soldiers. The Hebron authorities invited the Christian Peace Maker team to come in and simply be a presence.
A great number of people have told us how wonderful there work has been in de-fusing and calming a very troubled situation.

It was troubling to walk through the city as we made our way past roadblocks and soldiers to Abraham's tomb, through the souk and back.

We returned to our coach and left that troubled city.

By now we had missed our evening prayers and were late for dinner.

No matter, as we drove along the settler road, past Jewish settlements deep into the Palestinian territory three of our number led us in our evening prayers.

Evening Prayers ... on a bus

One of our number shared the bible reading. He did it from memory, reminding us of the story. It was the story of the disciples, scared out of their minds in a storm on the sea. And Jesus came to them over the troubled water and simply said, 'It is I. Do not be afraid'

How remarkably moving those words were now. Simply the presence of Christ took away their fear.

It had been simply the presence of those Christian peace Makers that had made all the difference. Never mind all the holy places we have visited, here we encountered the presence of Christ.

We sang the Taize chant, Jesus remember me. But those weren't the words we used … Jesus remember them, we sang, as you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember them … That was our prayer.

Then Phil, the son of the Baptist minister of the church in Gloucester where Ernest Bratt and his wife are members.

Phil's prayers were intensely moving. The reading had simply been the lectionary reading for the day … and yet it had taken on such meaning. He had prepared and written his prayers long before the experiences of the afternoon in Hebron. And yet in the most moving of ways they were so appropriate.

He invited us to go back to creation and sense the spirit of God moving over the chaos of the waters. He invited us to share a response. I cannot quite remember it. In the confusion, God, make good.

It was a curious response … and yet most moving.

The appeal to the God of creation was so moving. The limestone landscape with its brilliant white has haunted me. I sometimes think the God who is greater than all creation in its geological age, smiles at the inhumanity of humanity in its brief period on this globe. Over the confusion the spirit;s presence was felt – in that Confusion, God, make good!

We went on to think of the confusion we had just witnessed, the chaos on the streets of that city, the fear. And we prayed in that confusion, God, make good.

And then we thought of our own confusions, all our inadequacies. God, make good.

How powerful the prayer!

Words weren't necessary for the remainder of the journey, though I did recall my story of the trilobites in other rocks of fond memory to my weary companion on the coach. The assembly came to mind that I had taken. How one tiny trilobite had left its mark 400 million years ago. Maybe the little gesture for peace leaves a greater mark than we might imagine.

Simply the presence!

What can we do?

A lovely supper and on to our next speaker. An hour with one of the leaders of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Council gave us the opportunity to hear how church leaders are coming together to engage with the authorities. Coming together with each other, but also getting together with leaders of other faith communities as well.

He dwelled on the diminishing numbers of Christians and spoke again of the importance of simply the presence of those Christian people.

He spoke of the Ecumenical Accompaniment programme we had already learned of that afternoon and of the immensely important work it is doing.

How important that presence is. Continually this afternoon and evening we have been coming back to that.

The council had accomplished four things – they had open a line of communication between all the Christian church leaders in the event of trouble flaring up in Israel Palestine and especially in Jerusalem. They had initiated a mechanism to monitor harmful things that are said from one church or faith community to another, things that will damage relations. They had initiated a new education programme to work for peace. And they had reflected on a long term solution for the status of the churches in Jerusalem.

Small things, and yet with significance.

He spoke of the call they had given to churches throughout the world, first to pray with churches living under occupation. He suggested finding and using a prayer written jointly by the leaders of the Jerusalem churches for the peace of Jerusalem and for the peace of Israel and Palestine. It can be found on the World Council of Churches website.

Secondly, there was a need to educate people about the situation in Israel/Palestine.

Third, there was a need to lobby political leaders to make a difference. In particular, he recalled the recent Anapolis Agreement when Israel agreed to cease any further settlements, and yet since then settlements continued to be built – and we can see them going up all around us here at Tantur! Why aren't the leaders of the nations doing anything about it, he asked.

As Israel celebrates the 60tn Anniversary of the creation of the state of Israel, the Palestinians will be commemorating the 60th Anniversary of what they call the catastrophe when 700,000 were moved, often forcibly, from their homes into the very kind of refugee camps that I had visited only yesterday afternoon.

For some a celebration. For others a commemoration.

For all, at the moment, a stormy time with apparently no end in sight.

And for us as Christians.

A Date for the Diary

He invited us to note the dates 4th to 10th June. That's when the churches of Israel/Palestine invite churches all over the world to think of them especially.

I don't have my diary with me … but hopefully that's a moment when I shall be able to have a special evening to share my experiences and reflect on all that I have encountered.

An Invitation to Prayer

Maybe, now the end of the day really has arrive, we need to come back to those simple words.

It is I.

Do not be afraid.

Simply a presence. Maybe we can do no more.

Maybe in being such a presence we are doing all.

I had hoped to list some prayer requests for tomorrow. There is so much to pray for I cannot get my mind round making such a list.

More important is to pray that Christ's presence may be felt. In the middle of the storm, wherever that storm may be and whatever form it may take may Christ approach through the stormy waters and may his voice be heard.

It is I.

Do not be afraid.

1 comment:

Felicity and Richard said...


Sorry, not technically competent enough to reply to your blog on your report page, so hope that this e-mail is OK!

Thanks for sharing your experiences they are bringing back all kinds of memories of my time in Jerusalem and Ramallah during January & February this year, although being based in Bethlehem you’ll have a much better idea of daily life for both Israeli and Palestinian than I experienced.

Your experience of evening prayers on the bus brought back a very special memory of the return journey to Jerusalem after 4 days in Galilee. We followed the course of Jordan River from Lake Galilee to Jericho where we visited the Elisha Spring, had some lunch, viewed the ruins of Herod’s Palace and then as always were sidetracked by the temptations, shopping to ordinary folk. We also viewed what we were told was a very old sycamore tree possibly one of the last in Jericho, ‘maybe this is the very tree that Zacchaeus climbed so that he could see Jesus!’ said our course leader with a twinkle in his eye.

After all this we got back on the coach and headed for Jerusalem, late Friday afternoon and the roads were busy with people trying to get home before the Sabbath, we sang songs and hymns and our Chaplain Revd Dr Shehadeh Shehadeh led us in prayer then as we climbed the hill through the wilderness and Jerusalem came into sight Psalm 122 was read and thinking back after all we had seen and experienced during the following weeks the words of verses 6, 7 and 8 really hit home to me:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:

‘May they prosper who love you.

Peace be within your walls and security within in your towers.’

For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you!’


Salaam for the rest of your trip,