04
Apr
11

Mar Elias Sunday and Monday

Sunday morning was a bit more leisurely than usual.  We had devotions after breakfast and then walked to town where we chatted with a few children, saw the church to which Bishop Chacour was assigned in 1965, met our host of last night, David, and then hiked back to the school.  Upon our return we discovered that a group of 34 had arrived in time for lunch.  They are students in the Middle East Studies Program, one of the programs of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.  The leader of the Middle East Studies Program is Dr. David Holt.  Normally they would have been in Egypt for a considerable time before coming here but due to the revolutionary events there, they left Egypt after 3 weeks there, went to Turkey, to Jordan, and then spent more time in Israel/Palestine than usual.  They came for Sunday and Monday at Mar Elias and leave late Monday night.  Most of them will be flying home to the States.  The students come from evangelical colleges throughout the USA.  Their curriculum in this semester abroad is quite involved and interesting.  They are exposed to speakers on all sorts of topics relevant to the Middle East and we felt, after hearing about it, that they were given quite a balanced view. 

All of us spent some time packing on Sunday afternoon and then we helped Micha prepare kabobs for over 40 people. Micha had arranged for an Anglican priest to conduct a service in English for us at the campus church and it was a lovely service.  We Methodists could feel quite at home in the liturgy since ours is borrowed from it. 

After the service we returned to the guest house where on the rooftop Micha barbequed the kabobs and some chicken breasts on a small grill.  He is a man of many, many talents and he has been working hard for all of us.  It was a delicious dinner and we were able to have conversation with the student group during and after it. Micha also told some hilarious stories.  The students stayed up late but the rest of us got to bed at our normal times.

This morning, Monday, Asmahan prepared a big breakfast for us all.  Gene and I explored the elementary school downstairs a little bit and we even found the library!  It is in need of books and I asked what kind and learned they would like story books in English for middle school students.  At 9:30 all of us, i.e. the VIM team and the students, went to the High School building where we gathered to hear Archbishop Chacour.  Much of what he said was similar to our private time with him our first night here but there was more, too.  (VIM’ers-I will try to get my notes written up and share them with you but please be patient; it is going to take a while.)  He is a wonderful story teller and such a wonderful disciple of Christ!

We six then spent time visiting classrooms.  Some went to a high school English classroom and were very impressed by the teacher.  Gene, Mary Beth, and I first spoke briefly with a Jewish teacher who has been here 17 years.  She says she is very well accepted here and she explains to friends who wonder about her safety in this environment that it is perfectly safe and these people are like them and their children are like theirs.  Her time with us had to be brief because it was time to teach so we went with her to her graphics art class where the students are finishing up a project designing the logo, then stationery, fliers, large signs, business cards, and web pages for a business.  The ones we saw were:  Toy store, pizza place, hair design.  The creations looked very professional. 

Next we went to the infamous gym.  If you have read Father Chacour’s books, you know the story about his inability to get permission from the Israeli government to build the gym. He flew to Washington, DC, located James Baker’s home (Baker was Sec’y of State at the time), knocked on the door, and met Susan Baker, Jim’s wife.  It is all in the book and we recommend it, but to make the story short, they became friends, and with the Bakers’ help, permission was granted by the Israeli government.  They are friends to this day and have visited Mar Elias.  They also pray together over the telephone.  The gym is a fine one; when we went there it was full of students practicing volley ball and basketball.

Next we went to the library that serves the high school.  Micha’s wife is the librarian there.  It holds 30,000 titles but more are needed.  Again, I asked what kind of books and the answer was fiction in English.  Their books are dated and more recent books are obviously needed. 

On our way back to the guest house for lunch, we ran into approximately 1,000 students who were at recess in the courtyard between the middle school and the elementary school.  We were greeted with “What is your name?” and “How are you?”  English was practiced and we tried our best to understand the names they gave us.  We took pictures and enjoyed chatting with these beautiful children.

Now it is early afternoon.  Lunch is over.  Richard and Gene then toured the carpentry shop.  This is an amzaing shop with huge equipment for making pews and all the church decor as well as bed frames, desks, doors etc.  for the guest house.      We met to review our itinerary so we could identify some of the pictures we have taken.  It is hard to believe that we are less than 24 hours from departure.  What a fantastic trip this has been.  As we lay in bed last night, Gene and I agreed that we have heard and seen so much but we feel we are leaving with more questions than when we came.  This is not an easy place to understand!  One can never stop learning.

Blessings,

Lois

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02
Apr
11

Caesaria Philipi

Caesarea Philipi

  On Friday, April 1, we visited Ceasaria Philipi about 1 and 1/2 hour drive northeast from Ibillin.  This is in the Golan Heights which, if you will remember, is disputed territory between Israel and Syria.  Syria believes it belongs to Syria and Israel feels that it rightfully belongs to Israel.  While we were there, we saw old barracks of the Syrians and we also went to places where we could easily look over into Syria.  In fact, one place is called the Shouting Mountain because family members, separated by the border, come to each side and shout greetings to each other.

The picture above shows Hermon Spring which is the headwaters of the Jordan River.  In 33 BC, Alexander the Great conquered this area.  A temple to Pan was built here in the side of the mountain.  In the Roman times, Herod the Great built a temple in honor of Caesar Augustus and then later his son, Herod Philipi, used it as the seat of his government.  The Crusaders discovered it and also used it as a fortress. 

This is where tradition says Peter declared Jesus as Messiah and Jesus said, ‘You are the rock and upon you I will build my church.”  There is also a tradition that it is here the Jesus healed the woman with an issue of blood.  It is a long walk, i.e. two to three days, from the north end of the Sea of Galilee.

It is a beautiful spot!  The water is crystal clear and you can walk along it.  Some of us filled water bottles of this water to take home to share.  There are some waterfalls to which we did not go but we saw pictures.  It has a picnicing area which was filled with people.  Michal and his wife prepared a delicious barbeque after which, Miriam, also an employee of the school, treated us to ice cream.  We were stuffed and felt extremely spoiled.

Near the stream are the ruins of a Melkite church (www.melkite.org/Melkite.htm) which was bombed during the fight over the Golan Heights in 1967.  The rest of the Christian village near it was totally destroyed.

On our return home, we went by military base after military base.  The security in the area is intense. 

We saw the snow on Mount Hermon and saw the lush fields and orchards of the area where grapes, apples, pomegranates, oranges, etc. are grown.  Penny bought honey and we bought apples from open stalls at one stop.  At another we saw a very thin bread being made.  Micha called it “paper bread” and his wife bought some and gave it to us to take back to the guest house. 

We were in the area in which the Druze are prevalent.  They are a sect of Islam.  They are good farmers and are friendly people.

We hope you enjoy the pictures we share.

In Christ,

Gene and Lois

Two thousand year old olive tree near Rama

Our breadmaker, a Druze grandmother, and her granddaughter

02
Apr
11

Nazareth Village and Painting

Today Micha and Yusef took us to Nazareth Village, a project of the Mennonite Church, which recreates life in Jesus day in Nazareth.  We joined a large group of Irish tourists and listened to the guide as he took us through this village.  The tour guide is a Messianic Jew and certainly knew both his Old and New Testament.  People dressed in period dress demonstrated work in the carpenter/masonry shop, spinning wool, and shepherding.  We also saw a reconstructed synagogue which would be similar to the one in which Jesus announced that the Scriptures had been fulfilled in the hearing  of those present.   To our great disappointment, we did not get a chance to ride the donkey! 

On the way back to Ibillin we saw a beautiful natural spring and drank some of its refreshing water.  We also went to a nursery because Micha needed to buy some plants for Bishop Chacour’s yard.  It was interesting to see how similar the plants were to ones we would find at home.

Micha pointed out the villages in the area and also the settlements which now exist where some of the villages once did.  There is lovely super highway which is also on the land of Palestinians.  We saw a Beduoin’s family home right next to it with a small patch of land around it; at one time they owned many acres which provided grazing for their flocks and now are no longer theirs (with no compensation).

After lunch it was back to work on the painting.  It is finished!  Congratulations  to Richard and Janet who attacked the high places, to Mary Beth who did the more detailed work, to Penny who meticulously cleaned the stone steps, to Gene who filled cracks and also painted, and to me who did some of the painting along the tile.  Our supervisor, Elias, has been a great help and we hope he is pleased with our work. 

Tonight we will have dinner at 6 and then at 7 will go to have coffee with David, an American citizen, who has come back to Israel so that his children can learn Arabic and Hebrew.  He is a Harvard educated attorney who used to practice in Syracuse, NY and has a house at Myrtle Beach.  His children are beautiful and we look forward to meeting his wife tonight.

Tomorrow we will meet a group of 33-35 American Christians who are coming to see the school.  They’ll stay here at the guest house with us.  At 6 p.m. we have the privilege of having a worship service in English led by the local Anglican priest.  Some of us think we may need to spend some time figuring out how to pack our acquisitions.  I am just hoping that the water I got from the Jordan River yesterday gets home safely.

Monday we hope to meet with teachers and students at the school and perhaps get in some tutoring in English.  We’ll see…

What a blessing this trip has been!  Thanks be to God!

Lois

01
Apr
11

Togetherness

My mother recounts a favorite story of a time she was traveling by train with  some of her children , my siblings Gabrielle, Scott, Pamela, Deborah, Lance and Brent, from central WI down to Milwukee. It was shortly before the birth of another younger sister, Jill Michelle, due to join the family circle soon.  Mom became engaged in lively conversation with several Catholic nuns sitting nearby. I think they probably helped her entertain and keep us corraled as well!  Upon arrival at our destination they bade us goodbye with many blessings and as Mom recalls it assurances that she ” would have many stars in her crown” at the appointed time.

The” many stars”  grew to an even bigger constellation that became a family of 16 children (12 natural and another family of 4 adopted). So often we heard the story of two young idealistec people who met on the eve of WWII, talked all night on their first date and were engaged by sunrise. They shared a desire for a  “large” family. One minor point–Mom was thinking about 5 or 6 children, and Dad was thinking more along the lines of “cheaper by the dozen”.  As told to us, with prayer, hope and thanksgiving began what eventually they termed “International Moorings”. As  God allowed,  each child was desired and loved in turn. A relationship with a childrens/family agency built through his Lutheran pastoral duties led to another ” growth spurt” in the family. First one, then two and then three & four together came two sisters and their brothers. 

At last count (and Mom knows their number and biographical data better then I ever will), there are at least 109 grand and great grandchildren plus now 4 great-great grandchildren. Mom says she would like her space on their headstone to list the” final number” and say “still counting.” Already inscribed there  for her from my Father it says “Many daughters have sone virtuously, but thou excellest them all.” For himself he chose Psalm 127:3-5  “Children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward….Blessed   is the man who has a quiver full of them.”          

Our family includes Asian-Americans, African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans  and Japanese-Americans plus the usual Mid-West blend of Geman, Scottish, Scandinavian, Irish, English and Welsh. I just KNOW that after I post this I will have forgotten someone!,

 My motivation to participate in  UM-VIM and what I am personally experiencing here in Palestine stems in large measure from that family circumstance described above.

 As the poet has said, “The child is the father to the man.”  We were raised with a belief in the value of an extended family and the need to develop community.

 Paul’s letter to the Ephesians celebrates the life of the church, a unique  community established by God through the work of Jesus Christ. The need for community and the call to service it encompasses became an integral part of me personally and my eventual educational leadership style.

 In a fast-paced, transient and commercial world that allows for instant communication without personal interaction I have found that sense of community slipping away and not necessarily being replaced by anything of equal value. Extended families have been replaced by nuclear and morphing definitions of what constitutes family and responsibility. This has been a source of concern and sorrow for me as I see the need for the support and love growing  all around us.

What an incredible joy to come to Palestine and have my faith renewed by witnessing an amazing devotion to extended family and the resulting community it develops and sustains, even in what they call “villages”” of thousands of people! Families and generations surround one another physically in their buildings/homes, often by adding extra stories for newly married children.

Children play outside and parents know that their are many eyes and ears available to them and watching out for their needs and safety. At the Elderly Center we found out that in this culture the Sr. Citizens aren’t left alone but that very often  theycontinue to live with “family.” When I questioned what might happen if. after a mornings’ activities one of the elderly folks did not have someone to go home to I was told very matter-of-factly that one of their neighbors would step in and assist. I recognize now that oftentimes some of those neighbors might be  relatives also—but it isn’t necessary that they must be. How is that for a “safety net”.

With a sense of community like that the support necessary for all of us at times is availble. It has not been uncommom to observe activities of  economic support being given by people  who are struggling  economically themselves to others less fortunate. And the best part is that happens just because that’s the say they live every day. The generosity of spirit and openess as neighbors doors and windows open to check on who’s doing what and if anybody needs anything (like a tour of their home. or a cup of coffee etc)  is a gift hope and joy to me. True discipleship—-

Galatians 5:22 tells us :The fruit of the Spirit is love,  joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness…”   Jesus told His disciples “By their fruits ye shall know them.”Christians faith is revealed by the kind of lives we live. Paul encourages us to demonstrate our faith by “showing forth” the fruits opf the Spirit. We are to demonstrate our faith by deeds, not platitudes and words. I have seen demonstrated here, in a most humbling way, some of what I despaired about losing, the extension of family into community with love and caring.

I go home with a strengthened and renewed belief in  the teachings of Jesus as interpreted and practiced by my parents and my own esperience. We are called on to be models, witnesses and action-oriented . I have been witness to a sense of hope and good sporit (joy) here in Palestine . It will be my goal and my hope that I can continue to spread the message in and through the many potential ‘missionaries’  of my Internationally Moored, extended famiy/community.  pjkleinhans   

“Ye are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ”.

30
Mar
11

Wednesday March 30

Elias tells Richard, Mary Beth, and Gene about his church

 It’s been another great day in Ibillin, Israel.  We continued painting the six story stairwell in the Mar Elias High School. from 8-3 with a break for lunch. 

Our supervisor, Elias, invited us to his home for “coffee” which ended up being quite a lovely spread of delicious goodies.  It started with lemonade or coke and then dates followed by pound cake, cookies, and a yummy dessert soaked in honey.  Then came the Turkish coffee.  All was made by Ba’de’ah, Elias’ gracious wife. 

We met their four children who range in age from early twenties to age 10  and it was fun to hear what they are interested in. Graduate of last year, Sezar, loves break dancing, hip h0p, singing, and sports.  They were using their English while we were trying to pick up some Arabic.  Ronza, the youngest,  is a fan of Justin Bieber and  is in the 5th grade.   Students begin Arabic in grade 1, Hebrew in grade 2 and English in grade 3 and continuing through high school.. 

 After what Penny called high tea, Elias invited us to visit their Greek Orthodox church which he said had just been remodeled.   It was small and beautifully adorned with icons of the saints.   One of those icons was of Mariam Bawardi who lived in Ibillin 146- 1878.   Mariam was known for her compassionate ways and is credited with one or more healings.     In 1983, Pope John Paul II raised her to the level of a saint.  We visited an archaeological dig and reconstruction of her home and a crudely made altar in her memory.     The Elemenatary school at Mar Elias is named after Mariam Bawardi and a beautiful painting of her hangs in the entry to the school.

Tomorrow we will continue work on the stairway maybe even finish it!  We also hope to have conversations with students and teachers. Friday we will be off on an adventure of touring and on Saturday will return to painting or whatever task is assigned to us.

Penny painting graffiti infested walls

Blessings,

Gene and Lois

Mary Beth prepares wall for painting

29
Mar
11

Going through the airport

Going through the airport was quite an experience. We got there about 3 hours early and were first stopped by a checkpoint at the entrance to the airport. They checked and double checked Issa (our guide) and had us all bring out our passports. They then asked that I get out and identify our bags and let them know that we were the only ones that had touched them.

Then we went through a bag screening where all our bags were run through a scanner and marked with numbered stickers. We then were directed to an area where they had us open our bags and went through all the contents. Mine was the worst. I think, all in all, it took about an hour to go through my three bags. Then the girl took me to a back area and had me strip partway down and then patted me down and ran over me with a bunch of metal detectors. Then I went back to the area with the bags and had to go through a bag check-in process. One of the guys there said that he’d try to bump me up to first or business class for all the trouble, but later came back and told me he couldn’t but he got me a window seat. I later looked and he never even changed my seat from what I had before. Oh well.

No one was rude or mean, but they were really REALLY thorough. In fact, the girl who searched me even was telling me about how she wants to go to New York but none of her friends want to go with her because it is so expensive.

We got through just in time. As we got up to the gate, they were boarding. My advice to all the rest: They AREN’T kidding when they say arrive 3 hours ahead of time!!

-Marie

29
Mar
11

Covered in paint

Here I sit covered in paint and dust after a day of painting at Mar Elias School in Ibillim.  We were asked to paint the stairwell of the 6 story high school building and we started at the top.  We were down to the second floor when we quit for the day but there is much yet to do as it will take at least two coats, if not three, to finish the job.  Mary Beth took a picture of Richard and me because we were the two with the most paint and dust all over us.  We are working with another Elias who has invited us to his home after we paint again tomorrow.  We look forward to that!

It is our hope that beside the painting we can also work with the students.  They are incredibly friendly and as we walked back and f0rth from lunch we had fun interacting with them.  Today the seniors were dressed in black and white for their senior pictures and looked mighty fine. 

If you go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mar_Elias_Educational_Institutions you can learn more about this school.  At lunch today Mical, the operations director here and nephew of Father Chacour, updated us on the university part of the school.  It was relocated to Nazareth due to better transportations systems there.  We were impressed to hear that there are 150 adjunct professors at the university; fifty are Jewish; fifty are Muslim; fifty are Christian.  The building that was originally built for the university here is being used now for the high school and that is where we are working.

Blessings to all,

Lois