Reflection on Talitha Kumi/Environmental Education Center of the ELCJHL

An excerpt from a sermon preached on Sunday, June 28, 2015 at Saint Luke Lutheran Church in Silver Spring, MD. Gospel: Mark 5:21-38

“One day during our trip to Israel and Palestine, my group visited a Lutheran school for children of all ages in the village of Beit Jala, which is near Bethlehem, in the West Bank. We visited this school to tour the Environmental Education Center of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (or the ELCJHL). We toured the garden containing both plants and trees that are native to the land, as well as foreign plants and trees that are not. We walked on fun, kid-friendly boardwalks and even got to climb into a kind of treehouse.

We saw the water treatment system, which filters and renews waste-water from the school to water the garden. This water treatment system represents good stewardship of God’s creation. It is also useful because Palestinian communities frequently experience water shortages.

The name of the school is from the Aramaic language, the same Aramaic we hear in the gospel reading for this morning. The name of the school is Talitha Kumi. ‘Little girl, get up.’

The Palestinian children of Talitha Kumi are confined to a limited geographical area due to policies of the Israeli government. They or their family members may have had firsthand exposure to violence due to tensions at military checkpoints and some cities in the West Bank.

At their school, at the Environmental Education Center, the children can, and do, get up.

As they learn about conservation and care for God’s creation at the Environmental Education center, their understanding of the world grows. The children are not powerless victims. They are empowered children of God. The education and care that they receive at school strengthens their minds and their ability to live in a world where they may not always feel welcome. In a world where a tall concrete wall that runs between the olive groves, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem usually prevents them and Israeli children from getting to know one another. The empowerment that they receive through programs such as the Environmental Education center reminds them that a way of more peaceful living is possible.”

Anna Ernst

Better late than never – further reflections from Metro Chicago

Dear followers of the 2015 PNW-Young Adult Holy Land Trips (and fellow pilgrimage-goers),

For those who were at home, we hope you have enjoyed following our pilgrimages this summer. I’ve been back for as long as I was away now, but still have at least five reflections in me that really need to be written, so this is a quick post to hold myself accountable to that. The first is an excerpt from a sermon I preached this past Sunday and will follow this post immediately. Thank you for reading, learning, being, and acting into the future with us.

Anna Ernst

Day 5: Hebron

IMG_2971Forgive the lengthy post, but once I started writing about Hebron, I couldn’t leave anything out. Every detail feels important for conveying the full experience. Aside from being informed that the particular Monday we visited Hebron would be an intense day, I had no idea what to expect from visiting this city. The first thing we did was visit a glass and ceramics workshop, which provided a beautiful first impression of Hebron. We got to watch the workers blow various glass vessels, throw pottery, and paint the distinctive Palestinian designs on it. The store was full of shelves upon shelves of beautiful glass goblets, perfume vials, ceramic dishes, and countless other creations. It was an introduction into an industry that is surviving despite that economic issues of the West Bank, but this was the easiest part of the day.

Once we got to the main area of Hebron, things quickly changed. We were met by a volunteer from the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a young Swedish guy named Magnus, who then led us through yet another checkpoint. We had already passed through a checkpoint to get into the West Bank, but Hebron itself is also divided between areas under Israeli control and others under the control of the Palestinian Authority. We passed through this checkpoint into an area under Israeli control because there are illegal Israeli settlements there that have cropped up in the midst of a Palestinian neighborhood. We stopped on the street just beyond the checkpoint to talk for a while. This street (unfortunately I don’t recall the name) is infamous for the number of incidents that have taken place here since Israeli settlers first came to it in the 1970s. A number of Israel flags hang along the street above closed-down Palestinian shops, and although the flags just recently appeared, anyone who tried to take them down would probably be arrested. The flags weren’t there when the EAPPI arrived in Hebron.

A quick word about accompaniment: this is something we had discussed briefly as a group in our pre-trip conference calls, and which I took to essentially mean walking together with whoever we were working with, learning from them, and always remembering that Jesus is in everyone. This was not a missionary trip, but a trip about understanding what is happening to the people of Palestine, whether Christian or Muslim. The EAPPI, however, truly puts the theology into action. The volunteers of this organization are there to be international witnesses in a community rife with conflict between Israeli settlers and soldiers, and Palestinian residents. As an example, they walk to school with Palestinian children and teachers to help discourage settler harassment.

Back to the infamous street. Decades ago Palestinian shopkeepers lived on this street above their stores, until the 1970s when their shop doors were welded shut as settlers moved into the neighborhood. Now it feels like a ghost town, with people walking through. We could see an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) soldier standing down on the corner by where the school was. Instead of walking directly to the corner, though, we cut up through the neighborhood a ways and then looped back down to that corner. We saw a lot of grafitti, some of which said “Free Israel”, which I found horribly ironic. Some had “Palestine” spray painted over them instead. We also passed by an archaeological site, run by the Israel Antiquities Authroity. I was already angry about the Palestinian situation in Hebron, but this made me angrier because it was clear that the excavation was being used for purely political purposes as an attempt to establish an ancient Jewish presence. I’m an archaeology student who just completed my M.A. and I was furious that something that’s supposed to be conducted as an objective science was so obviously being manipulated. It was a sucker punch by fellow archaeologists. The site wasn’t even closed off; a few kids were climbing around the ruins.

Anyway, we ended up back at the corner we had seen before, across from the IDF soldier posted there. And then we learned that this soldier was posted there because there are Israeli settlers living in large apartment buildings along that section of the street and Palestinians are not allowed to walk along that part of the street. They’ve been forcefully banned from a street in their own neighborhood. Instead they have to walk along a footpath parallel to the street just to reach their own school. The absurdity of it sank in as Palestinians passed us on the path and continued on their way carryng shopping bags, while the IDF soldier watched us across the way. This is part of their life everyday and they have no choice but to conform to it.

Magnus told us a story about the school on this path. A few weeks ago the children wanted to plant a tree in their schoolyard, which is surrounded by a fence and overrun by weeds. So the school had bought an olive tree to plant, and as the children and their teachers were trying to plant it, the Isreali settlers noticed and started harrassing the children, which then brought out the entire neighborhood, soldiers, and EAPPI volunteers. And all of this was because planting an olive tree in a school yard is a claim to a tiny piece of land, and it’s land that the settlers don’t want the Palestinians to have. Magnus and some of the other volunteers were chased because they were taking pictures. Apparently the tree was still there until a couple weeks before; now the schoolyard is barren again.

From the school we walked to the suk, or marketplace. In many ways it was like any other suk in the Holy Land. The narrow street runs between tall buildings on either side, and shopkeepers bekon from behind stalls of fruit, spices, scarves, and other goods. There the similarities end. In this case many of the buildings are now the homes of settlers, and shopkeepers have strung up tarps and chainlink high above the street to help keep trash and other debris from falling on the goods and customers. Settlers throw down trash, debris, liquids, and in extreme occurences feces and even acid, all in attempts to drive the Palestinian shopkeepers out. The street smells slighlty of sewage, and I tried not to think too much about what wet areas of the pavement might be. Sadly this all happens under the watch of the IDF soldiers, who are there to protect the settlers, but will only intervene in fights and riots. Despite all of this, the shopkeepers seem determined to stay.

Finally, we made our way to lunch where a Palestinian family hosted us (all of this had happened before lunch!). They’d made an enormous pot of rice and chicken, which was delicious. The three kids helped their parents and gave use water and utensils, and insisted on second helpings for everyone. They spoke a little English, and we found out the oldest boy was 15, his brother was 13, and their sister was younger. I thought back to what my brother looked like when he was 15 and their was no comparison – these kids were skinny and small. I might have guessed the 15 year old was at least two years younger. I happened to be sitting on the couch next to their room, and the door was open. Inside were three neatly made twin beds, each with a colorful cartoon character comforter. But that was all there was. Maybe it was because they had guests and had put everything else away, but there was no other furniture, not even a nightstand or a chest of drawers. No stuffed animals, no posters. But these kids seemed thrilled to have visitors. They listened attentively while their father spoke to us about the group he leads, Youth Against Settlers, which promotes non-violent protest measures, even though they didn’t have chairs because they’d given all the seating to their guests. They waved goodbye to us. For me it was a heartwrenching meal, and incredibly eye opening. It was difficult enough to try to process what Magnus had told us that morning about daily Palestinian life in Hebron, but meeting a family who lived in the middle of this conflict and yet graciously opened their home to us was truly to feel God at work in them and in us.

So, that was my experience in Hebron. It was a lot to take in at the time, and even now, nearly a month later, I felt I needed to express all the details to explain why this day was so intense, and why I still feel so strongly about it.

Emily Prosch recently graduated from the University of Arizona with a Masters Degree in Archeology. She’s currently on an excavation project in Greece.

Jesus Would be a Palestinian

IMG_2752 2We visited the sites of the Galilee today. The places Jesus walked and taught. We put our feet in the Sea of Galilee, prayed at the Church of the Annunciation, visited Capernaum, and remembered the stories of Jesus teaching the beatitudes, feeding the multitude, and healing Peter’s mother.

When we left Capernaum, we took a road that went through the West Bank to get back to Jerusalem. Filled with the experiences of the day, I inadvertently called to mind a song of my childhood by Michael W. Smith as we drove titled, “Secret Ambition.”

“Young man up on the hillside
Teaching new ways.
Each word winning them over.
Each heart a kindled flame.

“Old men watch from the outside,
Guarding their ways.
Threatened by the voice of a very God
Leading their lambs away.
Leading them far away.

“…but nobody knew his secret ambition was to give his life away.”

And I suddenly realized, envisioning Jesus in this land and place and remembering his teaching and ministry, if Jesus were to be born into this land today, Jesus would be a Palestinian. Continue reading

Hospitality that Overflows

As we entered Galilee, we encountered rolling dessert hills, palm trees, flowers of all colors, which eventually turned into grassy mountains with livestock and olive trees. Pictures cannot even begin to capture it’s beauty. After all, it is the land of milk and honey. Despite the beauty of the country, it is very much divided and unjust. A Palestinian woman describes her story: ‘The children ask me, “Mamma, we want to have fun, why can’t we go (to the other side of the wall)?” I tell them we cannot go because we are living in a prison and do not have permission to leave. We cannot go because we are controlled by the Israelis.’ (Mira from Bethlehem.)

Continue reading

A Trip Leader’s Reflection

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Growing together with this group has been a wonderful experience. We have seen the harsh realities of Hebron, walking through streets filled with soldiers, and hearing stories of what it means to live under occupation. We have traveled to Galilee to see holy sites and ponder on the meaning of holiness. Tomorrow we will visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, and end the day in Bethlehem to stay in Palestinian homes for the next few nights. So much to soak in, so much to learn. We continue to grow together as we talk about issues of injustice, and share stories of our faith. Thankful for a group of young adults who are wanting to engage and accompany the people here, listening to the realities of the land.

~ Anna Sloss