Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Stories of Hope from Bethlehem

My previous post about the conflict in the holy land may be difficult to grasp at first reading, so let me tell some stories to give more context.

Shepherd's Fields Greek Orthodox Christian School, in Biet Sahour, Bethlehem, is one ray of hope. We visited this very impressive school, met with students and were briefed by the principal George Sa'adeh.  George is a Palestinian Christian, who went to school in Bethlehem, and later graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering from University of Southern California. Shepherd's Field School as a picture in the foyer which portrays the hope of the kingdom of God - peace and reconciliation - the lion lying down with the lamb.
The Lion lies down with the Lamb - Foyer Painting
This school provides excellent education for Palestinian children (both Christian and Muslim - without prejudice). The Palestinian Authority has little money.  Israelis restrict buildings and agriculture in Area C (over 70% of the West Bank) so the Palestinian economy is crippled, but the five year olds were so bright and happy, with a sparkle in their eyes. Even the senior students we met with (16-17 year olds) expressed hope for their future training and careers, although the sparkle had gone out of their eyes.  Only around 5% of Palestinian graduates get jobs.
Safe play area for children of the Shepherd's Fields School
We finished our visit with turkish coffee in the new library, built with money donated in memory of the principal's daughter Christine Sa'adeh.  George told us their story:
Christine Sa'adeh
George, his wife Najawa, and daughters Christine (12) and Marian (15) were driving in their car through suburban Bethlehem on the evening of 23rd March 2003. They were going grocery shopping.  Without warning, Israeli soldiers opened fire on their car which was hit with 30 bullets. It seems their car was a similar model to one being driven by Palestinian militants which soldiers had just shot.
Christine died. George was shot in the abdomen and back. Marian was shot in the leg.  Najawa suffered minor injuries.
George told what happened: "I saw two army jeeps on Nasser Street and thought about reversing away, but Palestinians know that can be fatal, so I drove towards them very slowly.
"I put on my indicator to show I was pulling out to avoid their vehicles. Just as we passed in front of them, the windscreen was blown in and bullets started flying around the car. I pulled up and screamed at the soldiers to stop the firing, but it continued. I looked behind and saw Christine slumped down, covered in blood."
Despite all this, George continues to work for peace and reconciliation, welcomes Muslim students and families to the school, and has numerous Jewish friends.  He says:
"I've always taught my students that we should live together in love and harmony in the Holy Land, but what's happening now is terrible, people are just getting crazy," he said. He was doing his best as a true Christian "not to allow hate into my heart at those who killed my beautiful little girl".

Salim Munayer, a Palestinian Christian and Director of Musalaha, Reconciliation Ministries, told us, "Hating someone is like drinking poison hoping they will die.  Unforgiveness can't remain."
Several of our team were privileged to hear Salim preach on the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:43-48
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Signs of Hope!  St Jerome (347-420AD), who also died in Bethlehem, is reputed to have said: "Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books, and the one you will find in the land they call Holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you."  
This has been true for us in seeing the places were Jesus was born, lived, taught, died, rose and ascended.  It has also been true in seeing the example of these Palestinians living their lives "in Christ" in the holy land today.


Sam M. said...


Elmer said...

Good thing that you have able to put some excellent learning's for Palestinian students and adopt some good aspects of Christian and Muslim religion. I've able to see some good aspects of education for this institution wherein they provide good training from their learning.

Define Faith | Faith to Faith