This morning we left the kibbutz in Galilee and drove south about two hours to pass Jerusalem and cross the checkpoint into the region of Bethlehem. The crossing to the West Bank was uneventful, without a stop or even a second glance.
On our first stop we met Daoud, the founder of the "Tent of Nations," an inspiring agency based on a farm on a dry hill surrounded by Jewish settlements. He shared the story of his family farm that his grandfather bought in 1916, and where his family has lived ever since. Since 1991 when Israel declared it "state land" he has been in court struggles to keep from being pushed off the land. It was inspiring to hear from a person whose family has been Christian for virtually 2000 years, and who is committed to being a force for peace in this conflicted land. He explained that people cannot sit and wait for politicians to create peace, but must take actions themselves to build bridges and understanding. It was also amazing to see how they farm rocky land despite having no access to electricity, water, and building permits blocked.
From there we went to Bethlehem. We walked down Star Street, where they think the wise men came to visit baby Jesus, to the church built over the traditional site of Jesus' birth. We entered the 4th century church and marveled at the spectacular columns, recently discovered mosaic floor, and the grotto in which they believe Jesus was born. The contrast between this place of worship and the 11m (33 ft.) wall (part of the Israeli "security fence") blocking the road from Jerusalem we had walked beside earlier in the day could hardly be more stark. For me this called to mind the claim that Jesus "is our peace" who breaks down walls of hostility (Ephesians 2). How might this be done here?
I am very thankful for the opportunity to both be in this place and to meet many remarkable people. This evening we are being hosted by Palestinian families, and I have already been able to experience wonderful hospitality and meaningful conversation. I have also enjoyed interacting with a remarkable group of young adults (and yes, the leaders are pretty good too...!).
This said, I am also very much looking forward to seeing my daughters Zoe, Eden and Shegofa and wife Rebecca in just over a week. Hi from daddy!
Good night from Bethlehem, the birthplace of the Prince of Peace.
Derek Suderman (Waterloo)