This January our bishops went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. We began walking in the footsteps of Jesus’ ministry —the Mount of Beatitudes, the feeding of the five thousand, Capernaum, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee and the baptismal site.
All these immersed us in scripture and were highlighted by the daily devotions we shared.
We went to the West Bank—to Bethelem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour and Ramallah.
In Beit Sahour, we saw the shepherds’ field where the choir of angels appeared at the birthplace of our Lord. We also began to visit the ministries of our partners.
In Ramallah, we visited the School of Hope, one of the schools of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). We were greeted by student ambassadors who introduced the school to us. We learned about their peace and mediation training. That they are co-ed and mixed Christian and Muslim. About all the extracurricular activities that help to develop the whole student. Here we also met Pastor Rodny Said who did his theological studies in Canada at Martin Luther University College.
We visited the Environmental Education Centre in Beit Jala, another part of the ELCJHL school system. Here they teach about composting and recycling. They replant olive trees uprooted by settlers. They have an amazing bird banding program. And they teach about the local flora and fauna.
In Beit Jala, we also went to the Church of the Reformation and met with Pastor Ashraf Tannous. Pastor Ashraf told us about the ministry of his congregation, but also about the challenges Palestinian Christians are facing, including the huge difficulty of getting permits to enter Jerusalem for Holy Week and Easter.
We went to Jerusalem and were introduced to the amazing work of The Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives—a hospital specializing in cancer care and dialysis that is responsible for those health treatments for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. We learned of their creativity in dealing with the challenges of checkpoints and borders—the buses that go daily to pick up and return patients for care. Of the mobile mammography units that have helped bring down the rate of breast cancer. But also of the difficulty of patients in Gaza being allowed to come for treatment and how many die because of the lack of permits to go for regular treatments.
We visited the Vocational Training Centre in Beit Hanina, one of two vocational centres run by the LWF. We learned of the wide variety of programming they offer—for example electronics, auto mechanics, plumbing, woodworking, ceramics and catering. Our partner, Canadian Lutheran World Relief, is working with them through a Global Affairs Canada grant to increase the participation of women in vocational training not only by offering new programs, but also by providing child care and transportation.
A significant highlight of our time in the Holy Land was the amazing opportunity to be present for the ordination of Sally Azar, the first Palestinian woman to be ordained! It was both a grace-filled and historical moment, a sign of the ELCJHL’s commitment to working towards gender justice.
We ended as we started, following the footsteps of Jesus to the Garden of Gethsemane, along the way of the cross and into the Holy Sepulcher Church that contains both the crucifixion and burial sites of Jesus. We returned home, each with our own highlights of our pilgrimage, but bonded closer together from our shared experience. Thanks be to God!
Rev. Susan Johnson
ELCIC National Bishop