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Saturday, February 02, 2008

 

From Jerusalem - Saturday, February 2, 2008

Today was our first full day in Jerusalem. Our group began with morning devotions and reflections at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. We were hoping to meet with Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) Bishop Munib Younan but he was not feeling well and was not able to be with us. We did hear from the Rev. Julie Rowe, ELCA missionary and Bishop Younan's communication assistant, who reviewed with us many ELCJHL ministries.

We then quickly moved to the Mount of Olives where we met with the Rev. Mark B. Brown, an ELCA pastor, who serves as the Lutheran World Federation's regional representative in Jerusalem. Here is an important quote from Mark's 2006 annual report of the Lutheran World Federation's work in Palestine: "The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem reported that 683 people were killed in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in 2006: 660 Palestinians (including 141 minors) and 23 Israelis (including 1 minor). Sadly, these numbers only hint at the overall deterioration of the human rights situation in Occupied Palestinian Territories this past year. In addition, poverty rose sharply and, according to a United Nations draft report, nearly half of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are 'food insecure' or in danger of becoming so."

Mark then led us into the Augusta Victoria Hospital where Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, hospital CEO, led us on a tour. The Augusta Victoria Hospital is one of six hospitals in east Jerusalem serving the Palestinian population. Its specialties include cancer and kidney dialysis - it is the only hospital with these specialties serving Palestinians. That means that it is the only local option for this specialized health care for 3.7 million Palestinians in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza! Kris and I were especially impressed with the hospitals progress since we first toured it ten years ago - the specialized work in cancer and kidney care, then only a dream/plan, has become a wonderful reality. We thank God for this care and for the many years of support the global Lutheran community, through the Lutheran World Federation, has provided for Augusta Victoria Hospital. Much more online at www.avh.org.

Throughout the day, we heard again and again about the difficulties of everyday life for the Palestinian people, especially the extra hours spent traveling to work because of internal checkpoints. The hospital now runs a bus program to get patients and their families to the hospital. Again, from Mark Brown's 2006 annual LWF Jerusalem report: "As more and more patients spent hours waiting in line at checkpoints or were unable to reach Jerusalem altogether, AVH began busing its patients and staff in from the West Bank, allowing them to bypass the longest checkpoint waits."

For me personally, a visit to the Augusta Victoria Hospital (this was my third) is always a highlight since I grew up hearing of this important ministry in Sunday Church School at Atonement Lutheran Church in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, my home congregation. I often thank God that the people of Atonement witnessed to the global mission of the church to its children during my childhood years there.

After we toured the hospital we also stopped by Ascension Lutheran Church on the hospital grounds (the Mount of Olives is a possible/probable site of Jesus' ascension) where we sang and prayed together. Nearby is the site of the new Mount of Olives housing project where affordable rental housing for Palestinian Christians will soon be under construction.

Following lunch at the hospital, videographer Tim Frakes and I rehearsed my Ash Wednesday sermon on the Mount of Olives and in the Garden of Gethsemane. We later toured the Garden of Gethsemane and its Church of All Nations as well as the Church of the Assumption and the Gethsemane Grotto next the the Garden.

Our group then walked back to the Lutheran Guest House through the Kindron Valley into the Old City. We passed the Western Wall, full of praying Jewish men and women (at separate Wall sections) on this sabbath afternoon.

The group had a free evening. We had a chance for dinner with Marcia and Mark Holman and a chance to return to their home early.

Eric

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