From the Michigan Area Reporter: Bisop Jonathan D. Keaton -
Wow. We just returned from the Holy Lands.
One Hundred and Nine Michiganders and friends of Michiganders made the round-trip trek of nearly 12,000 miles on an iron bird.
Novices and veterans like me gained new insights and inspiration.
There is just something about "walking where Jesus walked," hearing countless stories, drinking from the Sea of Galilee and seeing the Dead Sea and the Jordan with one's own eyes.
And of course visiting Nazareth, Jericho, Qumran, Masada, Megiddo, Bethany, the Western/Wailing Wall, Capernaum, valleys Kidron and Gehenna, Mounts Carmel, Sinai, Zion, Moriah and the Mount of Olives, the House of the High Priest Caiaphas who put our Lord in the dungeon, the Garden of Gethsemane, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the empty Upper Room and Garden Tomb overwhelmed us at times--just like this run on sentence.
First Hand, we experienced Israelis, Palestinians, Islam, Christianity, Judaism, institutions, families competing for and struggling to survive on the pound, rupee, yen, franc, lira, peso, shilling, and dollars of tourists.
Nowhere in this quest to live and survive is it more pronounced than in Bethlehem, a Palestinian city on the West Bank.
Lovingly called "O Little Town" by Rev. Philip Brooks who visited Bethlehem and attended a Christmas Eve Service at the Church of the Nativity in 1865 and wrote the lyrics a few years later.
Sadly, Jesus’ Birthplace has become a detention center. Yet, it has survived because God’s amazing grace and his only Son have set the prisoners free.
Besides the Church of the Nativity, we visited two Holy Places in Bethlehem, inspiring my talk of God’s amazing grace and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Many positive comments can be made about Bethlehem Bible College (BBC).
One of their brochures said it best: “In this land (Bethlehem) where hope and despair are sisters, Bethlehem Bible College is training Palestinian Christians to lead the Church and be the light of Christ to their Muslim and Christian neighbors.”
If you heard the story of BBC and the witness of Rev. Alex Awad and his Brother Mr. Bishara Awad--also President of BBC and its connection to their sainted mother--one could not help but conclude that God is at work through them particularly when the maternal influence of their late and sainted mother is revealed.
Without BBC keeping hope alive and contributing mightily to the health and welfare of Bethlehem, the emigration rate of old and young Palestinians in Bethlehem would be even higher.
The other Holy Place on our Bethlehem itinerary was the Jerusalem Princess Basma Center for Disabled Children (JCDC).
Since 1987 they have worked successfully on the body, mind and spirit of children and families with special needs.
Of the 700 students served, the December 20, 2010 JCDC newsletter offered these stats: 129 have special needs, 38 have physical disabilities, 67 have hearing disabilities, 12 have learning disabilities, five are visually challenged and seven have medical problems.
We were particularly impressed that JCDC admits mothers with their children free of charge.
Most children are more relaxed during treatments with Mom present.
Mothers are also educated on ways to treat their children at home and educate the family once the child is released.
All mothers are also engaged in discussion groups with one another assuring moral, spiritual and cognitive support from others who walk in their shoes.
The Good News about both of these Holy Places, Bethlehem Bible College and the Jerusalem Princess Basma Center for Disabled Children, can be found on the Internet or in the testimonies of the 109 who made the journey of a lifetime.
Please know we did more than praise them for their work with the “least of these.”
We prayed for them and left out “widow’s mite” to support the work.
The BBC and JCDC incarnate the lyrics of Philips Brooks whose fourth stanza of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” rarely appears in print.
Read and sing it for yourself: Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child, Where misery cries out to thee, Son of the mother mild; Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door; the dark night wakes, the glory breaks and Christmas comes once more.”
And as a closing remark, I have included on the internet, my brief reflections from the Memorial Service for Rev. Ken Bracken held January 22, 2011.
I told his widow that I would remember him at the Jordan River. By God’s grace and mercy I did so do!