Tuesday, January 4, 2011

O Little Town of Bethlehem!

Tour guides who talk non-stop drive me crazy. Unfortunately, today our guide was just that… annoying!! We escaped his banter a bit while we visited the Bethlehem Bible College, where Tim taught for a semester. BBC is the only ecumenical undergraduate/graduate religious school in Israel or Palestine. It hosts about 171 students from most of the 13 recognized indigenous Christian communities and many missionary groups. The new building out back is beautiful!

Our next stop was Bethlehem University where we had a fantastic tour from their public affairs director, Demetri Awwad. He told us that 70% of BU was Muslim, 30% Christian, and 73% of BU was women. While the university is run by Roman Catholics, it teaches classes and hosts conferences on inter-religious issues. We spent a long time talking with Father Jamal Khader who teaches the Christian pieces of these classes and learned from him a good deal about how the political situation is affecting his students.

We had lunch in Manger Square and got to visit parts of the Church of the Nativity. There were many people there (it’s getting close to Orthodox Christmas) so we weren’t able to see everything. Still, the church is beautiful and it was nice to see where Jerome and Paula worked. We also got to visit the Shepherd’s fields later in the afternoon where supposedly the shepherd’s say the angel and the star that led them to where Jesus was born. The area is preserved as a green space and is made up of many caves. It’s a beautiful place—if only our tour guide would have shut up for a moment!

After lunch we sat through a presentation by the Applied Research Institute of Palestine who tracks the land usage of Palestine and changes in the development of Israeli settlements. Their figures concerning the land usage of the segregation wall and Israeli controlled natural resources were frightening. While ARIP appears to be doing some great environmental and community work, their statistics predict an impending environmental and population catastrophe.

In the evening we met with two groups. The first group, the WI’AM Center teaches conflict resolution to Palestinians. They also offer mediation services and host cultural exchanges. The second group was the YM/WCA. Nidal Abu Zuluf had been introduced to me by a friend prior to this meeting so it was nice to meet him in person. Both groups appeared to work on education Palestinians in various peace-building skills, cultural exchanges that brought international participation and awareness of Palestine, and youth programs of sorts. Both organizations were very impressive in their service and in their hope for a peaceful Palestine.

After all this we headed out to host families. Sara and I ended up in a home with five daughters, the oldest of whom lived next door with her family. Although they spoke little English, the family was wonderful to spend time with; I really enjoyed having children laughing and running underfoot.

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