Our next stop on the Holy Land trip was with Dr. Mitri Raheb of Bethlehem.  Dr. Raheb is the head of a Lutheran Church in the West Bank, and if you ever want to read about someone doing INCREDIBLE things for the people of his community, pick up Dr. Raheb’s books.

Before I tell the story of our meeting, I think it’s wise to stop and pause for a moment.  Sometimes when I talk to people about the Holy Land, especially those who are from a Christian tradition, there’s a misnomer about the people who live in the region.  In Israel proper, the majority of the people who are citizens are Jewish.

Now, before there’s some anti-Semitism feeling in your soul because you’re reading someone talking about the Jews in Israel, I think it’s important that conversations about Israel and Palestine reach some sort of clarity of “who.”  After all, if you’re interested in reading the Torah, the Bible, or the Quran, it’s important to understand the “who” of the message as you read it; otherwise, you’ll subconsciously impose your own history on the pages you read to come to false conclusions.  So it only makes sense when we have these conversations to rise above what might be considered “politically correct” and try to label the people groups we’re talking about.  I think it’s important, and this is my blog, so I just want you to know I write out of a spirit of Love for ALL PEOPLE!!  I believe  God has created ALL people of the world in His image, and so these labels are simply meant to educate, not to confine, discriminate, or in any fashion demean.  I hope you’re with me here.

In Israel Proper you have a nation built for a refuge of Jews.  It’s not necessarily a religious label.  Being Jewish can be a race.  Being Jewish can be a family lineage.  Being Jewish can mean nationality.  Being Jewish doesn’t mean that people worship God, read the Torah, and hold to the teachings of scripture.  You can be an Atheist Jew, and believe me I’ve met them.  You can be a Secular Jew.  You can be an Orthodox Jew.  It’s all a huge amalgam, or to use a metaphor from Thanksgiving, a Cornucopia of description.  Jewish means a lot of different things.

Being Palestinian can also hold a variety of meanings.  Palestinians can be Muslim.  Palestinians can be Christian.  Palestinians can be Secular.  So when we talk about certain people groups, it’s often worth your time to understand what subcategory of people you’re referring to.  I know it takes time.  It takes a little more probing.  But to lump all Jews and all Palestinians into one large lump sum of identity is to misunderstand the whole of the problems we see on the news.

In any event….

Mitri Raheb has been in Bethlehem as the pastor of one of the largest Lutheran churches in the area since 1988.  He lives inside a community of Palestinians in the West Bank, of all religious backgrounds, but is primarily working as a representative of Jesus to his neighbors.

He started talking about setting up a school for the arts for Palestinians in the West Bank, and we clicked right away.  If there’s one thing I understand, it’s the importance of educating, mentoring, and living life with the next generation coming behind us.  Because if we truly want to shape the future, we must invest in helping our youth communities find their voice, and find outlets where they can become all that God has created them to be.

As I listened intently to the programs Dr. Raheb has been involved in, I was overwhelmed.  Here is a man dedicated to hope, light, and the pursuant of all things good in what many would see as a hopeless situation.  He encourages his people in the name of Jesus, and works with so many different types of people.  I didn’t hear any agenda, other than serving his community, no matter who might come knocking at his door.

Reminiscing on my time in the Holy Land a few weeks ago, in light of what’s happening around the world in Lebanon, Syria, Nigeria, Kenya, Tunisia, and even Paris; I have to be honest:  It seems like the world is melting around us.  Hope is sparse among the people on the ground.  But every time I lose my hope, I run into people like Dr. Raheb doing unbelievable community development, and the bright light of hope re-emerges in my mind’s eye again.  There are great things being done all around us, even in the most seeming afflicted areas of the world.  We just need time to highlight the hope and honor the good things when it seem like everything is so bad.

Thank you Dr. Mitri.  I appreciate your work.  Especially with kids in your community.

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