Thursday, July 12, 2007

Friends of Holy Land

Greeting from the land of peace and conflict, great friendships and centuries of animosity. God is keeping us safe and we are learning a lot. We would like you to meet some of our new found friends here.

Danish friend Hannah: Hannah has been in Jerusalem many times. Her interest in Jerusalem comes from her teaching Palestinian refugee children ( including one blind student ) in Denmark. She is a retired teacher who lovingly teaches these children English, history etc. She also tries to absorb the local Palestinian culture so that she can convey that to the children in Denmark who have never been to Palestine. Hannah was married to a Nigerian man who went back to help his country and was killed. She is a devoted Christian and has a gentle, down to earth personality. She has made local friends from previous visits and keeps in touch with them. She took me to meet the Syrian Orthodox nun Eustina from Nineveh, Iraq and Ida a Palestinian Christian who designed and sewed clothes for Saudi Arabian royalty at one time. Ida reminded me of Alice Brass. Hannah loves to visit monasteries and attends variety of church services. So last Sunday we attended both the English ELCA church service and the German Lutheran service. Hannah is very unhappy with the present Danish government who is very anti foreigners it seems. Even Danes who marry foreigners are not allowed to bring them into the country. I think of Hannah as a gentle warrior.

Danish Friend Hannah and Raida Mansour, a Palestinian Lutheran Parish Nurse

Palestinian Christian friend Abdullah : We met him in Bethlehem. He is a Palestinian Christian. We asked him, isn't Abdullah a Muslim name? He said it could be both Christian and Muslim. Abdullah means 'servant of God'. He used to be manager of the best five star hotell in Bethlehem. But after the first intifada of 1999, the business closed down in one week. He lost his job but fortunately he found a job as a manager of the Retarded children's Lutheran home in Bethlehem. Prior to his work in Palestine, he was in Libya as the Press Secretary for the President Moammar Khadaffi! Now he is living here though both his sons have migrated - one a MIT graduate to Texas and second son a cardiac surgeon to Germany. He has a house that has grape vines and other fruit trees and he says that is his paradise. "Why would I want to move from here?" he said. Someone asked him how long he had been a Christian. Abdullah who lives in the Shepherd's field in Bethlehem replied tongue in cheek "My family has been a Christian ever since the Angels announced the good news to the Shepherds!"

Esther and Abdullah's wife Noha, modeling a saree

Good old Minnesota Lutheran friend Paul : A handsome young blonde man showed up at breakfast table at the guest house one day. Paul has just finished Pre Med from St. Olaf and is here as an intern for a year working with Rev. Mark Brown in the Lutheran World Federation Office. Paul is well travelled and very global in his thinking. He is going to Dentistry school after this year of internship. So John has arranged for him to watch an operation in the Augusta Victoria Hospital. He is participating in all the activities here and was the communion assistant at the Redeemer Lutheran Church last Sunday. He lives at the gate house - pent house at the entrance of the hospital with the Quaker church meeting below his apartment. He is a nice young man with a promising future ahead of him. Many young people come from Germany also come here and volunteer. You can do this kind of civil service instead of being drafted into the army it seems.

Paul at breakfast.

Palestinian Muslim friend Dr. X: What is it like, to be resident in surgery at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem? Lots of work, calls, no time with family right? This Palestinian resident has much more than that. No official permission has been given for him to be in Jerusalem by the Israeli Government. So he has to travel thru mountain passes to get to work or home and avoid being caught by border police at check points. His daughter cries every time he leaves home. He misses out on the little milestones his daughter reaches such as her first steps etc. Yes, that is the life of many residents John works with. He works all day and spends most of the nights at the hospital. When he does go home once in two weeks or so it is a matter of life and death.
He went out of the country to study medicine in the first place. He went to Nigeria. Several other Doctors here were trained in Russia, Romania, Tunisia and Egypt. However, there is good cooperation between the Jewish and Palestinian Medical communities. The Pathology specimens go the premier Jewish Haddassah Hospital. Consultants from the Israeli institutions come here. For the Cancer committee meetings which I also attend, the head of the Departments of Radiation Oncology from Haddassah hospital and Tel Aviv University attend and give valuable advice. They also choose promising Palestinian Doctors into their Residency programs and treat them on equal footing as the Israeli Doctors.

Surgical team at augusta Victoria

German Lutheran friend Godfreit: Godfreit who is in the guest house with us, is a wonderful friend of the friendless and down trodden. He was a German Lutheran Pastor in a German lutheran congregation in South Africa during the apartheid. He got involved in the resistance movement, got arrested, put in prison, then released and went underground. Since coming back to Germany he has gotten involved in other advocacy programs. Now he is in an " accompanier" program under the auspices of the World Council of Churches. He is like the international observer at the Israeli check points. He has had an interesting life. His son is married to a Jewish girl and they live in Tel Aviv. He spoke at our small group fellowship last week.

Father Arogyam from India: We visited the Church of the Nations which is in Gethsamane, surrounded by Olive trees. There were hundreds of Franciscan monks worshipping at the church and so we could not go in. When the service was over, we met two Indian monks, one from Orissa and Father Arogyam from our State of Tamil Nadu. He is stationed in Bangalore at St. Antony's Catholic church. This was an International conference of Franciscan monks and priests from different countries had come here. Bright young monks from all over the world were chosen. Some countries have sent their youngest monk who is sixty years old. He was very happy meet us. Next time we go to India, he wants us to come and visit him.

600 year old Olive tree in Gethsamane

Church of all Nations: Gethsamane

Esther with Father Arogyam, An Indian Franciscan priest attending an International conference in Jerusalem. He speaks the same language as Esther and John, Tamil.

Esther and John praying in Gethsamane

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