By Jared Stoltzfus
Greetings from Bethlehem. It has been another wonderful day in the Holy Land.
Today we spent our time visiting both Biblical and Ancient sites. We started our morning with a short walk to Manger Square, where we toured the Church of the Nativity and the Church of St. Catherine. There was a mass going on in the room where the manger is said to have been, so we where not actually able to see it, but we had a wonderful time learning some of the history of this very old church from our tour guide Tony.
After this we journeyed to Shepherd’s Field. This was not the one where all the tourist go but it was a wonderful place to visit. We gathered together in a cave and heard the Christmas story read. We then broke off for some time of reflection. It was a much needed time to sit and reflect after the hustle and bustle of the last couple days. As I sat there thinking about the message of peace that the angel(s) brought I could not help but feel the tension that was around me. Yes, the moment was peaceful but I am in a land that has known very little peace. I had to look no further to know this than off in the distance, where an Israeli settlement stood atop a hill. Later in the evening we heard stories from the Pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church. He reflected about a terrible time just a few years ago in which threats of biological warfare loomed over this country. America was glad to send gas masks for Israeli citizens but not for Palestinians. He had a 10-month old daughter at the time.
This is the pain of the land that knows no peace. This is the pain of a people that have been oppressed for the last 60 years all in the name of what? I wish I could figure out what would make anyone think that this is what needs to be done, or that this is what God or Jesus would have wanted.
After our time of reflection we journeyed to a man made mountain, built by King Herod as a fortress. We had a wonderful view of the surrounding landscape and could see the Dead Sea and the plains of Moab (Jordan). We continued along, via bus, to the Pools of Solomon, ancient water reservoirs that supplied water to Jerusalem (yes Bethlehem is higher than Jerusalem).
At this point our day of exploring was over. We returned to the guest house to rest. Later we gathered again for our time of group reflection. That was followed by another wonderful dinner.
As I end this e-mail the sounds of the call to prayer sound in the distance, and I wonder if the message of Christmas day, the message of peace, will ever come to be. Will this land know the promise of the angel?
“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11 (ESV)
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