May 7

Shalom from Bethlehem!

The past two days have been full for those of us traveling here in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. It is a land, and an experience, of many contrasts. We leave from Bethlehem each morning with our trusty bus driver winding and beeping his way through traffic, sometimes sitting for five minutes or more because someone decided to park their car in the middle of the street and we have to wait for the driver to return to move it. But that is the relaxing part. The tension increases as we approach the “wall”, the checkpoint to leave the city of Bethlehem. Yesterday as we waited in line we were told to have our passports handy and it’s a good thing we had them as two Israeli soldiers boarded the bus, their semi-automatic rifles in hand. They looked carefully at each passport and in each seat before exiting the bus. Today we only had to lift our passports in the air for the soldier to see. Yet, unlike most Palestinians, we have the freedom to come and go.

I’m struck by the contrasts I have encountered. Freedom/oppression; love/humiliation; old/new. As we leave Bethlehem, go to Jerusalem, and return to Bethlehem each night we move between two worlds. We have heard stories from people who do not have permission to leave here and we have also witnessed great devotion in those who worship in faiths different from ours in Jerusalem. Yesterday we walked from the Mount of Olives, through the Kidron Valley, to the garden tomb. Today we entered Jerusalem at the Dome of the Rock, visited the Western Wall, where there were numerous bar-mitzvah’s occurring, and left through the Dung Gate. Our afternoon was spent at St. Peter Gallicantu which is where Peter denied Jesus. As we sat in silence reflecting on Jesus’ journey down this very path, we first heard the bells of the church toll followed a few minutes later by the Muslim call to prayer.

Returning to Bethlehem felt like coming home. The streets and vendors are becoming familiar. We know where we like to go for coffee, falafal, fruit, etc. We rest a bit and then gather for evening prayers, a time of sharing and debriefing from the events of the day. Tonight someone shared that as she walked the path Jesus walked following Peter’s denial, she slipped on the rocks but didn’t fall. She felt assurance that God would not let her fall from his grace. Others continue to look for God, in the people, the places, and prayers of this place so many know as the Holy Land.

Grace & peace- Dawn Monger