Greetings from Bethlehem! Only one week ago today, 18 traveling companions arrived in this historic city with many unknowns. For me, those unknowns have provided opportunities to experience innumerable “firsts”. I could spend the rest of this entry describing the many things I have encountered for the first time but, I’ve chosen instead, to reflect on the general tone of the week, at least as I have experienced it.
We have been blessed to visit many historical sites that reach back to the days of Jesus. It has been exciting to see these places of Jesus’ time, even when they are covered with monuments marking the actual sites. Yet my strongest sense of connection has been when we’ve been able to experience the authenticity of a 1st century tomb, or the steps of the Southern wall of the temple in Jerusalem. I think my deepest connection happened while walking the steps where Jesus may have walked, that lead up to the palace of Caiaphas, on the night Peter denied Jesus just before hearing the cock crow. We spent significant time on, and around the steps reflecting on those last hours of Jesus’ mortal life. While I was sitting on those very steps, looking down on Jerusalem, I heard a cock crow! And then, it was almost as if I was “there” that night…looking into the loving eyes of Jesus, and I could hear him say, “I do this for you”…tears welled up as I embraced such an amazing love that would reach across the centuries and unconditionally forgive…even me. I am reminded of Jesus’ words to his disciples, and to us to, “do this in remembrance of me”.
Tension, despair, hopelessness…these words and themes seem to be what we’ve encountered when in conversation with those whose lives are torn apart by conflict in this holy place. Most of the week, I have had a sense that hands are tied, unable to actually do anything to ease the pain. My heart ached and my spirit questioned the senselessness of it all. Then, last night, while meeting with the pastor of The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, Mitri Raheb, I felt a spirit of hope in a very real way. His mission is threefold; to preach the Word of God; to be in this place personally encountering the people in the community; and to provide opportunities to experience the hope that we know in Jesus Christ! I am energized by the passion of this man and the message of hope this church provides the citizens of Bethlehem!
A highlight of the week happened tonight during our Evening Prayers. After a time of reflection on our experiences of the week, the focus shifted. You see, we have with us one whose life has been connected with the church in service as a leader, encourager, teacher, pastor, and overseer for 50 years! Today marked the 50th year of the ordination of Glendon Blosser, in the Mennonite church. Tonight we honored Glendon, and his service to the church. Glendon was genuinely surprised and humbled by the well deserved recognition. Thank you, Glendon, for your dedication and service to the work of the church!
Thank you for your prayers on behalf of us all. We are truly blessed to have a network of family, friends, and community supporting us on this journey. We look forward to reconnecting with each one of you!
In the name of Jesus Christ, our hope and our redeemer, Joe Furry