|Palestinian Lutheran pastor urges: Preach hope and amid hopelessness|
Palestinian Lutheran Pastor urges:
"Preach hope and amid hopelessness"
Charles P. Lutz
When a Christian congregation is situated squarely in the middle of a war zone, living under a 36- year- long military occupation, with violent death daily considered normalcy – to what ministry does God call that congregation?
"We're asked to continue what our Lord Christ began 2,000 years ago, the ministry of preaching, teaching and healing."
That was the message from Pastor Mitri Raheb of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, Palestine, to 350 listeners in Bloomington, Minnesota, on Pentecost Sunday afternoon.
They had gathered at St. Stephen Lutheran church to hear the Palestinian pastor speak about the pursuit of Israeli- Palestinian peace as a special call to Christian, in both the Holy Land and the United States.
"God has a unique role for us to play as a bridge over troubled waters," said Raheb.
He noted that the Christian presence is less than 2% of the total of some 10 million in Israel and Palestine.
The bridging task for Christians is to connect equally with Muslims and Jews, both of whom are increasingly attracted to radical fundamentalist expressions on their faiths.
"The challenge in all that we do is to lift up hope in what seems always to be a hopeless situation," Raheb said.
"We try to help create, especially for the children, a sense of normalcy in the midst of highly abnormal realities.
We want to show that the Christian Gospel promises life before death, just as much as life after death."
Central to the ministries of Palestinian Lutherans, said Raheb, is to work of their schools. They enroll more students than total membership of five the Palestinian Lutheran congregations, which is 3,000 baptized.
In all, Muslim students are nearly as numerous as Christians (Christmas Lutheran's student body is 52% Muslim).
"Muslim families tell us they want their children in our Lutheran schools precisely because of the Christian values we offer," Raheb said.
He spoke of the distance- learning program the Lutherans are now launching as a way of continuing education when their schools are closed by curfews imposed by Israeli military.
"In 2002- 03, closure days for our Bethlehem school totaled four months," Raheb noted. "We lost almost half the school year."
MetroLutheran, "Palestinian Lutheran pastor urges: Preach hope and amid hopelessness", July 2003