• 43°

Palestinian pastor meets local Lutherans, discusses synods, support

After living through 10 wars in his lifetime, Pastor Mitri Raheb believes now more than ever is the time to focus on hope.
Raheb, 52, is pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. He was in Salisbury last week to begin the North Carolina portion of Room for Hope, a Palestinian arts festival promoting food, music, film and dance.
Before a cooking demonstration and luncheon prepared by Palestinian chefs on Thursday at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Raheb met with Bishop Leonard Bolick of the North Carolina Synod.
The two spent time discussing their respective synods and ways that Lutherans in North Carolina can support Lutherans in Palestine.
It’s a small group.
The ELCA in Jordan and the Holy Land is unique in the Middle East. Six churches are part of this ELCA group, Raheb said. Its bishop is The Right Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan.
“They have been there the last 40 years and they are eager to go out and start new churches,” he said.
The biggest concentration of these churches can be found around Bethlehem.
“Outreach wasn’t something in the mind of our church for some time,” Raheb said.
Now, Christmas Lutheran is involved in numerous outreach programs for the people of Bethlehem, “from the womb to the tomb,” as Raheb likes to say.
Bolick and the Rev. Beth Kearney, assistant to the bishop, are North Carolina hosts for a trip to the Holy Land in January, sponsored by Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary and led by Dr. Monty Luker, a professor of Hebrew scriptures at the seminary.
The Rev. Rhodes Woolly, senior pastor of St. John’s, is also leading a trip to the region in January.
In an incredible coincidence, the two groups, about 45 total North Carolinians, will be worshipping together at Christmas Lutheran on Jan. 11.
During their conversation on Thursday, Raheb invited Bolick to preach that day.
“We would be honored,” he told Bolick. “Half of your congregation will be there anyhow.”
“I’d love it,” Bolick said. “I’ll do it!”
Bolick acknowledged that it is a difficult time to be a Christian in Palestine.
“This is why we need strong support,” Raheb said.
Raheb also asked Bolick about the North Carolina Synod.
“More than 200 years ago most of our churches were here in this part of the state,” Bolick said.
That’s why the synod is headquartered in Salisbury, he noted. “Now we have 200 churches scattered across North Carolina, with about 75,000 members, and this is still a good central location.”
Christmas Lutheran is one of St. John’s mission partners, and the Salisbury congregation has a Bethlehem ministry team, led by Michael Connor. Some of its members will be traveling to visit Christmas Lutheran in January. Connor has already made that trip once. The team will also host a simulcast in December of the joint prayer service between Christmas Lutheran and the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.
Through this team’s efforts, the St. John’s congregation has become familiar with the ministries of Christmas Lutheran, Bolick pointed out. “It’s so important we have a ministry in that place. You have hope, and you help us see what is actually taking place.”
That is Raheb’s role. When he first came to the U.S. in 1991, he said, he found that most Americans knew nothing about the Middle East. That made him angry.
“But the more I started to come here,” he said, “I realized that they weren’t getting the whole perspective.”
Therefore, Raheb wants to help Americans understand the Palestinian narrative. He noted that viewing the region through a political lens can be “messy,” but that personal interactions are so much more effective.
For example, he said, the chefs connected immediately with their host families. They all brought small gifts with them for the families. One of the students, a Muslim, gave a cross to her host family. The family was moved, as they did not have a cross in their home, Raheb said.
“They said, ‘A Muslim comes from Bethlehem to bring us a cross,’” Raheb said. “We are sisters, we are brothers, we are humans, we are friends.”
The group discussed similarities between the Berlin Wall, which came down 25 years ago this year, and the wall surrounding Bethlehem, erected more than a decade ago.
“Is non-violent resistance realistic in your area?” Woolly asked.
“I don’t think it’s impossible,” Raheb replied.
He went on to say that President Reagan did not have a problem with asking Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall. And Gorbachev did not kill the movement that took place to dismantle the USSR.
“I don’t see this combination right now in our part of the world,” Raheb said. “The ingredients are not there yet. I believe ultimately the wall will come down.”
To raise up leaders, Christmas Lutheran has a leadership program as part of its ministries. Students attend classes one day a week for a year. They come from all over the West Bank, and 97 percent of them are Muslims, according to Raheb.
“We want, basically, to create a pool of future leaders,” Raheb said, and some are already emerging.
Raheb noted that a graduate of this program was a member of the first female soccer team in Palestine, and now works as an ambassador for FIFA.
The leadership program, he added, has a strong commitment to community.
“You cannot be a leader if you abandon your community,” Raheb said.
Bolick will be meeting next week with Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the ELCA and offered to send greetings from Raheb. Eaton was to visit Bethlehem in August, but was unable to go because of the war there. Raheb said he hoped to see her soon, so the two of them could meet.
“What do you really need from the ELCA?” Woolly asked.
Raheb listed four things: prayer, pilgrimage to Bethlehem, political advocacy and support with projects.
“We have to create an infrastructure capable of giving wings to our theology,” Raheb said.
High on the list is the completion of the college, Dar Al-Kalima, which Raheb estimates will cost about $500,000. Churches and synods have the opportunity to sponsor rooms there at a cost of $25,000-$150,000 per room.
The need for scholarships is also pressing, he said. “Because of the recent war, more than 20 students cannot pay their second year of tuition.”
Tuition costs are $3,600 per year.
Raheb knows it is hard for families to stay in the region. In a single recent week, some 20 families emigrated, he said, mostly to Canada.
“My wife and I are staying, because we believe this is where we are most needed,” Raheb said.
To learn more about the ministries of Christmas Lutheran Church, visit www.brightstarsbethlehem.org.

Comments

Comments closed.

Local

Catawba holds baccalaureate services for Class of 2021

News

$9M settlement for two men wrongfully sent to death row

Nation/World

China lands spacecraft on Mars in latest advance for its space program

Business

Gas crunch hits Washington; Colonial Pipeline paid nearly $5 million in Bitcoin ransome

Coronavirus

State mostly returns to normal operations after 15 months of lockdowns, restrictions

Crime

Blotter: Man accused of stealing car, crashing it

Crime

Man faces new charge of attempted murder for father’s shooting

BREAKING NEWS

Gov. Cooper lifts indoor mask mandate for most situations, gathering limits

Crime

Barnes gets new punishment of two life sentences in Tutterow couple’s 1992 murder

High School

High school football: State’s top honor goes to Jalon Walker

Local

Scout’s Honor: With dedication of flag retirement box, Salem Fleming earns Eagle Scout rank

College

North Carolina king, queen of NCAA lacrosse tourneys

Education

Kannapolis seniors walk elementary schools

Local

Local real estate company employees come out in force to build Habitat house

Local

Quotes of the week

Coronavirus

Auditors find oversight lacking for $3 billion of state’s pandemic aid

Nation/World

When will gas situation return to normal?

Local

Rowan native Shuping posthumously receives Concord Police Department’s Medal of Valor, Purple Heart

News

GOP measure on penalties for rioting draws fire

News

Black high school softball player told to cut hair

Coronavirus

State shows 303 COVID-19 deaths in Rowan

Coronavirus

CDC: Fully vaccinated people can largely ditch masks indoors

Crime

One arrested, another hospitalized in Castor Road stabbing

China Grove

China Grove Roller Mill open for tours Saturday