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The Imam and the Pastor


National Church of Nigeria, Abuja

National Church of Nigeria, Abuja (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Abuja National Mosque

Abuja National Mosque (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some friends of ours work with this organization. We’re pretty impressed with their work.

They shared the following DVD with us. Tell me what you think.

Sarfraz Khan: An Afghan, And A True Gem


I’ve carried a small bag of “gems” from Indonesia throughout the

Opal!

Opal! (Photo credit: cobalt123)

world since our move in 1991. I’ve alternately misplaced them, found them, put them in “safe places” and forgotten where I put them until this December 2012 when I unpacked all of our things in our new house in Virginia!

I had hoped to give one to each of our children as a keepsake! They had heard about these gems…Opals from Indonesia, and, at least the girls, were excited about them.

Before gifting them, I took them

to a local goldsmith/gem dealer to have them appraised. They are fakes! “They have bubbles in them, they’re just pieces of glass.”, he told me.

All these years of counting on them, not as valuables, but as gifts, a small legacy to hand down to the children, worth nothing. Not even that pretty, but valued because I thought they were of value. Now, my dilemma is where to dispose of them.

I’m glad that people are valued by God, not for our looks, but because of our innate worth. Some of us have lots of bubbles and hollow spots, and a few are true gems.

I received Greg Mortenson‘s Central Asia Institute update last week, and in it, the sad news that Sarfraz Khan, one of the faithful Afghan CAI workers had died.

The marvel of CAI’s work in Pakistan and Afghanistan has been largely due to finding trustworthy men to carry th

Wakhan Corridor

Wakhan Corridor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

e work into the most difficult places where Westerners can not go. Sarfraz Khan was just such a man.

English: The mountains of Wakhan Corridor. Ned...

English: The mountains of Wakhan Corridor. Nederlands: De bergen van Wachan Corridor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I remember reading about him and thanking God that Greg had formed such a brotherly bond with this good man.

His loss is a blow to all of Afghanistan.

Here is the letter we received from CAI regarding Sarfraz Khan’s death.

“With heavy heart, I regret to inform you that our
beloved brother, mentor, and dear friend Sarfraz
Khan passed away peacefully at about 5:30 p.m.
Pakistan time,” Greg Mortenson wrote to friends and supporters on
Nov. 13, 2012.
As impossible as it seemed, it was true. Central Asia Institute’s
most-remote-areas program director, whose amazing contributions
were detailed in Mortenson’s book “Stones into Schools,” had died of
cancer. He passed away at home in Islamabad, surrounded by family.
He was 55.
Hundreds of people wrote to Mortenson and CAI expressing
sadness, astonishment, and grief. In Pakistan, his family swiftly made
arrangements to return Sarfraz to his home village of Zuudkhan, in
the Chapursan Valley, northwest Pakistan. They made the journey by
road, up the Karakoram Highway, into the mountains.
“After his death, we contacted friends and family and the news
spread everywhere,” said Saidullah Baig, CAI’s Gilgit-Hunza director,
who accompanied his longtime friend on his final journey. Along
the way, people were watching for the entourage, and stepped into
the road to offer condolences and prayers. Many even joined the
procession.
“At every village, we had two or three cars join, with so many
people inside each car.” By the time the funeral caravan turned off
the KKH into the Chapursan Valley, “about 100 cars were with us.”
And upon their arrival in Zuudkhan, “3,000 people were there” to pay
tribute to Sarfraz, he said. “It was unbelievable to see.”
Sarfraz was buried there in the village where he was born. “Death
is a reality of our life as human beings; one day every life has to end,”
Saidullah said afterwards. But even though “Sarfraz has left us, he is
alive in our hearts forever.”
Indeed, Sarfraz will live on – through his nine children, and
through the countless students whose lives he touched in his selfless
determination to build a better future for his valley, his country, and
children everywhere. Sarfraz was born in Zuudkhan to Haji Muhamad and Bibi
Gulnaz in, as best he could figure, 1957. His formal education
ended at eighth-grade. He married twice, and had two
daughters with his first wife and seven children with his second wife,
Bibi Numa.
By the time Greg met Sarfraz in 1999, Sarfraz had already
become a legend. “The stories that clung to him were both colorful
and provocative,” Greg wrote. “Some described him as a mishmash of
contradictions: an ex-commando skilled in the art of alpine combat,
who drove a ‘Taliban Toyota,’ loved music and dancing, and wore
a peacock-blue, Dick Tracy-style fedora in the mountains. Others
hinted at a man with an unusual past: a smuggler of gemstones, an
imbiber of whiskey, a trader of yaks.
“Outlandish claims were made about his marksmanship, his
horsemanship, and his dentistry. … There were some dark rumors
of scandal, too: tales that spoke of a divorce from a first wife and,
following on the heels of that disgrace, an even greater one arising
from the unthinkable demand that he be permitted to gaze upon the
face of his second betrothed before he would consent to marry her. …
Who could say where the truth ended and the legends began.”
Turned out, much of it was true.
Sarfraz had spent years looking for his niche. After finishing
class eight, Sarfraz taught school. But just a year later he joined the
Pakistan Army and was assigned to an elite mountain force. During a
firefight in Kashmir in 1974, he was shot in his right hand, leading to
paralysis that caused three of his fingers to curl inward and formed his
trademark “crook.”
After an honorable discharge, Sarfraz taught school again in
Zuudkhan for a year. When that didn’t suit, he left the village for
a series of “cityside” jobs: long-distance driver on KKH; chokidar
(security guard) in Karachi; restaurant worker in Lahore; and
chauffeur, mechanic, and auto broker in Peshawar. Restless and
unfulfilled, he returned to Zuudkhan, and spent the next decade as
a trader in the vaulting Hindu Kush mountains between Chapursan
and the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan, rounding things out with
periodic stints as a porter on mountain-climbing expeditions.
Sarfraz was not particularly proud of his past, which had
generated what he called, “not much success.” But Greg saw that
Sarfraz’s hardscrabble years had yielded precisely what CAI needed:
a man willing to navigate difficult terrain, who knew the customs of
the mountain people, spoke seven languages, had a vast network of
business associates, and wasn’t afraid to try something new. Sarfraz’s
impressive skill set was complimented by his “energy, ambition, and a
rather flamboyant sense of his own theatricality,” Greg wrote. Plus, he
“seemed to be genuinely intrigued by our last-place-first approach to
building schools.” Greg hired Sarfraz as CAI’s most-remote-area project
director and the two became fast friends. “In ways that
neither Sarfraz nor I fully understood at the time, each of
us seemed to round out and finish off something inside the other,”
Greg wrote. For his part, Sarfraz often said that “Dr. Geeeeereg,” as he
called him, had saved his life, giving him a chance to do meaningful
work and “serve the people.”
He and Greg spent the next few years building the relationships
Manifesting Hope
TERU kuwa yama
Remembering Sarfraz Khan (1957-2012)
necessary to start work in the Wakhan. Along the way, Sarfraz put
Greg through a sort of “Afghan style” boot camp, teaching him
everything from what to wear on his head – a lunghi (a Pashtun wraparound
turban) in Pashtun areas, a mujahedeen’s pakol (woolen hat)
in Tajik-dominated areas, or a dufi (white skullcap) in the mosque – to
how to behave with conservative mullahs, warlords and village elders,
to how to find a safe ride. The two spent weeks at a time traveling with
little sleep, eating sketchy food, drinking gallons of tea, and living on a
regular “ration,” as Sarfraz called it, of ibuprofen.
Then came the devastating
October 2005 earthquake in Azad
Kashmir, Pakistan. Greg and CAI
temporarily shifted focus and
resources to the area and Greg sent
Sarfraz to visit remote areas to
evaluate how best CAI could help.
Amid the chaos and confusion, one
thing became clear – the government
lacked the resources to rebuild
the thousands of damaged and
destroyed schools. So Sarfraz set
up temporary tent schools and built
relationships, eventually installing
more than a dozen earthquake-proof
premanufactured schools, good for
five or 10 years. He also set up scholarships for girls seeking higher
education beyond what their villages had to offer.
But work had not slowed in Afghanistan and Sarfraz was soon
traveling what became a well-worn path between school projects
in Azad Kashmir and the Wakhan, with infrequent visits home.
Greg also enlisted Sarfraz’s help building relationships elsewhere
in Afghanistan, as CAI’s work spread to include projects in Kabul,
central and eastern Afghanistan. Most recently, he sent him to
Tajikistan to forge an entirely new set of relationships and lay the
groundwork for CAI’s work there.
Sarfraz’s biggest accomplishment was no doubt dozens of
schools and women’s vocational centers stretching from central
Badakhshan province all the way to the end of the road in the Wakhan
Corridor. Each school is marked by a large white sitara (star) and
collectively they represent the largest investment in the education of
Badakhshan’s children – by anyone, ever.
Yet his proudest moment was the day he fulfilled Greg’s promise
made to the nomadic Kyrgyz people of the Afghan Pamir. Sarfraz
overcame immense logistical challenges to move building materials
and masons into remote Bozoi Gumbad, where he built a small but
solid primary school. He said the Bozoi school had been his greatest
achievement. Sarfraz came to CAI with a unique set of skills and he
put every single one of them to use for the benefit of the
organization. Sarfraz often said he was lucky to have
found Greg. But CAI was the real winner. Sarfraz had an amazing,
intuitive understanding of what Greg and CAI do and why. And he
worked hard to carry that work forward, helping to build stronger
communities, stronger people and a stronger CAI everywhere Greg
sent him.
Explaining his work in September, Sarfraz said, “We are working
for all needy people. In all places where nobody is helping these people,
CAI wants to help. Not just for Sunni or Shia or Ismaili. Our boss’
vision is to serve all the poor people and the needy people, places
where there is no school, or if there is a school, it is like for animals
– that’s where CAI wants to help.
All the time we are getting many
questions from the government.
Why are you going to the mountains?
Why don’t you work on the cityside?
I tell them the government, the other
NGOs, nobody is helping for the
poor people in the mountainside,
only on cityside. And going to those
areas – Pamir, Chapursan, Korphe –
is not easy. But that is CAI and Greg
Mortenson. We need for everyone
strong education. We need for girls
and we need for women. We can show
how it works and then they become
good people and peace comes.”
And he did it all with understated wisdom and wit. He loved to
laugh. He loved music. He loved his family and his friends. He was
honest, fair and consistent.
During his last visit to Badakhshan in July 2012, people
alternately thanking him for or seeking CAI’s help met Sarfraz at
every turn, inviting him for tea and huge meals of mutton and rice. He
never stopped encouraging, coaching and, when necessary, scolding
people of all ages to work harder, do a better job, build a better future.
Within a month of that July visit to the Wakhan, Sarfraz was in an
Islamabad hospital, where doctors spent weeks diagnosing the cause
of his severe back pain. He had stage 4 cancer. He had good doctors,
excellent care, and amazing family support, but the cancer took over.
In October, Greg and Sarfraz made one last trip together, this
time to Tajikistan. But within a week it was clear that Sarfraz could
not continue on, and he returned to Pakistan.
The men said their final goodbyes a few weeks later, in the wee
hours of the morning Nov. 11, 2012, at Sarfraz’ home. Then Greg left
for the United States. Sarfraz died at home two days later.
His father, Haji Muhamad, preceded Sarfraz in death. He is
survived by his mother, Bibi Gulnaz; his wife, Bibi Numa; three
sons: Hassan, Nawaz, and Qudrat; six daughters: Fozia, Azra, Anita,
Shanaz, Mehnaz, Gulshad; brother Alam Jan; three sisters: Lal Nasab,
Izath Nasab, and Sultan Nasab; and numerous nieces and nephews.
It is hard to imagine doing this work without Sarfraz. He was
such an integral part of CAI. But we must and we will. As former CAI
board member Julia Bergman said, “Onwards, somehow.” =
– Karin Ronnow
ERIK PETERSEN
Fall 2012 | 3
Just the logistics of getting to Bozoi
Gumbad boggle the mind.
High in the mountains of the eastern
Wakhan Corridor in northeast Afghanistan,
Bozoi Gumbad is home to the semi-nomadic
Kyrgyz people – and one of Central Asia
Institute’s (CAI) most-remote projects.
The region, also known as the Afghan
Pamir, has a rich history. Aryan tribes are
thought to have crossed the mountains
in 2000 BC, en route to Europe. Marco
Polo supposedly spent the winter there
recovering from malaria in 1272 AD. And
western nations sent expeditions to search
for the source of the mighty Oxus River or a
route through the inhospitable terrain.
The Afghan Pamir remained largely
uninhabited until the Kyrgyz fled there
during the 1930s Bolshevik Revolution.
But their troubles didn’t end. Distance,
disinterest, and disrespect have made
Kyrgyz life exceptionally hard.
“It is the tragedy of geopolitics and
decades-old suspicions between China,
Tajikistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan
that continue to deny them access to
simple human rights like health care and
education,” said Greg Mortenson.
So when stories of CAI’s work in
northern Pakistan reached the Kyrgyz
elders more than a decade ago, they began to
press their case for a school. Land and labor
were no problem. Logistics, however, were
complicated.
It took Mortenson and project director
Sarfraz Khan many years, but in 2009 they
used horses, yaks, and porters to move
building materials to Bozoi Gumbad and
deliver the promised school. This epic story
is the centerpiece of Mortenson’s second
book, “Stones into Schools.”
***
There are only three ways to access
Bozoi Gumbad and all pose challenges.
There’s the three-day trek from the
road’s end at Sarhad village in the central
Wakhan; the two-day hike over the
16,329-foot Irshad Pass from Pakistan (over
a border closed to foreigners); or the six- to
eight-hour drive on an old Soviet tank road
from Sajmak, Tajikistan (also over a closed
border).
Sarfraz had traveled each route at one
time or another. When he needed to deliver
supplies last July, he chose the Sajmak
route. In Khorog, the capital of Tajikistan’s
Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Oblast
(GBAO), he got special permission from
Tajik and Afghan border commanders. He
then headed east.
But his health was deteriorating. En
route to Sajmak, he stepped out of the
truck and immediately fell unconscious
on the gravel road, hitting his head and
revealing how sick he really was. Yet he was
undeterred. “No problem. We finish this
mission,” he said.
But his destination remained elusive.
This journey ended a few days later with
news that a Tajik general had been shot
dead near Khorog and the border with
Afghanistan was sealed up tight.
Reluctantly, Sarfraz returned to
Khorog, stumbling into some of the worst
fighting in the country in decades. After
four days watching gun battles from the
apartment windows, he escaped to the
Dushanbe airport, then home to Pakistan.
Shortly thereafter he was diagnosed with
terminal cancer.
Yet Sarfraz never gave up anything
easily. His doctors ordered radiation therapy
to reduce the size of the tumor, and helped
get his pain under control. And in late
September, he and Greg set out to complete
the Bozoi mission before winter settled in.
***
Back in Dushanbe, Sarfraz set about resecuring
the permits needed for the Sajmak-
Bozoi trip. This was especially difficult in
the wake of the Khorog violence; the Tajik
government had banned travel to GBAO for
most foreigners.
Sarfraz also introduced Greg to the
government officials and community leaders
essential to CAI’s work in Tajikistan.
“Everywhere we went there was lots
of tea drinking to get anything done,”
Mortenson said. “After about a week in
Tajikistan, Sarfraz could barely even walk
a short distance without slumping over in
Greg Mortenson with Kyrgyz students at Bozoi Gumbad School, Wakhan Corridor,
Afghanistan, in October 2012.
CAI’s drivers coordinate with Tajik military
commanders in Sajmak, Tajikistan, to
secure permission to cross the closed
Tajik-Afghan border to deliver supplies to
students and teachers at Bozoi Gumbad
School. The trucks, called Sashte-Shashs
’66, maneuver well on high-altitude roads.
JUMA GUL/CAI 2012
GREG MORTENSON/CAI 2012
Sustaining Hope
Mortenson visits CAI’s most-remote school
s tory b y kari n ronnow I photogra 4 | Journey of Hope p h y b y Gr e g Mo r t e ns o n & o t h e rs

IN GOD WE TRUST القرآن الكريم


Seal of Culpeper County, Virginia

Seal of Culpeper County, Virginia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I saw this on a bumper sticker in Culpeper, VA today.

 

 

 

“In God We Trust

 

 

 

Qur’an 67:29”

 

 

 

What reaction would you expect me to have?

 

 

 

I wonder what many people in predominately Baptist, Culpeper County, VA will have?

 

 

 

Curious isn’t it?

 

 

 

A prominent writer was recently chairing a conference in Europe and says the participants became outraged when he brought God into the conversation. However, afterwards, people came up to him thanking him for the very relevant discussion.

 

 

 

They were Muslims.

 

 

 

Christians and Muslims have more in common than we think.  Members of both faiths love God, though our views of Him are different. We feel no compunction about discussing theology and our beliefs in public. The challenge is to stop competing and arguing with one other and begin dialogue.

 

 

 

What do we have to lose, anyway? We might even gain some friends and influence world history.

 

 

 

Surat Al-Mulk [67:29] – The Noble Qur’an – القرآن الكريم.

 

 

 

Natural Gas: A Third Way?


Gas Natural

Gas Natural

There is still much debate over Hydro-Fracking to obtain natural gas.

People line up on either side according to party affiliation, so it’s difficult to find an article that doesn’t demonize the other.

Below, you’ll find an article refuting current findings about the dangers of Hydro-Fracking. This article is from “The Blaze“, an ultra conservative internet magazine founded by Glenn Beck .  However, the comments section got me to thinking.

http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/fracking-the-solution-for-americas-energy-woes-that-environmentalists-dont-want-you-to-know-about/

I also happened to find this article,  NaturalGas.org. , which references the history of natural gas and how it was obtained in the “old-fashioned” way. I’ve been curious about this for a long time.

Against fracking 01

Against fracking 01 (Photo credit: Bosc d'Anjou)

I wonder what current alternatives do we have to Hydro-fracking and if anyone is working on improving these methods to safely extract natural gas?

Which brings me to my title.

Just because one side of an argument might be found exaggerating, or fudging facts in a few cases, it doesn’t mean that the overall argument is false.

If one thing is true, for example; Civil rights, Anti-discrimination legislation, Affirmative Action, and now even Anti-hate crime legislation is in effect and yet a majority of black people in our country don’t feel safe.

Many white people think this is ridiculous and black people should just move on. Instead of working to resolve the real problem which seems to be lack of trust, one side accuses the other of being ingenuous or worse, and the wall goes higher.

Certainly, we see this in the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict where both sides have genuine hurt and grief and fear yet unresolved.

This first came to mind when I heard Hilary Clinton complain on television of a “Huge right-wing conspiracy” against her husband when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke out. It turned out that both were true. The conservatives were indeed eager to catch Clinton in any impropriety, but it wasn’t that difficult since the allegations were true.

Since that time our political parties have been in a battle to bring the opposing side’s president shame (George Bush’s drinking) or ridicule (again George Bush and Obama’s heritage), whether he is guilty of a crime or guiltless.

Christians might find me rushing down the road to relativism…where nothing is absolutely true, but I think not. I think we’ve become so entrenched in Black and White thinking, in our determination to avoid compromise, that we have lost our ability to influence society in a meaningful way.

I think of Solyndra, and the rush to judgment that shut down much discussion about renewable energy on the federal level just because of this  error. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-03/solyndra-s-loan-guarantee-was-rushed-treasury-audit-says-1-.html

The Obama administration appears to have caved in many times to discouragement or pressure from lobbyists’ criticism.  Two examples I think of are the firing of Van Jones the Green energy czar as well as it’s campaign promise of commitment to halting the settlements in the West Bank.

President Obama came in with good ideas for changing the direction of America in several specific ways.  When ideas are true and right, it doesn’t mean that they are perfect. They may require “tweaking” and input from all sides. Opposition and criticism is helpful to see where the plan lacks consistency, but doesn’t mean the plan should be thrown out.

That’s the way I feel about Hydro-Fracking. Maybe it’s not so terribly dangerous as environmentalists are describing it, but it feels like there is more beneath the surface that may be concealed from us due to corporate interests. The presence of “green” logos and butterflies on their signs only increases alarm in me. It makes me feel like I’m being soothed into swallowing a lie.

What if we would treat our “opponents” as we would our family in a conflict?  Even in distrust, we recognize that each side has legitimate concerns.  Refusing to rush into judgment or be pulled into useless debates and shouting matches, we listen and learn from each other and seek truth that we all can live with. I think we might make some progress. This is especially difficult, though, when both parties aren’t willing to listen and learn from one another.

This is true in US Politics, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, The Arab Spring, the Economy, Race Relations, the Afghan War and Energy solutions. There is more than one way to view these issues, and people’s precious lives are at stake.

Continuing to debate and accuse each other is getting us nowhere.

Practicing Peace


The word, “Peace”, seems to irritate some Christians. They want to qualify it in “spiritual” terms, not “Hippie” peace and love…Secular terms…How many times have I seen the bumper sticker, “Know Jesus, Know Peace. No Jesus, No Peace”
Peace! I get that, I really do. I’m thankful for a peaceful heart and relationship with my creator and it has grown as I’ve matured in my faith.
But, many church people I know squash talk of peace with a knowing shake of their heads and a quote from a well-known passage in the Old Testament, though out of context:
“Peace, Peace, and there is no Peace”,  in context, it referred to false prophets who soothed Israel in ancient times, telling the Jews that everything would be okay, when it wasn’t.  In other words, Liars.
I understand where they’re coming from when Evangelicals do this. We believe and experience that Christ brings peace to our hearts through His forgiveness and love.
So it’s frustrating and painful to watch people struggle towards peace outside of that transforming faith and love, when we know darn well that nothing short of a “miracle” will bring it. So, Christians/Evangelicals just don’t think it’s “worth the trouble”. Why bother?
Here’s where I disagree.
Jesus said in His sermon on the mountain, “Happy are those who work for peace for God will call them his children”.  I think He was serious about wanting people’s hearts to have a peaceful transformation leading to peace.  If we’re not out there mixing with people who aren’t peaceful, how on earth can this transformation take place?  I guess you could say, I expect God to show up in the midst of the process, in unexpected ways!
My experience in Evangelical Churches in the USA where I live and worship is that people often respond negatively to good news coming out of the Arab World. I’m told frankly that it is because of the church’s “Biblical” foundations which they feel excludes the Arab world from…? The Peace Process?
However, there are a growing number of followers of Christ around the world who, despite criticism from devout believers, are working to break down barriers to peace in the Holy Land, hoping to exclude neither Jew, Palestinian, nor Christian from the process.  I like to count myself among that number.

The “Christ at the Check Point” Conference,  http://christatthecheckpoint.com/ , in Bethlehem is one place where all of us come together to learn from Palestinian believers how it is done.

Read this article by Munther Isaac, Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College to learn more.

How Evangelicals Are Learning to Be Pro-Palestine, Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Justice and Always Pro-Jesus
by Munther Isaac

Many evangelicals, who were discouraged by the failed prophecies and the “mood of doom” that dominated the evangelical church in the second half of the 20th century, are rediscovering that the gospel also speaks powerfully to issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation. Books about the end times, such as those written by Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsey, no longer dominate the bookshops, and people are being challenged by writings that focuses on the here and now, instead of the there and then!

In particular, the evangelical church typically has looked at the Middle East through the eyes of prophecy, leaning towards an unconditional support for Israel. Evangelicals in the West cheered the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent wars, believing them to be signs of the second coming of Christ—all the while neglecting the impact these events had on real people in the Middle East, specifically on Palestinians, and especially on the Palestinian Church.

The irony for Palestinian Christians is that evangelicals, with their over-emphasis on prophecy, have lost the capacity of being prophetic!

In many cases, when Palestinian Christians (or those who are sympathetic to them) share their take on things, they are demonized, ridiculed, and even accused of being anti-Semitic. The mere presence and voice of Palestinian Christians presents a dilemma for many Christian Zionists, who prefer a simple black-and-white perspective. But over the years, Palestinian Christians have challenged the Western church to consider what it means to be the church. They have reminded them of the importance of justice and peacemaking. If our theology produces apathy to injustice, it must be re-examined. In the words of Carl Medearis, “If your end-times theology trumps the clear commands in Scripture to love neighbors and enemies, then it is time to rethink your theology.”

Many who come to visit the “Holy Land” are troubled by the situation of Palestinians, and are beginning to ask questions about the occupation and the injustices that Palestinians are facing on a daily basis.
Facts do not lie. There is still the problem of about 5 million refugees, of whom about 1.8 million still live in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and the surrounding Arab countries. The 700 kilometer-long (435 mile) separation wall continues to affect the lives of Palestinians, leaving thousands living in isolated ghettos. The building of this wall has been judged illegal by the International Court of Justice.

The building of settlements continues to complicate matters for Palestinians and remains one of the biggest obstacles to peace. Though Palestinians and Israelis share the same water resources, per capita use in Israel is three and a half times higher than in the West Bank, due to water restrictions placed on Palestine by Israel. The Israeli military occupation is the longest occupation in modern history. Any visitor to the Palestinian areas cannot escape these realities. Checkpoints, the wall, refugee camps, land confiscations, and lack of water define the reality of Palestinians.

More and more evangelicals are paying attention to the Palestinian Church and its testimony and ministry in the midst of the conflict; the writings of Elias Chacour, Naim Ateek, Mitri Raheb, and Alex Awad are good examples, along with the nonviolent peace activities and advocacy by Palestinian Christian organizations. There are also the writings of many Western evangelicals who are sympathetic to Palestinians, and new documentaries that offer a different perspective, such as With God on Our Side and Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.

Then there is the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference, in and of itself a big example of this change. Among the confirmed speakers for 2012 are ESA’s Ron Sider and Paul Alexander, John Ortberg, Lynne Hybels, Shane Clainborne, Tony Campolo, Samuel Rodriguez, Sang Bok David Kim, and many more.
In addition to the international speakers, local Palestinian and Messianic Jewish leaders will share their own experiences and offer diverse perspectives. Participants will meet Palestinian Christians, and be able to listen and see first-hand the realities on the ground, as seen through the eyes of the people.

Lynne Hybels, co-founder of the Willow Creek Church with her husband Bill, has described her discovery of the church in Palestine. She concluded after many journeys, “I am still pro-Israel, but I’ve also become pro-Palestine, pro-peace, and pro-justice and pro-equality for Jews and Arabs living as neighbors in the Holy Land. And the bottom line is always: pro-Jesus!”

If more Christians go to Bethlehem in 2012 and leave with the same attitude, we can start looking at this part of the world with hope, in a time when it is desperately needed.

Munther Isaac is the Vice Academic Dean at Bethlehem Bible College and a PhD candidate at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies. He is also the director of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. Learn more about the event.

A Home on the Path to Peace


Our Front Door

My Mom would often say with sadness as we drove through the countryside past an old ramshackle home, “Each old house was somebody’s dream.” My dream came true but it took a while before I recognized it!

I suppose many people who sell their homes have a bit of nostalgia attached to them, but we’re a bit over the top with our Freeville, New York house.

English: Blue Spruce (Picea pungens) Polski: Ś...

Image via Wikipedia

As a little girl, I always wanted to influence people.

When we lived in Indonesia, I dreamed of someday owning a home with Cedar shingles and fragrant Lavender bushes in the yard.  I had forgotten that these were a part of my dream house until long after our purchase, and I began to dream once more.

While we were house hunting,  as I stepped inside this home I immediately imagined its vast open space filled to capacity with people laughing and talking in a warm glow. I was sold!

The vision was exactly right, as people from all over the world have called our place home, receiving a warm meal on a cold night, relaxing around the pot-bellied stove telling stories, playing chess or a raucous game of Foosball.

Many trees on our property were named after friends when we planted them;  Melany and Pak Eko, journalists from Indonesia, for instance. Unfortunately, little Melany, the Blue Spruce was struck down in her youth by an over zealous lawn mower. Another Blue Spruce is Ella, given to my Mother by her friend. Then of course, there was Sebastian, a flashy red Maple.

Our meadow in front pops in spring with yellow daffodils in honor of my Mom, some are really old ones with lots of petals, transplanted from her field in Western Pennsylvania.

The Burning bushes lining our driveway came from Grandpa’s farm before it was turned into an upscale housing development outside of New York City   We planted them hiring “boyfriend” labor, which was readily available for several years. We fondly remember the dedicated fellow who helped my husband plant one thousand yards of electric fence digging through multi-flora roses and forest, to keep the dogs in the yard.

Sadly, I transplanted the big beautiful lavender bushes so many times, they finally just gave up and died, but we made a new start by planting lavender in the rock garden by the patio. That rock garden was a source of extra money for refugee friends one summer.  It also became a bonding experience for fathers and sons, including Jon.

Carrying tons of rocks to make raised garden beds in our back yard, weeding the raised beds. cutting down trees, making bonfires, chopping wood, cutting brush to make “tunnels” through the brush where our kids and grandchildren can play.  Hundreds of games of volleyball, capture the flag, and international soccer,  funerals for our animals where we’ve placed little flower bulbs to mark their graves, and quiet hammock times talking and reading;  all memories of our now silent property. But, the coyotes howl and something scatters deer bones, as deer and fox use it as a path to somewhere.

Our guests have been notable in many ways; certainly as friends, some were well-known world figures, or relatives of them.  We’ve had discussion on many subjects around our table: Often they related to faith and deeply held beliefs, usually bonding our friendships in good humor and trust.

A few who sat around our table or on our grass floor mats helped to change history, such as opposition leaders of an Asian country who met in our home writing a petition demanding that a dictator step down, which he did the next day. A notorious activist rested from his Migraine which he said he got from researching and thinking about his “country’s poor”.  One fugitive came to our home bleeding, seeking a night’s sleep before he turned himself in.

I’m sad to leave here, but it’s comforting to know that our home will live on in the minds and memories of people from all over the world,  representing a place of peace to everyone who passed through on their way somewhere.

Colorado Blue Spruce covered in snow

Ella Augustine

Christian, Do You Love Your Muslim Neighbor?


love

Image by Aunt Owwee via Flick

I see no way around it!  Loving neighbors is foundational to our Christian faith!

A man in the Bible once asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”, as a way of avoiding some hard questions.

There are some people in the States who are asking that same question these days.

A friend asked me once if God even loves Terrorists? Ummm….Good question, isn’t it?

Loving enemies and doing good to them is another one of our basic beliefs!

Christians claim that Love and Grace are what make our faith unique, that, and Jesus Christ rising from the dead after voluntarily dying on the cross to free us from bondage to sin.

We are supposed to have Christ’s living help to love and give grace to others as we receive it ourselves.  Supposedly, we believe that everybody is equally needy before God, regardless of their homeland, or their religious affiliation.

Check out this video and let me know what you think.