O Little Town if Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie..
Today was very interesting, humbling, educational and enlightening.
Our world view is so easily shaped by the news, politicians, the internet, and prejudice.
Today at least we can say that 35 Americans along with their brilliant and fearless Jewish guide were able to have our world views impacted by a beautiful, precious, and amazing Palestinian Christian named Barbara. I can almost promise that when you hear the word Palestinian most Americans do not envision such a lovely thing as meeting one who is Christian.
And I’ll go as far as to say that most of us have no clue that Bethlehem is in what is now Palestinian territory. And I know for certain most have no idea that there even are Christian Palestinians.
We took the bus into this territory so that we could visit the birthplace of Jesus. It was miraculous that we did not have to wait long as it is usually very crowded.
First stop was at a beautiful gift shop operated by a Christian artist cooperative, Handmade items carved from olive tree wood —nativities so elaborate and ornaments, jewelry, trinkets, and so many beautiful things.
We were a bit taken aback by the people selling on the streets — very aggressively — and its hard not to hand all your money to a little boy holding onto his sheep as you enter the town. Adorable little gig he had going there. Poverty is obvious and a bit overwhelming.
Barbara was delightful and answered all our curiosities graciously. She cannot travel freely. She cannot come to Jerusalem. She has lived in Bethlehem all her life and says there is little to do — no entertainment. Basically except for her tour guide position she dabbles in learning to paint and hangs out with her friends. She lives with her entire extended family – parents, married brothers and their children. She has been to America once to visit a relative in Sacramento. To fly anywhere they must travel to Amman Jordan.
When we arrived at the church where the manger is, Barbara navigated us all through a crowded scene. We had to go down into the area under the church and there is a 14point Star where it is believed Jesus was born and an area where the manger would have been. This church is separated into sections based on three sects that have claim on it. Orthodox Greek and Russian if I remember right and one other. It is very ornate and unusual. It was too hot and crowded for me to fully experience what I was seeing. But I’m glad we got to go.
Next stop was Shepard’s Field — the area where flocks would have been kept and where the angels would have appeared to announce “Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men”.
After this we walked to a restaurant. A lady named Ruth, another Palestinian Christian, owns this place and did a lovely job of feeding our massive group– schwarma and falafel, as usual. We bid Barbara a fond farewell and gave her a freewill offering into Yonatan’s hat.
This was all so valuable in helping us grasp even a tiny bit of reality.
We then headed to Mt. Zion and went to the place where Peter denied Jesus. A beautiful church. Then to the place where Jesus was held for trial. And to King David’s tomb, and to one place where Mary may have been buried.
We had to rush through as Shabbat was about to begin but there was so much beauty in the mosaics and paintings I’m glad we got to see it even briefly.
We have been blessed to get to know some of the people in our group, to know Barbara, Jonatan, and most of all to learn more about the roots of our faith!