US and Palestinian children break Holy City barriers - news from ekklesia

By staff writers
December 16, 2005

US and Palestinian children break Holy City barriers

-16/12/05

Several months ago, the children at St Paul and St Andrew United Methodist Church in New York City wondered: What would happen if they sent Christmas cards to Palestinian Christian children in Bethlehem? [writes Mel Lehman for the United Methodist News Service, USA]

There was only one way to find out: give it a try. So one Sunday morning in late October, about 15 kids put all their creativity to work and made cards to send to Bethlehem, on the West Bank. With crayons, construction paper, and an abundance of enthusiasm, the kids created special greetings to send off.

The children wrote simple messages, addressing them "Dear friend in Bethlehem" and telling a bit about themselves, living in New York and their curiosity about life in the Holy City. One child drew a heart and wrote the word "love" inside. Together, the cards from the children in New York City all wished the children in Bethlehem a "Merry Christmas."

The cards traveled 6,000 miles to the little town of Bethlehem ñ which isn't so little anymore. The cards arrived at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, where the Rev Sandra Olewine, an American United Methodist minister, is serving through the Churchís Board of Global Ministries.

The cards have meant a great deal to the children, especially this year, she said.

"One of the hard things that is facing the people of Bethlehem right now is the construction of the segregation wall around the city," she said. "At a time the Scripture lesson is talking about 'Open the Gates! The new king of peace is coming in,' Bethlehem's gates are being locked." Israel is constructing a security fence through the city, and an official check-point into Bethlehem opened in mid-November.

Advent preparations for Christmas in Bethlehem are very much like what Christians are doing around the world, Olewine said. "The thing that is different for us here is that we are in Bethlehem, the city where the story first came from. So people have a very close connection to the story. It is their Brother Jesus who was born here. They feel very attached to Bethlehem as a city of peace."

Parishioners at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church are part of the Palestinian Christian community, which traces is roots all the way back to the first church established by Jesus and his disciples. At an estimated 20,000 Christians, their numbers are relatively small, but they remain a vital presence in the Holy Land.

The children and their families are feeling isolated from the rest of the world, Olewine said. "People in Bethlehem now are like prisoners, they cannot leave," she said. "Many of our children have never been out of the city because their parents don't have permission to leave, and they're young children, so this is their life."

Similar restrictions have been imposed on other parts of the West Bank. One boy at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas church said he feels like "a bird in a cage."

"Yet even in the midst of that prison, the Spirit of Christmas continues to thrive. It is the fact that God does come in to places of oppression, that God comes in when there is injustice and proclaims a new word, a new reality, it is that promise that is in Christmas that continues to give people hope," Olewine said. It enables children to be "able to laugh and smile, even in the hardships that they face."

Touched by the cards and messages, the children in Bethlehem decided to write back to the children in New York to wish them a Merry Christmas. The cards from Bethlehem arrived at St Paul and St Andrew United Methodist on the Sunday the children were practicing their Christmas pageant.

Swapping the Christmas cards helped the children in both cities understand that there are others just like them around the world who want the same thing they do: a joyous and peaceful Christmas.

Said a girl at St Paul and St Andrew, New York: "You can be friends with someone no matter how far away they are."

[Also on Ekklesia: How to adopt a donkey as a gift: adopt a donkey; Children ask why they can't enter Jerusalem on a donkey; Pope becomes first citizen of Bethlehem; Church leaders in Bethlehem drive 13/12/05; Bishop challenges religious zealots over Jerusalem; Witnessing for Peace: In Jerusalem and the World; Christians relate experiences as Palestinian election monitors; Christian scholars gather to study dangers of Zionism; Lutherans call for two-state solution in Israel and Palestine; Christian hunger strikers welcome ruling on Israel's Separation Wall; Pain of divided city is carved into a Cross; Palestinian bishop seeks mercy for Iraq peace workers]

US and Palestinian children break Holy City barriers

-16/12/05

Several months ago, the children at St Paul and St Andrew United Methodist Church in New York City wondered: What would happen if they sent Christmas cards to Palestinian Christian children in Bethlehem? [writes Mel Lehman for the United Methodist News Service, USA]

There was only one way to find out: give it a try. So one Sunday morning in late October, about 15 kids put all their creativity to work and made cards to send to Bethlehem, on the West Bank. With crayons, construction paper, and an abundance of enthusiasm, the kids created special greetings to send off.

The children wrote simple messages, addressing them "Dear friend in Bethlehem" and telling a bit about themselves, living in New York and their curiosity about life in the Holy City. One child drew a heart and wrote the word "love" inside. Together, the cards from the children in New York City all wished the children in Bethlehem a "Merry Christmas."

The cards traveled 6,000 miles to the little town of Bethlehem - which isn't so little anymore. The cards arrived at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, where the Rev Sandra Olewine, an American United Methodist minister, is serving through the Church's Board of Global Ministries.

The cards have meant a great deal to the children, especially this year, she said.

"One of the hard things that is facing the people of Bethlehem right now is the construction of the segregation wall around the city," she said. "At a time the Scripture lesson is talking about 'Open the Gates! The new king of peace is coming in,' Bethlehem's gates are being locked." Israel is constructing a security fence through the city, and an official check-point into Bethlehem opened in mid-November.

Advent preparations for Christmas in Bethlehem are very much like what Christians are doing around the world, Olewine said. "The thing that is different for us here is that we are in Bethlehem, the city where the story first came from. So people have a very close connection to the story. It is their Brother Jesus who was born here. They feel very attached to Bethlehem as a city of peace."

Parishioners at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church are part of the Palestinian Christian community, which traces is roots all the way back to the first church established by Jesus and his disciples. At an estimated 20,000 Christians, their numbers are relatively small, but they remain a vital presence in the Holy Land.

The children and their families are feeling isolated from the rest of the world, Olewine said. "People in Bethlehem now are like prisoners, they cannot leave," she said. "Many of our children have never been out of the city because their parents don't have permission to leave, and they're young children, so this is their life."

Similar restrictions have been imposed on other parts of the West Bank. One boy at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas church said he feels like "a bird in a cage."

"Yet even in the midst of that prison, the Spirit of Christmas continues to thrive. It is the fact that God does come in to places of oppression, that God comes in when there is injustice and proclaims a new word, a new reality, it is that promise that is in Christmas that continues to give people hope," Olewine said. It enables children to be "able to laugh and smile, even in the hardships that they face."

Touched by the cards and messages, the children in Bethlehem decided to write back to the children in New York to wish them a Merry Christmas. The cards from Bethlehem arrived at St Paul and St Andrew United Methodist on the Sunday the children were practicing their Christmas pageant.

Swapping the Christmas cards helped the children in both cities understand that there are others just like them around the world who want the same thing they do: a joyous and peaceful Christmas.

Said a girl at St Paul and St Andrew, New York: "You can be friends with someone no matter how far away they are."

[Also on Ekklesia: How to adopt a donkey as a gift: adopt a donkey; Children ask why they can't enter Jerusalem on a donkey; Pope becomes first citizen of Bethlehem; Church leaders in Bethlehem drive 13/12/05; Bishop challenges religious zealots over Jerusalem; Witnessing for Peace: In Jerusalem and the World; Christians relate experiences as Palestinian election monitors; Christian scholars gather to study dangers of Zionism; Lutherans call for two-state solution in Israel and Palestine; Christian hunger strikers welcome ruling on Israel's Separation Wall; Pain of divided city is carved into a Cross; Palestinian bishop seeks mercy for Iraq peace workers]

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