Many of our church friends here would curiously ask us: “Do you plan to go someplace else for Christmas?” Surprised by the question, we would reply: “Would anyone be in Bethlehem want to go anyplace else for Christmas?!” Indeed, despite the growing commercialism in this “little town” around this season, there is also a far deeper awareness of the holiness of this otherwise ordinary place. Festive lights that remain glowing into mid-February, church bells announcing the birth of Jesus through Western, Eastern and Armenian celebrations, pilgrims flocking in from the farthest corners of the globe, happy children nurtured in love, and sincere neighborly greetings bestow a special confirmation upon this extended season.
We are truly grateful for the privilege of serving alongside our Christian friends of this land, and for the continuing affirmation of our vocation as we mindfully attend to the responsibilities assigned to us. Sara’s skills as a copy editor continue to contribute to the flourishing efforts of Diyar Publications. Mitri Raheb’s latest book in English, edited by Sara, will be released in February by Orbis under the title Faith in the Face of Empire. It is a valuable contextual theological reflection in about 180 pages. My contribution to the “Religion & State – Middle East” program has been to help organize regional conferences to reflect on the constitutions of several Arab nations, with a focus on articles and derivative legislations that inherently exclude or marginalize religious minorities and negatively affect women and youth. The program, now in its second phase, is working on the formulation of a vision for the future of the region, with a special emphasis on human dignity and a higher quality of life for future generations. (A more detailed report is available upon request.) At the moment, Victor is organizing the participation of Christian young adult representatives from Egypt and Palestine to take part with counterparts from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq at a region-wide ecumenical conference in Amman, under the title “Toward a Youth-Focused Vision for the future of the Middle East.” At the same time, we are preparing to share in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
We also rejoice in the inauguration of a new Evangelical Lutheran Church that was dedicated on Epiphany (January 6) at the traditional site of the baptism of our Lord at the Jordan River, in Jordan. The land was a gift of His Majesty King Abdullah II, monarch of the Hashemite Kingdom.
In terms of our personal lives, we have had a healthier year having moved in March to an apartment that has morning sun exposure (for light) and is in a quieter location, away from the congestion of the daily market area. We are getting to know and appreciate our new neighbors, and discovering the resources of the community that help us navigate the numerous challenges of living in this part of the world. Most important is our deep sense of satisfaction in the call to be present here, and in our relationships with wonderful colleagues of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Diyar staff (see photo below) and the Christian community at large.
By the grace of God, we survived (without central heating) the “snow storm of the century” that dumped 50 centimeters on the ground, paralyzed all movement and played havoc with electricity, water, food and gas supplies and deliveries for over a week. Reports indicated that the likes of that storm have not been seen here for 120 years.
In our home, we have received and enjoyed many visitors for meals and times of fellowship; and at the Christmas Lutheran Church where we worship and where Victor participates regularly in the liturgy and fills the pulpit occasionally, we have welcomed Christian pilgrim groups and study seminars from every continent. It is especially but ironically heart-warming to be witness to church family reunions when Palestinians who have emigrated over the years return to reconnect with relatives and revive their sense of belonging to the land. Like the ever-present wall, expatriated visitors are a vivid reminder of the tragedy of the occupation.
As we watch news of the world, we are deeply discouraged by new and continuing human tragedies, revolts, financial collapses and natural disasters, in so many countries: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, the Congo, Central African Republic, the Philippines, Thailand, the Ukraine, etc. Our hearts are torn asunder for the millions of Syrian refugees and internally displaced – and the families of hundreds of thousands of those killed.
We can only appeal to the mercy of God to intervene and bless the peacemakers and relief agencies and individual workers, amid all the violence and destruction, and to grant that this new year may bring hope, healing and peace.
We pray for each of you who are receiving this letter, and are grateful for your prayerful support.
Sincerely in Christ’s Mission,
Victor and Sara Makari
Victor and Sara Makari serve with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with the Diyar Consortium of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Victor serves as Regional Consultant for the Religion and State in the Middle East Program. Sara serves as editor of publications of Diyar.