The journey from Bethlehem to Jerusalem is approximately 10 kilometers (ca. 7 miles); yet it holds the full story of our faith: from the promise of a Savior fulfilled in the birth of Jesus, to his work of atonement on the cross, to his glorious resurrection and ascension, to the birth of the church that gathers in peoples of every tongue and race. It is here we are living; and while living here, its full drama unfolding around us every week and every day – both in the liturgical celebrations and in the lives of our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers!
We have been in this land for a little over a year since we have arrived, and the depth of our experience here in daily detail goes beyond our appointed tasks: it is the shared presence and relationships that matter most.
The past year-or-so has been filled with learning, adjusting, renewing friendships and new relation-building, networking, as well as accomplishing.
Besides moving to a new apartment in a quieter area which helps us maintain an equilibrium, Sara has edited two new books (in English) by Mitri Raheb that have just come out this spring. One is on the theme “Faith in the Face of Empire;” and the other is a collection of articles he has written relevant to various occasions. This latter book represents reflections on different subjects he addressed during his past twenty-five years of ministry. On Pentecost of this year, the Christmas Lutheran Church of Bethlehem and the Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), of which he is currently president, celebrated the Silver Jubilee of Mitri’s ordination and installation as its pastor.
My assignment as regional consultant to the Religion and State Program of the Diyar Consortium has kept me amply busy with the preparation and execution of a number of significant region-wide consultations, conferences and leadership training workshops that have addressed critical issues exacerbated by the so-called “Arab Spring.” The central questions for these ongoing events (encompassing 4 countries) are: “How much religion should be interposed in the affairs of the state, and how much state should interfere with religion?” and, “How to formulate and crystallize a shared vision for a new future for the Arab Middle East whereby full citizenship for everyone would be assured, human dignity could be preserved, and a decent quality of life could be accorded to all?” The methodology adopted examines different models where different states have dealt with these questions and have found a healthy and meaningful symbiosis between religion and state, and then come up with an authentic Middle Eastern vision for the future of this region.
Life in this part of the world is intense, especially in Israel/Palestine; it is even more so on the West Bank. Daily life of the people here is full of challenges, possibilities, hopes, worries, disappointments and fears: One can read these emotions on their faces in the crowded marketplace: in their drawn looks, in street demonstrations, in the way many defy rules and authority, in the way many seem burdened and bent down … but life is also full of joys and potentialities; you can see it in their bright eyes; their laughter and cheerful smiles; in children’s innocent play; and among youth, in their defiant confidence in a better future.
Of our personal news: In the course of the year, we have appreciated visits from mission executive staffs of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, but have also welcomed delegations from the Presbyterian Church (USA). Victor, who is a member of the Board of the Evangelical Theological Seminary in Cairo, attended the spring meeting of that body at which time the new Center for the Study of Middle East Christianity (CSMEC), located on the Seminary campus was inaugurated. A number of notable scholars, including Sara’s father, Dr. Kenneth Bailey presented valuable lectures. We were happy that Dr. Bailey could come and visit us in the Holy Land for a little over a week during which he renewed many friendships that had been formed during his 10-year tenure on the faculty of Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem.
We continue to be gravely concerned about the tragic situation in Syria, the prevailing political, social, economic and sectarian chaos in Egypt, the return of violence in Lebanon and now the flare-up in Turkey. We pray for calm, for reason, for good will to prevail, and for God’s spirit of counsel to guide leaders and those in authority to into the paths of peace. We encourage you to pray with us.
We are deeply grateful for your prayers and support as we seek to live out our overriding commitment to the principle of “critical presence” by being an authentic witness to the love and the grace of our Lord.
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.