I recently had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land on an Educational Opportunities (EO) Tour. With everything going on in our country and the world, my family and friends were a little leery about me taking this trip. Of all the travels I have had, I must admit that even I was a little apprehensive about this particular one. But as I thought more about it, I realized it was not every day that you get to visit the historical sites of our Lord and Savior, and at the same time witness firsthand a country in the midst of conflict. Visiting the birth and death place of Jesus was a memory I will never forget. However, the most memorable time during this trip was my dinner with the Al Kassis family in Beit Jala.
Beit Jalal is a Palestinian Christian town in the West Bank, located near Aida Camp, which is home to 5,000 Palestinian refugees. Hanan Al Kassis picked up my group at the hotel and we became immediate friends. Her mother, Suhaila, gave me the biggest “mom” hug when we entered her home. It was very welcoming to receive this kind of greeting when travelling far away from home. Being able to connect with another family after mere minutes is so special.
We spent some time discussing life as a Christian in a Muslim nation, as well as the current crisis in the refugee camps.
The most interesting comment from Hanan was that among the Palestinian families there is peace despite their religion. Many of the local schools like Hope Secondary School of Beit Jala have Christian based curriculum. Forty percent of the 130 students are of the Muslim faith. The goal of Hope School is to teach love and compassion to everyone.
My thought going into this evening with the Al Kassis family was that I would learn how hard it was to be Christian in a Muslim country. I left understanding that it is not hard at all, because they showed me that being Christian means showing love and compassion to everyone.
The beautiful sound of the Muslim call to prayer played through the speakers of the city as we prayed over our meal. We shared laughs and showed family and travel pictures to each other from our phones.
Scripture reminds us of what showing love means.
Acts 2:46-47 says “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” We were not the first dinner guests invited to their home and we are definitely not be the last. The Al Kassis family invites guests to their table on a weekly basis; sometimes twice a week they break bread with people from all over the world who come to visit the Holy Land. I feel I have a forever home in Palestine and for that, I am grateful.
To donate to the Hope School through the Advance Fund, please visit here: http://www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission/Search-for-Projects/Projects/12018A
Natalie Schuette, Executive Assistant to the General Secretary at GCFA