The Holy Land 2014

Submitted by John W.

The Holy Land

We had the wonderful opportunity to explore the Biblical Holy Land with over 100 other Presbyterians from across the United States, for the Mosaic of Peace Conference.

It is always impressive to see firsthand geographical features spoken of in the Bible, and we both will have a whole new prospective when reading the Bible.

Out travels took us from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem where we spent a couple of days, and then on to Bethlehem where we spent the longest time of our trip. While staying in Bethlehem we traveled one day to Hebron where we witnessed the impact of settlements on everyday life for Palestinians, and visited the Mosque that was the site of a 1994 massacre that has devastated the community ever since.

We traveled from Bethlehem to the Mount of Temptation, Jericho and the Jordan River (site of Jesus’ baptism) on our way to Nazareth. Our stay in Nazareth gave us an opportunity to take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee where we experienced a storm while traveling across! Our departure from the Holy Land was a drive from Nazareth through Haifa and the Mediterranean Coast for dinner, a quick trip to the beach, and finally to Tel Aviv for flights to the U.S. We visited many Holy Sites while in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth.

The speaker on our last day in Jerusalem was Archbishop Emeritus Elias Chacour. He spoke with the Mosaic Peace Conference for over an hour personifying his experience as a priest in Ibillin, Israel as written in his book “We belong to the Land.” Patriarch Chacour mentioned that he is a walking contradiction because he is a Palestinian Arab who became an Archbishop ten years ago in the Greek Catholic order. He began his ministry in Ibillin in 1962 for what he thought would be one month, but turned into a 38-year stay. When he arrived 50% of the children were under 14 years of age so he committed his life to educating children.
One of the first things he did when arriving in Ibillin was collect 1000 used/tattered books from families in the area, repair them and form a library for the children who otherwise would not know anything outside their village. This was the first public library in Israel.

Patriarch Chacour decided to run a summer camp in the early 1970s and 1120 children showed up. At his last summer camp in 1980,5000 students from 30 different villages showed up and he did not know how he was going to feed them. He decided to organize the mothers (not Christian, but Muslim) from the 30 villages to feed the children. They came through by having a rotating schedule of ten mothers per day make lunches. In 1986, he wanted to build a sports complex, but could not get a building permit so he started and got the floor done before he was told to stop. So they decided to dig under the floor to make three classrooms while waiting for the building permit.

Elias mentioned that he is a law abiding citizen unless the law discriminates against children’s education. He found out that the fasted way to Jerusalem (the Israeli government) is through Washington, D.C. So he got a ticket and went to Washington, D.C. unannounced. President H.W. Bush could not see him, so he decided to try to see Jim Baker. When he knocked on their front door, surprisingly Susan Baker opened the door expecting some women she was entertaining.

Elias introduced himself and she took him to the kitchen for iced tea and told him she had no more time for him. That’s when Elias asked her what the meeting was about and Susan told him they were having a Bible study on the Sermon on the Mount. He said good luck! Susan then asked him to help and Elias spent two hours teaching about the Sermon on the Mount. To make a long story short, Susan and Elias became fast friends. He prayed with Susan over the phone several times and then explained his building permit problem with her. She said she could get him a permit.

Three months later, Elias went to Washington, D.C. to get the permit. But Jim Baker had rewritten Susan’s letter and hand carried it to Premier Shamir, who said who is this Elias Chacour. He gave him his building permit. Elias Chacour has built a college and dormitory for the children on Ibillin and surrounding villages with creative management. He has been to court 37 times over the years to get building permits. Creative management is how the Palestinians are handling the Israeli conflict, but Americans have to help out.