Bethel Lutheran Church's Trip
16 day trip - Israel-Palestine, Egypt
On November 6, 2008, 30 people from Bethel Lutheran Church, Willmar, MN, left on a Holy Land pilgrimage. Our mission was twofold: we wanted to follow the steps of Jesus and we wanted to see and learn about the role of Christians in the current Palestinian/Israeli conflict. Why is peace so elusive in this holiest of lands?
It was an awesome feeling to read the very familiar stories of Jesus’ life from the Bible as we walked in the villages of Nazareth and Bethlehem, and along the Via Dolorosa in the old, walled city of Jerusalem. The Sea of Galilee proved to be a favorite stop as we knew little had changed its appearance over the last 2,000 years! On its shores, we read from the Sermon on the Mount and sang “Blest are They...”
The plight of the Palestinians under Israeli occupation was eye-opening and troubling. We could not imagine being detained and harassed at checkpoints, living behind a 25-foot concrete wall, and not being allowed to visit family if we didn’t have the “right” ID. Being evicted from our homes and maybe even watching our houses being physically demolished by the Israeli government, was unthinkable.
There were many unforgettable sights and sounds. As our Pastor Mari Thorkelson was helping an Arabic speaking ELCA minister serve Holy Communion, we could hear the noises of a busy marketplace outside the open church doors and at the same time, the wailing sound of the Minaret calling Muslims to prayer—we are all God’s children! We admired small glass angels only to learn they were made from the shards of broken glass found in the streets after an Israeli bombing of Bethlehem; now these artists are marketing hope in the form of these angels. And, in an impromptu visit to a Bedouin family, all of us were offered a cup of tea—a stranger and you welcomed us. The mother showed us her small baby wrapped tightly in swaddling cloths. We sensed we were looking at baby Jesus, such a God given surprise in this humble tent. This was truly a life changing trip for all of us.