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Holy Places, Holy Sites

A Letter from Doug Dicks, serving in Israel and Palestine

December 2020

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Dear family and friends,

The days have grown shorter, the sun is low on the horizon, and there’s a chill in the air, as I write this last letter of the year. We are in the season of Advent; a season of waiting, watching and hoping.

I cannot recall a time in recent memory when our world was waiting and in need of hope more than it is now.

Yet, when I look around me, there are signs of hope and life renewed, even in the midst of disease and death.

Today in Bethlehem, yet another lockdown is being imposed upon the citizens of this region, in order to slow the spread of the COVID-19 (Coronavirus). This lockdown will be imposed on Fridays and Saturdays, for the next two weeks, as well as a nighttime curfew beginning Sunday – the First Sunday in Advent – from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. each night.

People who were once complacent have now become more fearful, and are taking this virus more seriously, as well they should.

The Holy Places and Holy Sites have gone mostly silent, void of the throngs of tourists and pilgrims who once flocked to the Holy Land to walk – or more often run! – in the footsteps of Jesus.

The deafening silence in these same places affords one a rare opportunity to experience them with a renewed sense of solitude, spirituality and prayer that outweighs the Disneyland atmosphere that once prevailed.

Yet the economic impact of the loss of the thousands of people who once walked the streets of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth is also being felt, as hotels remain closed, and souvenir shops and restaurants that once employed hundreds of people remain shuttered. It has taken a staggering toll on the local population, and anyone employed in the tourism industry.

Thankfully, our faith is not predicated on any specific place or location. Having said that, I am grateful for the faithful Palestinian Christians who call these cherished places home, and who live out their lives in service and in witness to the Living Christ, who was born here, grew up and became a man here, lived, suffered and died here for all humanity, and rose again to life eternal. Because of the angel’s message to poor, humble shepherds long ago – “Do not be afraid” – we can live lives worthy to which Christ calls us, without fear.

Paul’s letter to the Christian community at Corinth, found in 2 Corinthians 4: 8 – 10 comforts us with these words: “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.”

The winter rains have begun, and in only a few short weeks, the parched earth has turned green, and grass and flowers are pushing their way up through the now softened soil that held their seeds captive all throughout the hot, dry summer.

Life is returning to the earth, and life will return for us all, in time. There is much to be thankful for, even in the midst of a global pandemic that has left no one untouched by its grip. Pray for the sick and the dying, and those that left us all too soon, yearning for healing, longing for justice and deserving of peace.

Today in Bethlehem, we are experiencing another lockdown, it is true. Perhaps you are experiencing a similar situation in your city or town. Yet we are called to a living hope; a hope that empowers us and lifts us above and beyond despair.

I wish to thank all of you for your prayers, concern, letters, correspondence, and support during this past year. Your faithfulness and generosity have not gone unnoticed.

I wish you all a contemplative and peaceful Advent, a blessed Christmas, and a hopeful New Year.

Today in Bethlehem, a Savior has been born.

Emmanuel! God is with us!

Do not be afraid!

Wishing you the peace and joy of the season,

Doug


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