A Letter from Doug Dicks, serving in Israel and Palestine
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Dear family and friends,
Flying in the age of COVID-19 can be a bit daunting, to be sure!
Nonetheless, and after almost two years of being confined (at my own choice) in Israel and Palestine, I traveled to the U.S. just a few weeks ago, for some long overdue vacation time, work, and to attend to personal business and things that can no longer be attended to from abroad.
The file of papers I had to carry with me was extensive, including, first, a negative COVID-19 test, done within 72 hours of departure. Second, an exit statement for Israel, done within 24 hours of departure. Third, a “passenger locator” form, since I was passing through the UK, for the UK.
Not to be caught off guard, I carried with me my updated vaccination certificate, showing that I had received all three vaccinations, as well as my updated “green pass” issued by the Ministry of Health in Israel. On August 29, I received my third and final (up until now) COVID vaccination– a booster shot administered by Israeli Arabs working in the Israeli health care sector at a large open-air space known as Safra Square in central Jerusalem.
I have to say I was a bit concerned about having to wear a facemask for what was an almost 24-hour journey. I wasn’t sure that I could do it, but somehow, I managed to both keep it on my face, as well as keep my sanity!
Being in close proximity to people for such a long period of time was a bit unnerving. However, I survived it and have lived to tell about it!
Prior to leaving the Holy Land, the highlights of the past few months included the outbreak of a large fire in mid-August, west of Jerusalem near Beit Meir, which consumed large tracts of forest. The fire was so massive that the ash and pine needles fell over the Bethlehem area, miles from where the initial fire broke out. Days later, Israel sought the assistance of Palestinian firefighters to bring the blaze under control. It is estimated that this devastating fire burned 4,200 acres of forest, which, fortunately, caused no loss of life.
In early September, six Palestinian prisoners escaped a high-security prison facility in Israel by digging their way out with a spoon. The fugitives included a former leader of the militant group Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade and five Islamic Jihad members.
An Israel Prison Service official described the escape as “a major security and intelligence failure.” Palestinian militant groups hailed it as “heroic.”
In what became known as the “Palestinian Shawshank Redemption,” the six were eventually caught after enjoying some days of freedom. The episode was an embarrassment to the Israeli prison facility from which they had gained their temporary freedom. According to prisoners’ rights group Addameer, there are currently 4,650 Palestinians held in Israeli jails in Israel and the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Palestinians view them as political prisoners attempting to end Israel’s illegal occupation.
The absence of tourists from the Holy Land continues to plaque the tourism industry, both in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Both sectors have been hit hard, but it is in the Palestinian Territories, particularly the Bethlehem region, which continues to reel from the absence of foreign visitors and tourist dollars. The livelihoods of many tour guides, hotel workers, travel agents, bus drivers and street vendors have ground to an abrupt and devastating halt. They are now entering into almost a two-year period where virtually no tourists from abroad have been seen. Places that were once visited and trodden over by thousands of tourists a day are now quiet. This would not necessarily be a bad thing were it not for the hundreds and thousands of people who depend on tourism as their daily bread.
Even in northern Israel, the few holy sites and churches are all but empty of visitors, save for the few Israelis who venture out to see the places that were once brimming with foreign travelers.
Israel recognizes that opening Ben Gurion Airport to foreign visitors is its Achilles Heel. The country that has done the best by far in vaccinating its own citizens against the Coronavirus is now held hostage to the reality COVID-19 poses for us all. However, there are positive signs that Israel may once again open to fully vaccinated travelers as early as November.
All individual and missionary-specific ECO (extra commitment opportunity) and DMS (directed mission support) numbers and accounts will be retired in January. All future financial gifts will be channeled into one general fund, E132192, from which all mission personnel will benefit. Please make a note of this change.
Thank you once again for your continued and faithful support of my work and ministry, without which my presence in the Holy Land would not be possible. Thanks also for your prayers, correspondence and emails, all of which mean and have meant a great deal to me, especially during these uncertain times.
Please read the following letter from Sara P. Lisherness, the interim director of World Mission:
Dear partners in God’s mission,
I don’t know about you, but daily my heart grows heavier. News about the pandemic, wars, wildfires, gun violence, racism, earthquakes and hurricanes cloud my vision. It’s hard to see hope; our world is in a fog. Yet we trust that God’s light and love transcend the brokenness of this time.
God is at work transforming the world, and you, through your prayers, partnership and encouragement, are helping us share this good news. Thank you for your faithful and gracious support of our mission personnel.
How can we see through the fog? What will the church be after the pandemic? Could it be that God is doing “a new thing” and is inviting us to perceive it? Through all the uncertainty we know that God’s steadfast love and care for all creation will prevail and that God’s Spirit is at work in each of us.
We all have an integral part to play in fulfilling God’s mission. As we seek to grow together in faithfulness there are three important steps I invite you to take in supporting our shared commitments to God’s mission:
Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel. Your support helps mission personnel accompany global partners as together they share the light of God’s love and justice around the world. Invite your session to include support for mission personnel in its annual budget planning.
Act – Visit The Mission Yearbook for Prayer and Study to delve deeper into the work God is doing through the PC(USA) and its partners in ministry around the globe: pcusa.org/missionyearbook.
Pray – Include our mission personnel, our global partners, and our common commitments to share God’s grace, love, mercy and justice in your daily prayers.
Thank you for your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church. It is my prayer that you will continue to support this work with your prayers, partnership, and financial gifts in the coming year. We hope you will join us and our partners in shining a beacon of hope throughout the world.
In the light of hope,
Sara P. Lisherness, Interim Director
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
To give please visit https://bit.ly/PCUSAmission
You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
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Tags: absence of tourists from the Holy Land, COVID-19, fire west of Jerusalem, Palestinian, Palestinian prisoner escape
Tags: Doug Dicks
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