‘Advent Journeys’ takes the PC(USA) national staff on a virtual trip around the world

Among the stops: Bethlehem, the City of David

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (Photo by Sameeh Karram via Unsplash)

LOUISVILLE — “You can call me by either name,” said Zoughbi Zoughbi, founder and director of Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center, introducing himself Wednesday from his home in Bethlehem in Palestine’s West Bank to the national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) during an online all-agency worship service titled “Advent Journeys.”

A Palestinian Christian, Zoughbi said he’s part of less than 1% of Bethlehem’s population who falls into that category. “It seems we are living in the same political and socio-economic conditions our Lord was born into,” he said, noting the holy family sought refuge in Egypt “and we see how many Palestinians are leaving to seek refuge in neighboring countries.” His own wife is an American who has lived in the West Bank for 32 years under a tourist visa. “Tell the authorities,” she sometimes tells her husband, “there are no tourist places I have not visited.”

Because of travel restrictions, he said it’s easier for him to visit the United States than to make the 90-minute journey to Jerusalem. But rather than live in fear of what could happen following elections in Israel, “we cling to the message of hope,” he said. “Hope is the energizing power that keeps us alive.”

The center he directs is called Wi’am, which means “unconditional love.”

Zoughbi Zoughbi (Photo courtesy of Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center)

“We are not against Jews, but we are against the system that persecutes us,” he said. “Our message is a message of nonviolence — of assertiveness, not aggressiveness.” Wi’am’s work centers on taking what it calls “collective responsibility” and doing the kind of restorative justice that Zacchaeus displays after climbing down from the sycamore tree and confessing to Jesus the financial harm he’s done and promising to more than repay.

“Our Lord,” Zoughbi said, “is the Lord of restoration.” Further proof, he said, can be found in 2 Kings 8:1-6, the story of the Shunammite woman having her land restored after seven years by order of the king. Zoughbi called God “a God of restoration who will restore to you what was lost.”

He also invited those attending online to visit the birthplace of Jesus, “to come, reflect, act and advocate. May our Lord be with us so we can say, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom [God] favors!’”

“Advent Journeys” indeed took worshipers across many parts of the globe. The Rev. Dr. Magdy Girgis reflected on Christmas celebrations throughout the Middle East, punctuating his presentation with a photo of camels in Egypt adorned with Santa hats.

Scripture was read not only in English, but in Korean, Spanish and Croatian. Martin Osae, a commissioned ruling elder at Ghanaian Fellowship at Woodhaven Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas, recited the Lord’s Prayer in Ewe, a language spoken by about 20 million people in West Africa.

The closing prayer for the hour-long service came from the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman:

“God of our hearts and our lives,

accept the tenderness which we put out

in our thoughts and in our memories and desires,

and grant that it will inform our deeds,

so that during these days that are upon us,

to the limit of our strength and beyond,

we may be messengers of Thy tidings,

and sharers of Thy peace.


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