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Experiencing the Holy Land with Palestinian Arab Christians


A spiritual pilgrimage

By Douglas Dicks | Mission Crossroads Magazine

Christian visitors and pilgrims from around the world join Palestinian Arab Christians in the annual Palm Sunday procession down the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Douglas Dicks

JERUSALEM – For Christians worldwide, a trip to the Holy Land has often been regarded as “the trip of a lifetime” — and it usually is. All too often, however, visitors and pilgrims end up running in the land where Jesus walked!

The Rev. Dr. Victor Makari (left), the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb (center) and the Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac greet visitors and parishioners after Sunday service at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. Douglas Dicks

The Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, cannot understand why so many Christian visitors rush through the land where Jesus walked. “Jesus also took time to sit with, visit and be amongst the people,” he said.

A journey to Israel and to the Palestinian territories can deepen our faith and teach us to read the Bible differently, after having experienced the places we read about in Scripture.

My work with World Mission involves helping make connections between Presbyterians and Palestinian Arab Christians. As visitors join in worship, share a meal together and hear about the hopes, dreams and struggles of Palestinian Christians, it creates a more authentic experience with the people and the land.

While religious or spiritual pilgrimage should be a significant part of any trip to the Holy Land, the political realities in which Palestinian Christians live, breathe and witness to the risen Christ cannot be ignored. All too often, the Arab-Israeli conflict is perceived as too complex to understand. Yet it is not difficult to understand at all. It does, however, require listening to competing narratives and revisiting historical accounts of the conflict, oftentimes through the eyes of those who witnessed these events firsthand.

Douglas Dicks leads the Rev. Judith March Hardie, pastor of Willow Creek Presbyterian Church of Argyle in Caledonia, Illinois, in the renewal of her baptismal vows in the Jordan River. Carl Horton

Over the years, closer relationships have been forged between Middle East churches and Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations. Repeat visitors have sometimes become group leaders and have recruited new pilgrims from their own communities. I personally get great satisfaction working with first-time visitors and watching their transformation as they experience the culture, the cuisine and the hospitality of the Palestinian people.

It is equally important that U.S. Presbyterians see firsthand how their financial support has been invested over the years, and continues to be invested in efforts to promote justice and peace in this region. We Presbyterians are encouraged by our partnerships and long-standing relationships created in Israel and Palestine.

The PC(USA) also has invested time and money to have mission personnel, including me, strategically placed to be present with the people of the Holy Land. As such, I can offer current and relevant advice and experience in helping Presbyterians plan and implement a meaningful program that will enable them to make the most of their journey. I especially hope that my presence here helps the Palestinian Arab Christian community overcome their growing sense of isolation. My life bears witness daily to the ongoing struggle for dignity, recognition, justice and peace that is so longed for, yet so elusive, in this land we call holy.

Douglas Dicks serves Israel and Palestine as Presbyterian World Mission’s associate for ecumenical partnerships, working in conjunction with St. Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church in Jerusalem and other partners in the region. Walk as Jesus walked: support Doug’s justice and peacemaking work in Palestine and Israel.

This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Mission Crossroads magazine, which is printed and mailed free to subscribers’ homes three times a year by Presbyterian World Mission

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