On Saturday August 18th we had a wonderful turnout to hear from the Rev. Carrie Smith, ELCA missionary to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Pastor Smith works with the bishop of the ELCJHL as well as serving as the pastor to the English speaking congregation at Redeemer Lutheran in the Old City of Jerusalem. She spoke passionately about the work of the ELCJHL, the challenges faced by a church that serves congregations and schools primarily in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and the challenges all Christians in the Holy Land face. The ELCJHL is a small church (about 2,500 members) in an area of the world where the majority of Christians have chosen to leave if possible (the Christian percentage of the population in the West Bank has fallen dramatically in recent decades). Despite their small size they are a faithful witness to the Lutheran faith and have a large role to play in global Lutheran conversations. Additionally, they run 4 schools with over 3,000 students enrolled. These schools educate Christians and Muslims as well as girls and boys together. Also, the Lutheran presence is significant due to the Augusta Victoria hospital on the Mount of Olives, run by the Lutheran World Federation.
I was so pleased to see over 50 individuals come out on a hot Saturday afternoon to ask questions, learn from Pastor Smith, and engage in learning more deeply the complicated and challenging story of the ELCJHL. Of course, given the realities of politics and our national involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there were many questions about those issues. Pastor Smith, reminding us time and again she is a pastor, not a politician, honestly answered the questions as best she could given the experience she and those in the church live. She could tell personal stories of both the hope and joy of the work of the church as well as the challenges of living with separation walls (she told a powerful story about her church secretary whose daily commute from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, about 5 miles, takes 2 or more hours). It was refreshing and challenging to hear of the lived experience of those in the Holy Land that goes beyond the evening news. Additionally, she reminded us that as ELCA we are committed to accompaniment with our global partners. As such, we are called not to impose our thoughts or ideas onto our partners but to look to the ELCJHL to inform and guide us in how best we can support and respond to their needs.
Grateful for her work and for taking time to be with us. Pastor Smith also has an NT-NL connection as her spouse, the Rev. Dr. Robert Smith was ordained while studying at Baylor to serve St. John, Coryell City. It was great to see some of the folks from St. John, including NT-NL WELCA president Sarah Gohlke and her husband Robert, make the trip up to Dallas to see her. Thank you King of Glory, Dallas and Pastor Jim Graeser for hosting. #NTNL #ELCJHL #InMissionTogether