What are you going to Jerusalem for? What is a Lutheran? Is that Christian? There are Christians/Lutherans in the Holy Land? Who are they? When did they come there? I thought there were only Muslims and Jews in Israel/Palestine? Aren’t you afraid to go there?
These were just some of the questions my seat mate on the Lufthansa flight from Dallas to Frankfurt had for me Monday evening/night. The man is a church goer, a believer, who desires himself to someday visit the Holy Land but like many Americans has received and taken in much misinformation about the nature of the history of the Holy Land, the state of Israel, the West Bank, the nature of the Palestinian people, and who actually lives here.
The easy answer is that I was going for the consecration of Bishop-elect Azar on Friday morning, January 12th, at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. However, there was a lot more than that to why I am here…
There is much misinformation and outright lack of knowledge among Lutherans around the world about the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.
Do you know that there have been Lutherans in the Holy Land for centuries? While that still makes their history rather short in comparison to some ecumenical colleagues, the ELCJHL has played a critical role in bringing conversations together. Reminding the world there are indigenous Palestinian Christians, and in more recent years, expanding the visibility and role of women in the historic churches here. Fewer still know that they have five worshipping congregations and operate four schools, which educate all children, regardless of religion, run a university, and in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation, operate Augusta Victoria hospital (the only oncology hospital for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank). My role here is to bear witness as Bishop Ibrahim Azar takes office and to share what I am learning about both the joys and the deep struggles these sisters and brothers face.
And on a personal note, I was able to escort my parents on the flights over and connect them with a guide so they could, for the first time, walk in the steps of Jesus as well.
It was a long flight. I was tired and tempted to give him a couple trite answers so I could go watch a movie. But I am here to bear witness. To share knowledge about our sisters and brothers in Christ. To represent you as your bishop. To educate myself so I might better educate others. So we talked, we talked, and talked some more. I don’t know if I impacted his view of the church, the nature of salvation, the end times, or the role of any of us in that. But that is why I am here. To bear witness and to share what I learn. Thank you for the opportunity to represent you, and I pray you will all take time to learn more about the ELCJHL and their profound and powerful ministry.