An Evening With New Palestinian Christian Friends

Last Friday evening over 80 people from my church gathered to learn from the experiences of Palestinian Christians, Yohanna and Dina Katanacho, who live and minister in Nazareth, Israel. Yohanna is an Old Testament professor and the Academic Dean of Bethlehem Bible College (in Bethlehem, West Bank) and Galilee Bible College (in Nazareth, Israel). Dina is the Director of the Arab Israeli Bible Society in Nazareth, whose goal is to make the Scriptures accessible and affordable to Arab Israelis (Palestinians who live in Israel), both Christians and Muslims. Yohanna is a theologian respected throughout the world and Dina is a wise and strong leader with an extraordinary ministry to women and children in a male-dominated culture. It was an honor to sit on the same stage with them and to interview them.

Many attendees on Friday evening asked for further information related to the themes that we discussed as well as the Arab cultural products that decorated the room. I promised to provide that information on my website…so here it is!

For general information about Yohanna and Dina’s respective ministries:

The first concern raised during the Q & A on Friday evening was related to the relationship between Palestinian Christians and Israeli Messianic Jews. The next day I received this note from a ministry in Israel/Palestine that brings together Arab and Jewish followers of Jesus. This is a beautiful update from www.musalaha.org.

Worship Evening Report: “On December 29th of this past year, during the month that Palestinian Christians from the West Bank receive permits to enter Israel in honor of the holidays, Musalaha joined together with the Palestinian Christian Alliance church and the Messianic Jewish Israeli congregation Shemen Sasson to host a second annual night of worship to ring in the New Year. While last year two worship bands separately represented the two congregations and therefore the two communities, this year we combined them to create one unified group with musicians from around the country, performing in both Arabic and Hebrew together. The result could not have been better: around 300 people lifting hands, singing, and dancing in worship with a distinctive spirit of celebration of our unity as brothers in Messiah. The crowd was mainly Palestinian and Israeli believers, with some international Christians and even some non-believing Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims. The entirely positive feedback we received blessed our hearts and reminded us of why this organization exists; many people expressed to us that they wished we could conduct the event many times a year. While we do not currently have the resources to handle such a feat, we are already looking forward to next December’s event, when we hope to be able to expand to an even bigger venue, and as always appreciate your prayers and support.”

Many of you admired the beautiful needlework, weavings, jewelry, olive wood carvings, and olive oil products that had been “borrowed” from my home and Beth and Hythem Shadid’s home. If you’d like to join us in supporting the local economy in the West Bank, as well as the Bedouin culture in Israel, you’ll find the following websites interesting—and beautiful! And even if you’re not in a position to purchase items, you’ll be educated and moved by the stories you read.

While we didn’t have much time to discuss this on Friday evening, I have been personally transformed by the peacemakers and advocates for human rights that I have met in the West Bank and in Israel. The following websites provide information and stories about the heroes who are fighting for justice and security for all the people of the Holy Land. I’ve met people associated with each of these groups; they have my deepest respect. Again, you’ll learn so much just by perusing these websites.
• Just Vision—www.justvision.org (publishes stories and films about Israelis and Palestinians committed to freedom, security and human rights for all people in the Holy Land)
• The Bereaved Parents Circle—www.theparentscircle.org (600 Israeli and Palestinians families who have lost children to the conflict; they join together to share grief and work for peace)
• Encounter Point Film—www.justvision.org/encounterpoint (a wonderful film that documents work of The Bereaved Parents Circle)
• B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories—www.btselem.org (heroic Israeli Jews who document violation of Palestinian human rights)
• Holy Land Trust—www.holylandtrust.org (Palestinian organization committed to nonviolence and leadership development in Palestinian society)
• Little Town of Bethlehem—www.littletownofbethlehem.org (a beautiful film that documents the work of three young peace activists—an Israeli Jew, a Palestinian Christian and a Palestinian Muslim—all committed to nonviolence and reconciliation)

Yohanna mentioned the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in March ’12. He and Dina will both be speaking there. A number of us from Willow will be attending the conference, as well as a large group of Wheaton College Students. Check it out at www.christatthecheckpoint.com.

For those of you who’d like to start on a reading plan, I’d recommend:
Blood Brothers, by Elias Chacour. This book seems to work for everyone as an introduction to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Father Chacour’s story is easy to understand, but his challenge to every reader to be a reconciler is one of the strongest challenges I’ve ever read.
The Lemon Tree, by Sandy Tolan. This is the gripping true story of two families—one Jewish, one Arab—and their intricately connected histories of tragedy and displacement. This is an important book because it honors the Holy Land narratives of both Jews and Arabs—and it is beautifully written.
Whose Land? Whose Promise? by Wheaton College professor and frequent Willow teacher, Gary Burge. This book offers a useful blend of history, theology and current daily reality. It’s neither too simplistic to be helpful nor too complex to be overwhelming.

I know that all who attended the event on Friday caught Yohanna’s and Dina’s belief that the Palestinian evangelical church has been placed in a unique position in order to be the light of Christ to both Jews and Muslims. If you registered for last Friday evening’s event, I have your email address and will keep you informed of our progress in determining how best to encourage Palestinian Christians. If any readers of this blog would like to receive email updates related to peace and human rights in the Holy Land, or to the work of Palestinian Christians, please send your email address to my assistant, Brannon, at banderson@willowcreek.org.

UncategorizedLynne Hybels