Saturday, October 22, 2011

by Fred & Gloria Strickert


Several weeks ago we were walking down Christian Quarter Road when nearly every greeting to us was simple, straightforward and genuine:

Christian Quarter Road is one of the main streets in the Old City of Jerusalem, not far from the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.

The usual welcome along this street is an invitation to come and buy.

Perhaps a nice souvenir.

Or a scarf.

A special price for you, my friend.

But this time it was different.

This is the common Arabic expression meaning
May you return to health!
May you find wholeness!
May you be at peace!
Salamtak! or
Get well soon!

It was something of a freak accident, more like a clutsy, clumsy fall back toward the end of August--and now Fred's back on the road to recovery-- thanks to greetings & prayers
from Christian Quarter Road friends & many others.
Okay, the splint does make things look a bit frightful, and yes, there were five broken bones in the hand, a few nights and surgery at Hadassa Hospital, Ein Kerem, but now life is getting back to normal.

Yet what we'll always remember is that greeting the first day back to work while walking along the shops on Christian Quarter Road from friends and strangers alike.
and from total strangers as well:
May God Bless You!

Arabs are straightfoward with God-talk in conversations.
words like l'hamdilla (praise God) or inshallah (God-willing).
and it comes from Christians and Muslims alike.

And especially for Muslims.  Each morning now Abu Muhammed from our Redeemer staff  greets me with a cup of Arabic coffee in a special display of kindness. "Saada?" He asks "No sugar?" "Yes that's the way I like it."

But it's more than coffee. It's an excuse to check on how I'm doing.

"Your hand? It's okay?" "Yes, it's doing well." I show him just as I did yesterday, and everyday before. "L'hamdilla," he responds. "Praise God!" "And at night, you put olive oil on and rub it?" "Yes, like you showed me." "Then it will be healed again, soon, Inshallah, God willing."
On portions of Christian Quarter Road today you can see the large paving stones from the late Roman era--constructed about the time of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre when Christians began flocking to Jerusalem in large numbers in the fourth century.

Today most of the shopkeepers are Muslim
  • like the baker where Gloria buys fresh communion bread each Sunday morning.
  • like Bilal who sewed the cushion covers for our pews--"with special care" he said, worthy for our chapel where we worship sitting down and not kneeling on the floor.
  • like the florist who as a gift brought a bouquet of flowers for the chapel last Easter morning.
  • like Shabaan and his money changing business who takes the loose offering- plate currency from various countries and even personal checks from our visitors, no ID necessary--"You are the church!" he says.
  • like Khader of the clothing store who has greeted us from day one, and also checks my hand as we pass, Yes, the swelling has gone down.  You are massaging it, like I showed you."

They all join in whenever we pass, and many others whom we barely knew.
Now when we walk down Christian Quarter Road, we need to budget an extra ten minutes, to stop and say thanks and to show the progress.


We Christians also do a lot of praying

  • intercessions in church
  • our weekly email prayer chain
  • Redeemer Arabic congregation members stopping to say "We're praying for you!"
  • a whispered word from a hospital bed.
And we're thankful to add the prayers of shopkeepers on Christian Quarter Road.

I'm now doing formal therapy at Hadassa Hospital, Mount Scopus, closer to our home.  With the multiple religious holidays, scheduling such appointments can  sometimes get complicated.  "You know that Yom Kippur is coming up?  Then a week of Succoth?  Then Simchat Torah?"  asked the head of therapy when I phoned for an appointment.
"So I'll have to wait?"
"Well, I'll be taking vacation," she answered reflecting the common practice for Israelis to vacation during these holidays and things just shut down.
"I see." I must have sounded dejected.  "It's just that I was hoping to get started."
She paused.  "I do have an assistant.  She'll be here."  Then she mentioned her name, a common Muslim woman's name."
"Great." I answered.
I sensed a longer than normal pause. "That's okay?"
"Of course, Why not?"

My therapist falls on the more liberal side of the religious spectrum, as I would surmise from our sessions.
She doesn't wear a head scarf like many other Muslim women hospital staff.  All of the hospital notes she writes out in Hebrew script.  I learn from her, while she is massaging my wounded hand, that she is sending her two daughters to a special school where Muslims, Christians, and Jews learn side by side. 
"I want them to learn about Christianity," she says, "and Judaism too.  It's our only hope."

Her conversation helps me not to focus on the pain when she moves my fingers beyond what I have been accustomed.

"You must do these same exercises every day if you want to strengthen your hand," she stressed in her toughest sounding voice.  "It's the only way your hand will heal."  And then she added, "Inshallah.  God willing."

And when she wrote out my next appointment card and handed it to me, there was no typical "Good-bye."  Instead she smiled and said


A short addendum
Today was our annual congregation olive picking day on the Mount of Olives.
To view our blog from last year's outing click here.

So Fred's left hand was ready for picking olives off a tree.
Really not bad therapy.

But wouldn't you know it?

Congregational member 12-year old Matteus from Sweden showed up with his right hand in a cast--an accident from school just yesterday.

What can we say but

by Fred &Gloria Strickert

Monday, October 3, 2011


by Fred & Gloria Strickert

Our visas have been approved for another year! L'Hamdilla!

We often take for granted that it is a privilege to serve in any foreign country, especially when working with the church.

In the case of Israel, thousands of American tourists pass quickly through Ben Gurion airport with automatic visitor's visas stamped quickly on blank passport pages. We are not here as tourists and thus we are subject to a longer process with the expectation of following certain rules and regulations (e.g. no proselytizing) and of discretion in what we say and do.

So the renewal of our visa for another year is never something we take for granted. And now we say L'Hamdilla! Praise God.

This last week you could hear a shout of L'Hamdilla, from every church in Jerusalem when Bishop Suheil Dawani of the Anglican Church received his residency permit for Jerusalem after a lapse of two years. The Church, of course, extends beyond borders and bishops must be free to travel on a regular basis to their parishes whether they be in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, or Jordan.

The bishop's residency in Jerusalem is not only a matter of practicality, it's part of the historic character of the church--for Anglicans Jerusalem has been the bishop's residence since 1841, when the joint Lutheran-Anglican bishopric was established.

Bishop Dawani faced this situation because he is a Palestinian and was born in the West Bank city of Nablus, twenty-five miles north of Jerusalem. Although he was elected already in 2005, and was previously given residency permits for Jerusalem, for the last two years his permits were rejected. This put him in the difficult situation of having to live illegally in East Jerusalem at St. George's Cathedral and it put the Anglican Church in the position of having to sue the government after working quietly behind the scenes for eighteen months. So on Monday it was announced that he had succeeded and a new permit has been granted.  L'Hamdilla.

For the Sept. 27 Haaretz newspaper article click here.

Such cases are not totally isolated.  Last Tuesday, we visited with a young German volunteer who had come to serve at the Dormitian Catholic Church just outside Zion Gate. He had just received a visa rejection letter stating uncertainty about the religious character of his declared place of service.  So he is  now planning to appeal. Inshallah. 

A decade ago a newly elected Greek Orthodox Patriarch was denied official government recognition for several years. The Roman Catholic Church has often had difficulties for its seminarians coming here to study. Our own YAGMs had to postpone their arrival for several weeks, with all the hassle of changing travel plans, because of visa delays.

In the photo on the right Lutheran and Anglican clergy pause for prayers at Station # 4 on our 2011 Good Friday walk of the Via Dolorosa. Bishops Dawani and Younan stand together at the top of the stairs.

Looking at this photo from just six months ago, we are reminded how tenuous our positions can be.

Three of our Anglican colleagues in the photo are no longer with us in Jerusalem.  One who is American had just returned from an unplanned three-month leave to the states because of visa issues.  Ultimately the visa was renewed, but only for six months, so now he is gone. 
We don't take things like this for granted. This is simply the way it is in the world. So whenever a visa or a residency permit is granted, we say L'Hamdilla.

Perhaps this is the way it's always been.

Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: "Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good." (Romans 13:3).

The ancient city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean Coast is where Pontius Pilate had his residence. This is the city where Paul sat in prison two years waiting to face Nero in Rome.

Caesarea is where Fred got his start in archaeology in the summer of 1974, excavating this Byzantine colonaded street, just south of the Crusader fortress. A public building had just been uncovered next to these columns. Though it was a government building, several rooms had religious inscriptions in Greek, and, though several centuries had passed since Paul's sojourn here, his words were there for all to see.

"Do you wish to have no fear of the authority? Then do what is good and you will receive approval."

by Fred & Gloria Strickert