Israel and Palestine—what comes to mind when you hear those words? For many it is conflict, violence or injustice. Holy Land pilgrimages shape the response of others, who are deeply moved by visits to the holy sites.
For many North American Moravians whose pilgrimages included a visit to the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center, responses might include something about Moravian ministry among the most needy in the region for 150 years.
Others find that a pilgrimage is particularly powerful when they spend time with Palestinian Christians, who often refer to themselves as the “living stones” (see 1 Peter 2:5). “We are glad that you come to see the paving stones on which Jesus walked,” they say, “but we are even more pleased when you visit with us, the living stones.” They tell us of a difficult life, but they also speak of hope, of building bridges among Christians and Muslims and Jews and between Palestinians and Israelis.
The Provincial Elders’ Conferences in both the Northern and Southern Provinces have named May 18, 2015 as a Prayer Day for Middle East Peace. In particular, we pray for the ministry of the worldwide Unity at Star Mountain in Ramallah, and Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).
Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center
The ministry of the Moravian Church in the Holy Land dates back to May 20, 1867, when Friedrich and Magdalena Tappe arrived in Jerusalem to establish a mission serving lepers. They established the Jesushilfe hospital in Jerusalem. In 1958 the land near Ramallah was purchased for what became the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center.
Because of advances in the treatment of leprosy (Hansen’s disease) during the 1960s the number of patients declined, and in 1974 the church decided to focus on intellectually disabled children. Initially the emphasis was on a boarding facility, but in 2000 the boarding school closed and community-based rehabilitation in villages throughout the region was expanded.
Current programs include an integrative kindergarten, a school, an autism program, a vocational training program and a community work program. Support services include art education, physiotherapy, speech therapy, psycho-social support and sports. A new protected workshop offers work for those completing vocational training but who are unable to find jobs due to very high unemployment rates in the area.
Staff members are Palestinian, both Muslim and Christian, except for a liaison officer from the Moravian Church in Europe.
Visit “Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center” on Facebook; see www.moravianchurcharchives.org, Publications, This Month in Moravian History for June 2010 and July 2006; and check out the March 2012 issue of the Moravian Magazine (http://www.moravian.org/the-moravian-magazine/moravian-march-2012/moravian-magazine-march-2012/).
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
The Southern and Northern Province Synods of 2006 affirmed the participation of both provinces in Churches for Middle East Peace. CMEP is a coalition of 22 national church denominations and organizations, including Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions. It works to encourage U.S. government policies that will ensure security, human rights and religious freedom for all people of the region.
CMEP works to encourage U.S. policies that actively promote a just, lasting and comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ensuring security, human rights and religious freedom for all the people of the region. The Moravian Church in America is a member of CMEP.
This coalition supports a comprehensive solution that will bring lasting peace and justice to the region, including a negotiated peace agreement, establishing security for the State of Israel, creating a viable independent Palestinian state and reaching an agreement on Jerusalem that allows the city to be shared by Israelis and Palestinians, and makes the city open to Jews, Christians and Muslims.
CMEP helps church organizations, leaders and individuals nationwide to advocate in a knowledgeable, timely, balanced and effective way and to express their concerns about justice and peace for all peoples in the region. Many find the “Action Alerts” from CMEP particularly helpful. These “alerts” inform recipients of proposed legislation and specific events that can influence peace in the region. For more information see www.cmep.org.
A network to “seek peace and pursue it”
The PECs meeting jointly appointed Bob Sawyer as the Moravian representative to CMEP. The PECs also asked Bob to work “in cooperation with a network of individual members in both provinces who have an interest and are willing to serve as educators, communicators and advocates for peace in the Middle East.”
The PECs are now inviting people from both provinces to explore further how such a network might be formed to fulfill the intent. There will be many possibilities, such as learning about and supporting constructive efforts to bring about a just peace in Israel-Palestine; identifying prayer concerns and committing to intercessory prayer; encouraging persons on pilgrimages to go to Star Mountain and meet with the “living stones”; and supporting government policy that promotes peace, justice and security in the region.
This will be a network to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14, 1 Peter 3:11). Those interested in participating can register their interest at www.mcsp.org, under the “News/Info” tab (look for “Seek Peace and Pursue It”). ■
The Rev. Dr. Bob Sawyer is a retired Moravian Pastor and past president of the Southern Province Provincial Elders’ Conference. Photos: Bill Ray.