2006-Year in Review
Alex & Brenda Awad
The year 2006 began with the usual January activities. In the Holy Land, Christmas extends almost to the end of January to incorporate both Eastern and Western traditions. The month was also busy with preparations for Palestinian elections.
Then from January 17-27, teams from five US United Methodist Conferences (CA-Pacific, CA-Nevada, Northern Illinois, North Central NY, and Virginia) came for a 10-day conference in Bethlehem, entitled “Seeking Peace-Pursuing Justice”. They were given a broad exposure to Palestinian and Israeli issues as they traveled throughout the West Bank and Israel to meet with key organizations and personalities. We and other UM mission personnel accompanied them on a variety of exposure outings that included overnight stays in Hebron, Wadi Faqim, and Aboud.
A Year of Travel-2006 was also a year of much traveling. In late January and early February, Alex traveled to Dallas, TX to take part in an OCI Leadership Connection Conference as a representative of Bethlehem Bible College ministries. Afterwards he traveled to Chicago at the invitation of Tony Asta and spoke in several churches (Oak Park UMC & Gary Memorial UMC) and colleges (Elmhurst College and Goshen College).
In February, Brenda joined Alex in Chicago and together they traveled to Honolulu, HI for 10 days at the invitation of Rev. Wayne Corderrio, founder of New Hope Christian Fellowship Oahu. Alex spoke to large crowds dressed in comfortable aloha attire. He was filmed preaching five times and also appeared on a local TV station called Connecting Point. He was well received by the Hawaiians. It was a very enjoyable time to revisit some of the sites around Honolulu that we visited in 2000 when Christy and David lived there and also nice to stay in the swanky Radisson overlooking Waikiki Beach. Before returning to Israel/Palestine, we visited Alex’s mother in KS, which was one of the last times we were able to see her alive.
In March, Alex returned to Toronto (CAN) at the invitation of World Vision. He was originally invited to give voice to a Palestinian point of view at a missions’ conference called Mission Fest, but the invitation was withdrawn due to some opposition by committee members. His voice was still heard in other venues and in magazine articles that were written about his rejection.
Passage of an Era-2006 marked the passage of an era for Alex and his family due to the death of Alex’s Uncle George (84 years old) in January and his mother (90 years old) in March—with just two months separating their passing. Nevertheless, it was a time of rejoicing in that both led full and productive lives always focusing outwards and blessing others with love and kindness. With the help of his brothers and sisters, Alex has recently written the life story of his mother that will soon be published in a book on the Palestinian situation.
On Brenda’s side of the family, news came in August that her mother’s sister, Della, passed away at the age of eighty-nine, the same age that Brenda’s mother lived to be.
Work as Usual-April, May, June and the first part of July 11 were spent on the field, performing various duties at Bethlehem Bible College and East Jerusalem Church. Several volunteer groups came and performed missions’ projects, one led by Tony Asta from Gary Memorial United Methodist Church in Wheaton, IL. The group did a church renovation project in Jerusalem and also helped to build a kitchen for a needy family in nearby Bethany. They were blessed to finish the projects and a bit of sightseeing before too much escalation happened in the war between Israel and Lebanon.
Our youngest child, Randy—now 22, visited us in Jerusalem for a month in the summer. He is becoming quite the massage guru after studying with different masters in the field in Thailand and is thoroughly enjoying this line of work. He and his sister, Christy, have plans to open a massage center in Chiang Mai in order to have more opportunities for Randy to practice and share his expertise. It appears he has a gift for this ministry.
Home Assignment-July 11th through mid October was home assignment in the U.S., which took us to 17 states. We experienced gracious hospitality and met many wonderful people and saw many scenic places. It was tough in the months and weeks before leaving to the United States. We were very much burdened regarding all the details of our three month home assignment in the USA. We had a list of 50 churches in over 15 different states that we needed to arrange an itinerary for. There didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day to do our jobs at Bethlehem Bible College during the week, prepare for our weekend ministry at East Jerusalem Church, and contact all the churches and pastors that needed contacting. In addition, Alex was spending every waking minute working on a revised version of his new book and had no time to help Brenda map out the journey and develop the itinerary.
One thing we did was to call on the Lord to help us. We submitted the three months into the hands of God. For months and weeks before we left and all the time while in the states, we kept earnestly seeking God and calling on him to help us out. We kept seeking divine guidance even until the last day.
What was the result? God was so kind to us. He answered our prayers and the prayers of others who had been praying for us. As we committed our ways to him and put our trust in him, he directed our paths in so many amazing ways.
As much as we were concerned over our travel and accommodations, our greatest concern was over the message that God would want us to share to the people. We were not in the churches to do fund raising. Some missionaries have to do that and we do not fault them for going to churches and raising funds for their ministries. But by contract with our mission board, the General Board of Global Ministries, we are not to do fund raising but rather share a message with the people. As we prayed daily, we kept saying to the Lord, ‘Give us your message. We want to share what is on your heart.” God gave us the message whether it was a Sunday morning sermon or a Sunday school class or a women’s meeting or a radio interview.
From the above comments, one can conclude that home assignments are not necessarily vacations, but missionaries from time to time need to rest. Psalms 23 emphasizes God’s goodness to David in this regard, “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he restoreth my soul.”God was also good to us that he lead us into places of rest where we could reenergize to resume our ministries.
Following are some examples:
Chautauqua, NY-Our first week was spent in Chautauqua, NY. Chautauqua is a religious/cultural retreat community that sits on the banks of beautiful Lake Chautauqua. Here, Alex was invited to speak by a group called the Abrahamic Initiative. His main lecture, Educating for Peace, took place at the outdoor Hall of Philosophy. Also, as part of Chautauqua’s Abrahamic Initiative program, Alex invited three young people (a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew) from Palestine/Israel to be part of a week-long dialogue with Chautauqua’s youth. We were hosted in the beautiful home of Peter & Nancy Waasdorp. God knew we needed the rest the first week and he gave it to us. Enjoying the top floor guest suite of the Wassdorp’s home, we were surrounded by tall oaks, cedars and pines, much like a tree house, our closest neighbors being squirrels. Our bedroom opened out to a tree-lined balcony complete with a very unique bonsai collection. We spent almost an entire week in this beautiful setting while we enjoyed wonderful fellowship and a lot of cultural advantages.
After leaving Chautauqua, we visited Sam & Jihann Kuttab and their lovely daughters (Ahlam, Arij, Sena’, Frocina, and Dunia) in Philadelphia. We also visited Alex’s Aunt Frocina, who was hospitalized for a stomach disorder. Sam treated us to a ride on one of his Ducks (bus-boat transport vehicle) that took us on a guided tour through downtown Philadelphia and later to a cruise on the Delaware River. Armed with our duck whistles, we caught on fast to the spirit of adventure, but were not prepared for the thunderstorm that later soaked us to the skin. Fortunately we were out of the water at that point. The soaking came as we left a Philly Steak restaurant for the car.
Our first official speaking engagement took place at First UMC in Moorestown, New Jersey. We were graciously hosted by Max & Beth Fisher. They had a lovely home and on Sunday evening, did an outdoor barbecue with some friends.
Atlanta, Georgia-En route to Georgia, we flew to Lexington, Kentucky to visit Brenda’s brother, Thomas, who lives near Hazard, KY. It was wonderful to see him and his wife, Halley, and Bill, another brother, who drove up from Brenda’s home town, Fleming-Neon. After staying the night, we stopped at the Buckhorn Lake State Park for sight seeing and were so impressed with the beautiful lake and natural setting in that area that we decided to stay in a Lodge overlooking the Lake and continue to Lexington early the next morning for our connecting flight to Atlanta. This is the same airport that later in the summer had a tragic fatal crash killing 56 people in a commuter jet similar to the one we used. Construction on the runway caused the pilot to take the wrong runway.
In Atlanta, Georgia we went through a battery of medical exams to see if we were fit to continue our mission work. The verdict was that we are still healthy and we can resume our ministries. In Georgia we visited Brenda’s two sisters, Betty & Emma, and a good friend through many years, Solomon Douhne and his wife, Widad. We also visited and spoke in two churches in Georgia one a small Baptist church (1st Baptist in Ellijay) and the other the largest Presbyterian in the USA; Peachtree Presbyterian. Always a joy of going to Atlanta is meeting with friends from North Georgia, in particular from the mountain town of Ellijay and nearby, where we taught school several years and where our daughter was born.
Minneapolis, Minnesota-The Palestine Israel Peace and Justice task force took care of our itineration in Minnesota. These folks planned our schedule to the minute and also showed us some of the beautiful lakes and falls in the area. We had one or two speaking engagements every day. Alex requested a meeting with physicians connected with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He was asked by the Shepherd Society to inquire if the Mayo Clinic could help us upgrade the medical services in the Bethlehem area. Rev. John Darling arranged for us to meet with two great physicians. One of them Dr. Charles Aboud is an Arab-American who was born in Yaffa before 1948. Yaffa is the birth place of Alex’s father. Dr. Charles Aboud promised to do all he could to help us.
While in MN, we picked up at the airport by Lyle & Dorothy Christiansen who hosted us for a lovely dinner before taking us to stay for 5 days at the beautiful condominium of Rev. Audrey Jean Powers which overlooked the city of Minneapolis. Rev. Powers has been very generous in offering her home to missionaries and church leaders passing through her city. We were staying on the 14th floor and had access to a swimming pool on the very top level (30th floor). We were happy to reconnect with friends we met in Palestine: Ric & Barbara Koehn, Peter & Mary Davies and Dwight & Debra Haberman.
Ohio-In Ohio, we spoke at 4 churches. We began in Wapakoneta, OH, where we visited and taught SS at First United Methodist Church, the same church that Alex’s mother, Huda, was a member of when she resided in Wapakoneta. We had lunch with Lucille Eichorn, one of Huda’s close friends. The same evening we spoke at First UMC, Bellefontaine and the next day visited relatives, Brice and Lydia Brenneman and their sons--Jonathan, Jameel and Joseph--and enjoyed a nice cookout and fun games. From there we drove towards Columbus, OH, enjoyed an outing along the banks of Scioto River. Then it was on to Logan, OH where we had an evening engagement. Logan is located in the beautiful South east Ohio hills so the next day, we took a scenic drive to Hocking Hills State Park where we visited Ash Cave and Cedar Falls. After Logan, we drove to Dayton, OH and had a wonderful lasagna dinner with a great group from Christ UMC, Kettering. Before leaving the area, we received great hospitality from close friends, the Hadley’s from Dayton, OH and the Tarvins from Cincinnati. God was so good to allow us to connect with these wonderful Ohio folks. We did live in Ohio for almost a year with Alex’s mother from 1989-1990.
Michigan-In Michigan we visited another of Brenda’s brothers, Bobby and his wife, Marie, and connected with our friend, Jim Kettinger. Our first church visit was in Lapeer, MI. As we arrived there, we found the pastor had just lost his father . . . the funeral having taken place that day. He was nevertheless very gracious and hospitable. He took us to the place where we were to stay Saturday night. It was not a stuffy hotel room but a beautiful villa built on the banks of a beautiful pond, surrounded by trees and the tranquil beauty of nature. The owners of the villa, a wonderful Christian couple, joined us the following day.
The next speaking engagement was in Clarkston, Michigan. They were not quite ready for our visit, but their young associate pastor had heard Bishara speak at Duke University and was very impressed with what he heard. So he arranged for a pastor’s coffee and we spoke with a group of around 30 persons who were interested to hear about our mission work in Palestine/Israel and also our perspective on the conflict. There was a healthy exchange of ideas and we hope a better understanding afterwards of the challenges we face in our place of assignment on a daily basis.
In Clarkston, we were on our own as far as a place to stay. Before the meeting, we had an hour to look for hotel accommodations, so we drove up and down the interstate looking for a hotel, albeit unsuccessfully. After getting lost a few times, we decided to hurry back to the church and wait until after the speaking engagement to find a hotel. During the coffee time one lady visiting that church asked if we would visit her home. This woman pastor had a suitcase ministry. She sends suitcases to the mission field full with clothes, food or medicine. Her basement was full of food, clothing or medical items but her friend’s basement had even more stuff. She wanted us to visit her friend’s storage place but it was already close to 10.00 o’clock and we had no place to stay. As we returned to the car to leave, she called on us to stop and she said that her friend who also had the suitcase ministry to missionaries had plenty of space in her house and frequently welcomed missionaries. We immediately felt this was from the Lord. But to make sure we decided to check out the situation before making a final decision. We went in and met this gracious Christian lady who had a life-long ministry of outreach to the Jewish people and could hardly wait to welcome us in. She was so welcoming we could not refuse her invitation. Gradually, we had to expose that Alex was a Palestinian, hardly a Jew. She had a clean home and we enjoyed her gracious Christian hospitality. Needless to say we tried to share about the Palestinian situation with her while she shared her views on how God was working with the Jewish people. We hope we were able to bring some balance into her views as far as Palestinians are concerned.
After concluding our speaking itinerary in Petersburg and Midland, and being graciously hosted by Mission Chairpersons, Nancy Harris and Kate Aspray, we had an unexpected surprise. We were invited to stay at a United Methodist Retreat Center located on Lake Huron. This was a wonderful opportunity to withdraw and rest and get ready for our travels to Oklahoma. We appreciated the coordination that was done by Wayne & Genie Banks, Mission Conference secretaries that made our time in Michigan fruitful.
Oklahoma- From Michigan, we traveled to Tulsa where we were warmly welcomed by Rev. Gary & Shariann Harbor of St. James UMC. We enjoyed the liveliness of the Sunday morning worship and afterwards a Mexican lunch with members from the church.
Earlier in the month, we had a call from Kathryn Hendrix of Fort Gibson, OK who wanted to have a visit from some United Methodist missionaries. She had called the conference secretary, with the question, “Where are the missionaries?” Her heart was very much for missions and she was a major catalyst in promoting missions’ programs in her church. When she discovered we were coming to Tulsa, she extended a special invitation for us to visit Fort Gibson, which we did. We had a wonderful time sharing in the church after a church supper. She and her husband were a delightful host and hostess.
After Fort Gibson, we took a side trip to Plano, TX and visited longtime friends, Rev. Samir & Freda Kawar. Samir had been gravely ill and was recuperating, so it was so good to spend time in their home again enjoying their gracious hospitality. When we lived in McKinney, TX from 1991-1994, we attended a small church in Garland, TX that Rev. Samir pastored. We learned so much from the Kawars’ servant spirit and dedication to the ministry.
Traveling back to Oklahoma we were welcomed by Rev. Darrel & Bonnie Cates to share in their church for the missions’ committee. Thinking it would be a small meeting, we were very surprised to find out that the missions’ committee was a congregation in itself. So it seems all Oklahomans have a great love for missions. The Cates offered us wonderful hospitality in their home, for which we were most thankful.
Finally, we made it to Oklahoma City where we were wonderfully hosted for the 2nd home assignment in a row by Dick & Jean Webber. They made us feel right at home in their lovely home, providing us with some a handsome, private upstairs suite where we had all the privacy we needed. We stayed with them for approximately 5 nights and from there traveled to our speaking engagements, one at Oklahoma City University, which was arranged by Sara, daughter of Tish Malloy.
Other churches we visited were Mcfarlin UMC in Norman and Paul’s Valley UMC in Paul’s Valley. It was a delight to reconnect with the pastors and members of their congregations.
Kansas and Missouri-Family and friends drew us to the Greater Kansas City area. In Overland Park, Kansas, we visited with Alex’s brother Nicola and his sisters Ellen and Elizabeth, and nephew Samir (wife, Fairouz, daughter, Renee and son, Nicola), as well as the extended families and friends. We were in time for a great Labor Day bash put on by Nicola and Patty. This is the 2nd time we were in the U.S. for this family and friend gathering.
While in the area, we spoke at St. Luke United Methodist Church and visited with our friends at the Lloyd Foundation.
Then it was time to visit the dentist and see what serious problems we had to take care of. We also visited Alex’s mother’s gravesite for a time of contemplation and a final farewell.
New Mexico-There were some God-given surprises in New Mexico. In the airport, we saw a sign that said: Welcome to New Mexico: Land of Enchantment. As we visited we became believers that the parts of New Mexico that we visited were truly enchanting. We started out in Albuquerque, where we met up with a wonderful friend, George Luecker, who arranged some key speaking opportunities, one at the downtown university.
First UMC in Albuquerque hosted us graciously in a beautiful downtown hotel and welcomed us in the Sunday morning services where Alex spoke twice and we shared in a SS class forum. Then it was off to a Presbyterian church for a noon time sharing. This left just enough time to drive to Los Alamos UMC for an evening dinner and service. We were given the key to the home of a couple from the church and told to make ourselves at home, which we did. It was a beautiful home and as on more than one occasion during our travels, we remembered the psalmist David’s praise report, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures.” We were so refreshed by the nice, homey atmosphere and the opportunity to just “let it all hang out”.
The drive to and from Los Alamos was spectacular in beauty with scenic mountain formations and passes. On our descent from Los Alamos enroute to Cimarron, we eventually found ourselves driving next to the Rio Grande. We took a detour to see the Rio Grande gorge. The canyon was so deep that we had to focus less on looking down and more on the scenery beyond as we traversed the bridge spanning the gorge. We met one couple going very slowly and the husband explained that his wife was feeling sick. We totally understood.
On the way to Cimarron, we had many signs warning us about deer that may jump from the woods and into the road. As we were driving, Alex prayed, “God, please, help us not to hit a deer!” As soon as he said his prayer of a few words, a large buck jumped out of the woods and stopped a few feet from our car. Alex immediately stopped the car hoping that Brenda could take a picture, but before we could ask the deer to smile, he turned around and ran away. As we drove to our destination, we thanked God that we did not hit a deer and the deer did not hit us.
The second surprise in Cimarron was the great hospitality of the people at the United Methodist Church. Again, we were welcomed by a wonderful church dinner, followed by a beautiful church service. The pastor invited us to offer communion at the conclusion of the service.
One member of the Cimarron UMC happened to be a high ranking official at Philmont Scout Ranch—this is a Boy Scouts training base with more than 200 square miles (it is larger than the Gaza Strip which is 140 square miles) of rugged New Mexico wilderness. We were invited to stay the night at the camp which is about 6,500 ft above sea level. The next morning at 7:30 the Ranch’s chief ranger took us to a higher elevation via his 4 wheel drive for a three hour tour of the ranch. Some of the roads would have been impassable in a normal vehicle. It was a beautiful place with splendid scenery. Along with us came the United Methodist district superintendent of that region and the Pastor of the church. High on the mountain and beside a beautiful lake, the pastor said, "This is a beautiful place for communion". He was ready. He took his wine and bread and in the middle of that great natural cathedral and we sang, prayed and shared the holy elements. What an unexpected treat! Only God could have arranged this for us.
Our next speaking engagement was in Raton New Mexico. We had a small meeting but as in every church we met some wonderful women who have hearts that are willing to serve--one of the faithful attendants, who drove from a church an hour away, was over 85 years old. Raton is only 6 miles from the Colorado border so we drove through a mountain pass until we stepped on Colorado soil. We saw more wild life on the road from Cimarron to Raton than in any place in the USA. We stopped the car several times to view the buffalos and deer.
Florida-We started our visit in Florida with visiting the United Methodist Bishop in Lakeland. This was an honor and privilege for us arranged by Rev. Larry Rankin, who has been a strong supporter of the United Methodist presence in Israel/Palestine.
An interesting incident took place after our first speaking engagement. After a great reception and hospitality at Suntree UMC in Melbourne, we went to look for a place to stay the night. The folks at the church told us where to find the nice hotels on the beachfront—many of these had been damaged and were inoperable as a result of past hurricane seasons. Alex went to the first hotel and asked about the price. It was over $200 for the night for the most economic room. He returned to the car and told Brenda, who said jokingly, “Did you tell them that we are missionaries?” Alex said, “No! But I’ll try at the next hotel.” We drove less than a hundred feet to the next hotel and Alex asked if they had vacancies. The receptionist said yes. Then with a little apprehension Alex asked about the rate for one night. She said they had a special for $219 per night including breakfast. Alex thought I will sneak out quietly, then remembered Brenda’s suggestion and said: Do you have a missionary’s rate? The receptionist looked like no one had asked her that question before and left to go and ask. She returned after a few minutes and said, "We will give you the room for $109 going down $110". Without hesitation Alex told her, “Yes, I’ll take the room.” It was a nice room with eight fluffy pillows on the bed. We felt like spoiled missionaries.
On the southern shores of Alabama and Florida, we saw the devastation that some recent hurricanes caused to the resorts and beach fronts.
We felt a great welcome and hospitality at the church in Niceville, Florida. But we were very impressed by the hospitality of our host family. The woman was recovering from colon cancer and the husband was extremely busy to host missionaries. But these dear friends against all odds hosted us. Being missionaries themselves, they understood the blessings of hosting missionaries.
Alabama, Here We Come-After visiting a few churches in Florida, we drove to Alabama. For some reason the sponsoring and covenant churches in Alabama were not quite ready for us. Three churches that were on our list told us that they could not receive us at the appointed time. We had assigned two Sunday mornings to two of these churches. In our frustration we turned to God for direction and wisdom. Our Lord, the good shepherd heard our prayers and opened new doors. One church in Canandaigua, NY made contact with us before we left and gave us 5 Sundays to choose from to go and visit them. We wrote back to the church and said we are sorry all our Sundays are booked, but if an opening occurred we would contact them. So as we were in Alabama discovering two Sundays without a speaking engagement we called the pastor in Canandaigua and we told him we are willing to come and share with his people one Sunday morning. He was delighted. But we had a problem; our mission board allows us to visit each state one time otherwise they will not pay for our transportation. But God already have solved this problem. In one of our previous flights we heard a flight attendant call to announce that there were too many people and luggage on the flight and request that some volunteers would postpone their trip. The reward would be a free round trip ticket anywhere in the US. So we decided to be the volunteers and earned a ticket. So we used this ticket to have a round trip from Montgomery, Alabama to Canandaigua, NY. The pastor and his wife were very welcoming and hosted us in their home. Our luggage was delayed by 24 hours so we had to go to Sunday morning worship in our traveling clothes, which happened to be quite undressy. Brenda was wearing tennis shoes, an anomaly in itself, and these she wore to church the next morning, marching up on stage for everyone to see this new missionary style. In solidarity with Alex, the pastor decided not to wear his official robe. After church the missions’ team put on a wonderful pot luck dinner at the pastor’s home.
We still had one Sunday left without a speaking engagement. In spite of the fact that the new pastor at Albertville UMC had been on vacation and was not ready for a visit, we decided to stop and say hello to him. He welcomed us and was very apologetic for the fact that he had to say no. He even apologized for not having the time to take us to lunch. As soon as we left his office and we were walking to the car our phone rang. It was Richard Huntley from Huntsville, AL, a person whom we had never met but heard that we were in the country and wanted to meet us. Richard was only 20 minutes from where we where. He invited us to lunch in Guntersville (a beautiful AL town built on a lake) and urged us to stay in his beautiful new home the following Saturday night and go with him to church Sunday morning. We did! At the Church in the Cove, we enjoyed listening to a wonderful service given by the pastor, a young man that I attended Asbury Seminary with. We did not preach, but we were able to have a mission table in the church foyer between and after the services. We also enjoyed their contemporary service and preaching. They had more guitars and stringed instruments than we do in our small church in Jerusalem. The music was very upbeat and joyful and appealed to the young families represented in the audience.
We concluded our visit to Alabama by visiting Neel United Methodist Church in Hartselle, a church that has been close to our heart for many years and has been a very welcoming church. We were received most graciously by the new pastor who had a new baby the weekend we arrived.
Tennessee-In Tennessee we visited Christ United Methodist Church, and met with the new missions’ director, Rev. Matthew W; we were received warmly and very encouraged by our sharing together. In the past, CUMC sent volunteer in mission’s teams to Bethlehem Bible College and East Jerusalem Baptist Church and we encouraged them to do so again. Following an evening meal of Chinese take-in, we gave a presentation to the Church’s mission team. Invited by a friend (Rhonda McCarty), we also visited Memphis Theological Seminary and heard a lecture by Dr. Martin Marty. Memphis was a good city to get lost in. On an outing to visit a park, we ended up in Arkansas.
Mississippi-Mississippi is perhaps the poorest state in the US but we found out that that state is very rich in hospitality. We visited 7 churches in Mississippi but we can’t tell you which one was the most hospitable. Most important for us is that the people received our message with open minds and hearts. Mary Sue Robinson, a retired UM missionary was the first official of the United Methodist Church that we made contact with to seek commissioning with the GBGM. When we showed here a DVD about the medical challenges in the Bethlehem area, she took her check book and wrote a check for $500 for the Shepherd Society. Sue’s pastor, Warren Black and his wife, Janice, hosted us in his home and the following day, Sunday, we preached twice and taught a combined Sunday school class for the folks at Oxford University Methodist Church.
From there we drove to Starkville, MS where we expected to share the following Tuesday. We were a day early so we began to look for a place to stay and found a nice accommodation at the Holiday Inn in a neighboring town.
Near Jackson, Mississippi we were hosted by our good friends Rev. Dr. Willis Britt and his wife Brenda. The Britts lead VIM teams that served at Hope School, BBC and at our Church.
Our last church in Mississippi was in the city of Biloxi. Katrina came to Biloxi and destroyed thousands of houses and businesses, but it did not wipe out the people’s determination and hospitality. At First UMC, we met groups of VIM that were helping the local people to rebuild. We joined them for a delicious lunch and after some technical difficulties adjusted our program to share with them what we felt God had arranged.
Our mission host, Karen Arseneau, drove us around Biloxi to see how the coast had been permanently altered and then took us to the place we were to spend the night, her RV, which was her temporary home because Katrina floods had destroyed her home. She spent the night with her wonderful next door neighbors whose home survived due to a slightly higher elevation—they showed us the watermark just below the top step leading to their entrance door. After a great dinner feast of specially prepared shrimp and other delicious dishes that the neighbors prepared, we retired to the tiny RV, which had everything we needed. What great hospitality!
South and North Carolina-Our final Sunday morning speaking engagement was at Trenholm Road United Methodist Church in Columbia, South Carolina. The ministers and the congregation there received us with open arms and hearts. Three years ago, when we visited this covenant church, and after hearing their choir, we invited them to come to Bethlehem and sing at Manger Square during Christmas Eve celebrations. They actually did come to Bethlehem during Christmas 2004. They were one of the handful choirs that were not scared of the rumors of turmoil in Bethlehem. The same songs that they sang at Manger Square, they sang the Sunday we visited them. They blessed our hearts with their singing one more time.
At the end of the service in Trenholm Road UMC, Rex & Laura Wilson invited us to their 85 year-young mother’s home to eat lunch. While enjoying the home cooked meal prepared by Rex’s mother, they asked us where we were going after leaving SC. We explained we were going to Lake Junaluska for three days of rest before we returned back to Jerusalem. Rex Wilson said, “I have two homes just a few feet from the lake. One is occupied but the other is vacant. Why not stay at our home? I will give you the key. We explained that we had another couple with us and had already made a reservation at a hotel in there. “Forget about the reservation,” said one of the Wilson’s. “Our log cabin is much nicer.” When we arrived at Lake Junaluska, we went to the Wilson’s log cabin first. We were impressed but we decided not to make plans until we consulted with Betty and Jimmy Edwards. We went to the hotel--a beautiful hotel overlooking the lake. After consultation with the Edwards who already had settled in the hotel, we decided to stay one night in the hotel and the next two nights we went to the Wilson’s little mansion. What a blessing!
When our trip was over we could look back and we see the hand of the pen of God editing all that we had planned and improving on our plans everywhere we went. God was so wonderful to us. We do not believe that all of these blessings are coincidences. Some of our best moments in the United States were surprises that were beyond our ability to control.
God, who is able to lead for a few months, can also lead for three years and thirty years and three time thirty years. All we have to do is trust him.
Year’s End-Arriving back in Israel/Palestine on October 19th, we resumed our ministries at the Bible College and Jerusalem Church. A friend, Betty Edwards, who has a fervent passion and love for the Palestinian people, returned with us and stayed a month in our home in order to reconnect with the College and with friends she had made over the years. It was a blessing to have Betty stay with us. After Betty left, we enjoyed with our congregation and friends the celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
What Lies Ahead-For several years, we have been thinking of taking a sabbatical and now it is becoming reality. We will be going to New Zealand from mid February through mid July 2007 where we will be hosted by the Bible College of New Zealand. We will be available for light speaking while we focus on studies that interest us.