2008-Twelve Months of Blessings
Alex & Brenda Awad
" . . . A Light from on high will dawn upon us and visit us; to shine upon and give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to direct and guide our feet in a straight line into the way of peace."(Luke 1: 78-79 Amplified Bible)
JANUARY AND FEBRUARY brought us many visiting groups--among them United Methodists on an Annual Conference pilgrimage: Seeking Peace, Pursuing Justice. During their study pilgrimage they visited both Bethlehem Bible College and East Jerusalem Baptist Church. Among the participants were Hal and Jan Garmon, friends and former pastor from University UMC in Syracuse, NY, where we resided from 1990-1991 while we awaited a visa to return to Israel/Palestine. It is always a joy to connect with friends and acquaintances on our home turf. We especially look forward to the occasional visits of covenant church partners who do volunteer in missions trips throughout the year.
Easter came early so in MARCH AND APRIL members of our congregation in Jerusalem celebrated the Passover Seder with a Messianic congregation in Rehovot. On the following week they joined with us and local Palestinian congregations in an Easter service at the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem.
April also brought, at long last, the completion of Alex’s book, “Palestinian Memories: the Story of a Palestinian Mother and Her People”. Published by Bethlehem Bible College, Part I of the book tells the dramatic and moving story of Alex’s mother, Huda Awad, and her family from the Ottoman Period until the present. Huda’s story of courage, determination, and personal faith in Jesus Christ will come as a great encouragement to Christians throughout the world and at the same time will shed much light on the Palestinian Christian and Muslim communities in the Holy Land. Part II provides a comprehensive and easily understood overview of the political history of the Arab/Israeli conflict. The 385-page book is a great teaching resource; it is in hardback and full color. It can be ordered for a cost of $30 (includes shipping and handling). Requests can be made via firstname.lastname@example.org.
In MAY AND JUNE Alex traveled to Jakarta and Oslo to speak at conferences on Palestine and give a Christian perspective on Palestinian issues. He used his new book and his mother’s story as an avenue to connect with the audiences. While in Norway he also spoke at a gathering of churches who are partners with BBC.
The college held its commencement at which 14 students received a BA degree. We also welcomed our friends and covenant church partners, Rev. Darrel and Bonnie Cates and mission team from Ardmore 1st UMC, to do a work project.
Our summer vacation took place in JULY and was spent in Thailand with our daughter, Christy; our son-in-law, David; and our grandson, Skylor Lucas and son, Randy. Skylor turned 7 months old during our visit. It was great to get acquainted with him and see the change that had occurred in 6 months' time. We found a beautiful rental property near the beach and just enjoyed the nice, relaxed rural atmosphere of a Thai fishing village.
In AUGUST a first book signing took place at Village Presbyterian Church near Overland Park, KS, where we were invited by Rev. Tom Are, Janet Baker and Andrea Whitmore to share at this and other venues. Alex’s brother, Nicola, and sisters, Elizabeth and Ellen, live in Overland Park and supported the event with their presence and liaising. A special dinner was hosted by Nicola and Patty in honor of the occasion.
Our visit was made possible by Rev. Terry Hill and Rev. Bill Etheridge, both from Alabama, who invited and sponsored us to take part in mission events at Calera UMC and Alexander First UMC, as well as facilitating many other opportunities that opened up. In addition to KS and AL, we accepted speaking invitations in MO, GA, NY, MD and Washington, DC and did several more book signings, among them one at the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church (NY, NY). This was followed by a corporate worship in the Interfaith Chapel at which Alex spoke. See the following link for an interview that Alex had with Linda Bloom:
Missionary Shares Story of His Palestinian Mother (http://gbgmumc.org/global_news/full_article.cfm?articleid=5138).
Along the way, there were many opportunities to connect with family and friends-- among them Jerry and Sis Levin, Rev. Fahed Abu Akel, and Rev. John Constantine, as well as meeting with diverse groups that promote peace and justice in Israel/Palestine. Culminating our 3-week packed itinerary was a visit with Alex’s brother, Mubarak, to the Office of International Religious Freedom located in the State Department.
While in the U.S., we also visited Brenda’s sisters and their husbands in Calhoun, Georgia. It was a special time to catch up on happenings in each other’s lives and share some special moments together.
At the end of our trip we connected with our older son, Basem, in Maryland, and met his girlfriend, Pimwadee Chaovalit. We are pleased that he recently completed his thesis for an M.A. in Peace and Development from Haume University in Spain.
From SEPTEMBER TO OCTOBER, we were back at our mission assignments in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Bethlehem Bible College is maintaining a healthy enrollment in all of its curriculum programs. In the fall time many tour groups from various parts of the world visit the country and quite often look us up and visit the facilities. The College is always willing to book a lunch, tour and lecture for such groups.
In NOVEMBER, a VIM group from Christ UMC, Memphis under the leadership of Matthew W worked for 3 days at the church to enlarge the parking and sand and varnish benches. Earlier in the year, Terry Hill our friend and host from AL and a team of volunteers painted the church. So gradually we are making the church a beautiful place in which to worship.
A special event in November was the celebration of a joint international Thanksgiving dinner put on by our church and Bethlehem Bible College in the college dining hall. We had all the traditional American dishes. However, our turkeys were not the traditional US stuffed ones, but rather ones with rice, ground beef and nut stuffing mixture that is typically done by Palestinians.
DECEMBER brings with it not snow flurries necessarily, but a flurry of activities as we join the rest of the Christian world in celebrating in our feeble and awkward ways the most wonderful gift ever: the gift of God's own son, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Among the activities will be faculty and student parties, a community wide worship and dinner hosted by BBC, and the activities in Manger Square where international choirs raise their voices to declare anew that "Christ is born in Bethlehem".
And so the year draws to a close with Christmas due to be celebrated, not once, but three times once in December and twice in January—Western rite on December 25th, Eastern rite two weeks later and the Armenian Christmas in the 3rd week of January.
Three congregations currently hold meetings in the church's sanctuary—our own international and interdenominational fellowship and two Arabic speaking groups. During the summer, in cooperation with the leaders of the Christian Missionary Alliance church, we held a children's Vacation Bible School for one week. Approximately 45 children attended. The VBS ran successfully under the theme, Jesus Knows My Heart.
East Jerusalem Baptist Church has been blessed with a wonderful international flavor of families and individuals who support the activities of the church. Over the past two years a great music team of guitarists, violinists, drummers, flutes, etc. has developed which is making our church more contemporary. We still love the UM Hymnal though.
We are an Advance project of the United Methodist Church. Gifts from our congregation and partner churches have helped us to do renovations on the church sanctuary during the past several years. In April, the widening of the arch between the stage and the congregation was eventually completed and the arch was beautified by the artistic touch of our UM colleague, Don White who also did a beautiful ceramic relief mural on the angel Gabriel’s annunciation to the shepherds for Bethlehem Bible College’s new student center. The blessing of having a larger arch is that the audience has a better view of what’s happening on stage.
We have more projects outlined over the next four years. Please see the following Advance Number (14907N) for information on plans for improvement.
Alex is now director of the Shepherd Society, BBC's charitable arm. This Shepherd Society has distributed thousands of dollars in aid to the poor, many of whom are unemployed due to the unresolved political conflict. Through a family sponsorship program, persons who feel led can sponsor a Bethlehem family for $50 a month, which is a very significant amount to a family that does not have a breadwinner. As well, during the Christmas season, the Shepherd Society reaches out to the needy with Christmas baskets of food, Christian literature, and essential household items. For information on other programs, please email email@example.com or visit www.shepherd-society.org. The Shepherd Society is also a first time Advance project of the United Methodist Church; designated gifts can now be sent to your annual conference, favor of Advance # 3020439.
HOME ASSIGNMENT IN 2009
We have our official home assignment in the summer of 2009. We plan to arrive in the U.S. in mid June and stay through mid September. We will be connecting with covenant churches and sharing in different venues throughout the country. Please pray for the planning and coordination of this trip. We welcome your input. We will be drafting a proposed itinerary in the first two months of 2009. We usually begin in Atlanta, Georgia as medical exams are required for our return to the mission field.
As United Methodist missionaries, we are blessed to be serving in Israel/Palestine. In addition to pastoral duties, Alex serves as Dean of Students at BBC, faculty member and as interim director of the Shepherd Society. Brenda serves as Development and Scholarship liaison in the English administration department at Bethlehem Bible College and as Sunday school teacher at the EJBC fellowship. Together with other UM mission personnel in the area, we are UM liaisons for UM and other pilgrims who visit the land.
In closing, we are appreciative of your prayers on our behalf and that of the Palestinian people. We welcome you to visit and connect with us if you have plans to visit Israel/Palestine.
Alex & Brenda