For Such a Time as This
I remember the day well. More than 4000 Lutheran educators from around the country and a host of international guests were assembled in April 2002 for the seventh triennial LEA Convocation held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, under the theme “With Jesus I Reign.” Among our special international guests, we expected Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, who at that time was the pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and head of Dar al Kalima, the Lutheran school located on a campus which was the beginning of many education, wellness, and community initiatives over the years. It was only days before our event that we got the news that Israeli troops were entering the area by force and were in the immediate vicinity of the Lutheran compound. Mitri was not only prohibited from traveling to attend the LEA Convocation, but on that day in April, he found himself, his family, and their staff surrounded by opposing forces and challenged in their Lutheran ministry that dates back 170 years.
We were able to bring Mitri in front of the Convocation assembly live via audio feed to describe what it was like at that very time to be surrounded and in danger of gunfire at any time. All members of their congregation and school families were similarly limited to staying in their homes and protecting their children. The operation of all the Lutheran schools in the Palestinian territory ceased. It would be some time before anyone could get back to in-person education.
My mind, heart, and prayers are focused today on the situation in Gaza, in Israel, and in the other Palestinian areas. The horrible acts of violence that initiated the response from Israel, the continuous bombings that are affecting the lives of millions of Israeli and Palestinian citizens, and the challenges of providing humanitarian aid in the region are reminders of the situation facing Mitri and the Lutheran ministries in Palestine back in 2002 and, in fact, on a continuous basis. Lutheran schools are once again affected by these trials and yet are also at the center of hope.
Dr. Charlie Haddad, who works with the Lutheran schools that are located in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, and Jerusalem, writes the following:
“The situation here is horrific. The war on Gaza has also been affecting the whole of the West Bank and Jerusalem very badly.
Hence, and depending on the day-to-day and hour-to-hour situation, the Palestinian Ministry of Education announces momentarily if students and staff may do in-person schooling or online schooling.
This violence … is having a dire impact on the psychological and emotional state of children as well as adults.”
Children and their families of the schools find themselves in the middle of the conflicts. Some individuals in those communities have been killed. Yet, the churches and schools in the affected regions reach out with help and hope, whether or not children are in live classes. The Lutheran schools are places of refuge and encouragement. They bring the love of Jesus to students and their families regardless of religious affiliation or socio-economic status. In the midst of chaos, the Church and its education agencies are there “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14).
Lutheran educators at the 2002 LEA Convocation took the initiative to support our colleagues and students in Palestine by making it possible for students to learn from home for the many months they were not allowed to attend school. This was, in fact, the first time that such distance learning was applied in Palestinian schools with VERY early technology. Such methods are again being used today during times of home restriction. God continues to bless the ministry of Lutheran schools in Palestine, even as He blesses each one of us in ours.
Please pray for all the people who are caught in the middle of the conflicts in Palestine and Israel, and especially for those who are making it possible to continue Lutheran education through extremely challenging times. We thank God that he has provided leadership, vision, and strength to enable so many people such as Mitri Raheb and educators to serve in these areas “for such a time as this.” We pray finally for peace in the region and in all the world.