We set off on our two coaches to see two of the projects that we are supporting through the Bishop’s Lent Call this year.  We were not able to visit the third project in the Holy Land, the Al Ahli Arab Hospital as it is in Gaza City and we cannot get there.  You can read something more about this hospital on our Lent Call blog which you can find at southwarklentcall.com

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The ‘Disciples’ on the green coach went to Jeel al Amal – a residential school in Bethany for boys who are orphaned or unable to live with their families because of the difficulties that the family faces.   The boys are from Bethsaida, Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem and all over the West Bank and are some of the most difficult cases in Palestine. Some of them lived on the streets and some had been badly beaten by their family or others with whom they came into contact. Others were starving, having not eaten properly for some time.

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The school is very unusual as boys and girls both attend until Grade 6  and the girls then go off to other schools.  The girls do not board at the school but elsewhere with their families if they can although they can be accommodated in a separate house in Bethany.

The running costs of the home are not funded by any governmental authority despite the school being widely accredited. The salary bill of $20,000 per month for the 33 staff employed by the school and the home is a huge outlay for an organisation in Palestine. That is without the cost of food and medical bills. In some months Jeel Al Amal has been unable to pay the pharmacy bills and the electricity has nearly been cut off.

Janet Fitt and Jill Howard are two of the Pilgrims who visited Jeel Al Amal. Jill is from Rochester Diocese and knows Janet because they have adjacent beach huts in Minnis Bay, Birchington, Kent. They write:

‘Our visit to Jeel Al Amal which translates as “Generation of Hope” was every bit as inspirational as we had heard – and more.   The vision of Basil an Alice Sahhar to fill the need of disadvantaged, abused and abandoned children was amazing.  The aura of love permeated the whole building and shone in the children’s animated and enthusiastic faces.  As our guide said –“We all cry and laugh in the same language.” On the practical side of the project we viewed the new kitchen and the ongoing building of a new wing for severely disturbed youngsters.  It was a privilege to glimpse the work of these dedicated and loving people.’

The ‘Pilgrims’ on the red coach went to the Al Shurooq School for the blind and visually impaired in Bethlehem.  This school has at times had some difficulties but is now flourishing with a principal, Ruba Mukarke, who is determined to change the way in which the school operates in order to ensure that the children are as included into society as possible as they go off to mainstream high schools and then onto the university in Bethlehem.  The students are all Muslim but the school which provides this service are Christian.  In this way the Church helps provide for the whole community.

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Fifteen teachers run the school which caters for 33 children. There are also five students attending the university in Bethlehem who stay at the centre during term time. Twenty three children stay in the school and others come in each day from surrounding areas. Many of those who stay also go home by taxi on Friday evening. The aim of the school is to enable the pupils to become full and useful members of society and so it is important to keep up to date with equipment and advances in technology which allow those with visual impairment to care for themselves and to read and write.

You can find out more about Al Shurooq on the Lent Call blog at southwarklentcall.com

After the projects the coaches made their way from Bethany and Bethlehem to meet at Beit Sahour: the Shepherd’s Fields.  Here we were able to take part in a Eucharist at which Andrew Nunn presided and preached and it was really moving to look out over the fields where the shepherds would have been looking after their sheep and to imagine there shock when they saw a host of heavenly angels and even more so when they realised that they had a message for them and set off to see the baby Jesus.

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The altar space is very special there as facing the altar allows a view out over the fields whilst taking part in the service.  It is truly wonderful.  But, no matter how many times I do this service there and no matter how much I expect it I never quite get over the shock of singing ‘While shepherds watched their flocks’ and ‘O come, all ye faithful’ – Andrew especially asked for the descant and we managed it very well!

During his sermon the Dean asked us which eyes we look at the Gospels through: those of Christmas or the eyes of redemption.  He says that he has to confess that he is a Christmas boy he can’t help but think that without the birth there would not be any more of the story to celebrate.  He commented that it is important that we do the visit is to projects as we can see those who look after the children’s everyday needs.  Those who we met who are caring for the children are truly incarnational.

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He said, ‘The gift of God was for all people; that was the song of the angels above the skies.  Here we have a God who shares what it means to be you, to be me or the children we have seen today. Our sacramental life is about taking physical things and realising that these are the way that the grace of God flows into our lives and the way we live is in response to the annunciation, birth, death and raising to give us life.  Ordinary men ran and saw God in that cradle and shared that news with everyone.’

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After the Eucharist we made our way back to the coaches and to the Shepherd’s Tent restaurant for lunch.