Although Christians on the West Bank enjoy relative freedom to practice their faith under the current Palestinian Authority, they are a small minority (about one per cent of the population). Often Palestinian Christians express that they feel forgotten. They feel that many Christians worldwide don’t realise that they have brothers and sisters living in the Palestinian Territories.
Open Doors recently met with some of these brothers and sisters and asked the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian in Bethlehem?” Their photo blog is republished here, with permission.
Mary Musallam (25), Mathematics Teacher in Terra Sancta High School & Choir Director of St. Catherine Church
“Bethlehem is a city that welcomes visitors from different nationalities and religions every day, it is truly a blessing to be living here as a Christian. I believe that it is my responsibility to live my faith through my actions of loving, caring, and serving others, with no need of asking who they are and what they believe in. That is my way of spreading the light of hope in the midst of all this darkness. I am thankful with all my heart for what God has blessed me with, especially with music. It is my simple way to convey His grace and love in playing music and singing in the services. This helps to draw others closer to God. He works miracles day by day because He is good!”
Joyce and Priscella Musallam (twins aged 10), both are students at Dar Al Kalimeh School
“We are so happy to be Christians from Bethlehem. On Sunday we go to church and pray. We also go to a Sunday school and learn about Jesus. We learn about the crucifixion and how Jesus calmed the wind when he was with his disciples on the sea. Jesus loves us and we love him too and we are happy we were born where He was born.”
Rami Khader (32), Children & Youth Manager at Diyar Academy
“To be a Christian means to me the connection between the cultural and the religious heritage in this country that is the cradle of Christianity. However, I sometimes fear this heritage soon will only be related to stones, since the Christian presence in this place might disappear due to Christian immigration for economic and political reasons. Being a Christian for me is an opportunity to work not only on religious awareness, but also on cultural education that is based on Jesus’ teachings. My generation was born in the Intifada, where there was war and no peace. But the Bible tells us to continuously seek for peace, and to help others and to work for a better community.”
Bishop Muneeb Younan (65), Evangelical Lutheran Church Bishop of Palestine and Jordan, President of the Lutheran World Federation
“To be a Christian near the place where Jesus was born and the place where he was crucified and raised from the dead is an honor. It is also a call; a call for us to be an integral part of our society, a call for us to stay steadfast in our country, a call for us to witness to the values of Christianity and to the values of peace, justice, and reconciliation, as well as living together in this country. Witnessing to our Lord is the one value that will continue to call us to be living witnesses in the Holy Land and to be instruments of peace, brokers of justice, initiators of dialogue, ministers of reconciliation, and apostles of love.”
Mary Jacob (69), volunteer for more than 17 years with the Antonian Charitable Society of Bethlehem, a rest home that cares for 28 elderly women
“I love to help the sisters in this charitable society. I volunteer to help here. The atmosphere is very nice. Nurses here kneel down to cut the nails of the elderly women. They are very humble as they are following the model of Jesus. Jesus did the same as he humbly washed his disciples feet. I love Bethlehem greatly and I thank God that I’m living here. I was named after Mary, who gave birth to her Child Jesus in Bethlehem. As Christians we are encouraged by Jesus and we are ready to bear suffering, because we know we are depending on Him.
Fida Salsa (38), Pharmacist
“Every person has a message wherever he or she was born. It’s not an accident that I was born in Bethlehem. I have a message which is simple: to be a witness for Jesus in my daily life activities. This can be done through caring about my patients and the customers of the pharmacy. To offer sincere condolence to those who are sick, to show people that I care about them.”
Jeries Thaljieh (15), student at Terra Sancta Boys School.
“Despite the difficulty of being a child living with blindness, I have strength and courage to achieve my dreams and be a successful person in music. I’m lucky to be born in the place where Jesus was born. It’s such a privilege to live in this holy land. I have a message of love and peace that I would like to give to people, as this is the message of our Lord. I wish and ask all Christian Palestinians to stay in their country and to convey the message of peace to the world.”
Grace Zoughbi (28), Lecturer and Head of the Biblical Department at Bethlehem Bible College.
“I was born and raised in the little town of Bethlehem. It is a place where my hopes, dreams and adventures flourish. I love looking at its hills and I love walking in its ancient streets. I am grateful that God called me to be a witness for Him in the very place where He was born, where God dwells among His people. I love working at my office and I love teaching, I have been taught to do everything for the glory of God. Yes, I do wish we had more freedom of movement in my hometown, I do wish there were less challenges, but in all these things Christ‘s love, grace, peace and joy gives me strength for today, hope for tomorrow and an opportunity to grow and serve as I keep my eyes focused on Him.”
George Abu Hamameh (67), Electrical Mechanic.
“It’s a privilege to be a Christian from Bethlehem. I belong to this country that is the country of our savior Jesus Christ. We love to cooperate and share living with others regardless of their religion because we all are Palestinians living in the same country. Jesus asked us to love and accept each other despite any differences.”