Almost a lie in this morning as we didn’t have to leave until 9:30 although the air conditioning breaking in our bedroom had meant that I hadn’t had the most restful of nights….
Loay (pronounced ‘Lou-eye’) was able to drop us quite close to the Christmas Lutheran Church where we attended the morning, Arabic, service. Being early, we took the opportunity to visit a money changer and a bit of haggling by Lizzie got a rate with which those who needed to change money were happy.
The Lutheran church in Bethlehem is the oldest Protestant church in the Holy Land and it was good to meet Tony (Deputy Head teacher of the school we visited on Day 2) again – he is an Elder of the church. The service had been printed in English, with phonetic spelling of the Arabic responses and hymns so we could join in if we wanted to. Lizzie and I were delighted that one of the hymns was one which we knew from Youth4Hope camps. Brian had, quite rightly, decided to ‘collar-up’ for the service so none of us felt a great deal of sympathy when he was, in turn, collared to assist in the leading of the service. The boy done good.
After coffee following the service we wandered down to Manger Square for some lunch at the Square Restaurant and to say ‘Goodbye and Thank You’ to Jack Giacaman who had so kindly been our guide, host and taxi driver over the last 2 days.
Leaving Bethlehem, we took the Fire Road to Bethany, the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Visiting the Church of Lazarus (another Barluzzi design) a few of us walked up the hill to visit the tomb of Lazarus. Only Ian was prepared to take the risk in climbing all the way into the tomb – I volunteered to stay out to take photos (I’m a martyr to my blog!)
Leaving the church, we took the bus the short distance to the separation wall – we had been on the other side of the wall at Abu Dis but knew that, although we were only 50 yards from where we had stood 2 days ago, that 50 yards had now stretched to a 15 kilometre journey. We next stopped at the Bethany Community of the Resurrection of Christ – a Russian Ecclesiastical Mission (and a project of the Convent of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem) There we met with Sr. Martha – the Head Teacher of the school offered by the community to local children, some of whom, from families with particular problems, are boarders.
Sr. Martha was a wonderful speaker full of humility, humanity and, most of all, humour. She was candid about the issues she faces as Principal of the school – and how she hated the name ‘Martha’! Sadly for her, it is a name which comes with the Head Teacher’s post and she has had to get used to it…
I think we could have listened to her all day but she, and we, had places to go. We left her, all smiling at the memory of meeting such a remarkable young woman but were brought back to earth as we took a short detour to visit Ma’ale Adummin (an Israeli settlement on the West Bank) and were able to see for ourselves the inequalities and iniquities caused by the settlements as the poor roads, little water and run down housing of Bethany gave way to lush avenues, green spaces and plush housing units of the settlement just over the road.
Heading down to Jericho, the group experienced the incredible heat as we stopped to view St George’s Monastery in Wadi Qelt before moving on to Tel Jericho – the oldest city in the world, so the claim goes. A look at the excavations, followed by an ice cream was the prelude to our arrival at the air conditioned comfort of the Jericho Resort Hotel, complete with swimming pool… A feature that might well be visited after dinner!