It's hard to believe that 6 weeks have already passed and I am headed back to Bellingham.The highlight of my time here has been the people. A chief reason for my visit has been to encourage and support the Christian population in the Holy Land, which is now down to 2%. I'd like to share a little bit of the life here in my last post.
Family is huge here. Most people live in the same building with their extended family members. For example, grandparents are on the first floor, brother above with his family, then sister, uncle, etc. When someone has a baby or their child gets engaged, they bring special desserts to their co-workers to celebrate. Parents meet w/ parents of a potential spouse at the very beginning of a courtship to make sure all are compatible. There's little loneliness but also little privacy. Overall, their lives seem rich with family love and support.
With the significance of families here, schools seem to be more a major employer and in the forefront of daily life. The Christian private schools have been operating here for hundreds of years and also educate Muslims and those of other religions. I found that people educated at the private Christian schools knew better English and seemed to have a superior education to those that attended the public schools.
Right now something big is happening for them and they can use our prayers. The funding for the private schools comes partly from the Israeli government and partly from tuition paid by parents/families. The government funds the Jewish private school operations at 100%. The Christian school operation funds have been shrinking and are going to be at a record low (29%) this year. The government has also put a cap on how much tuition families can pay, squeezing the school budgets and threatening their existence.
Some say that the Christians are being shoved out because a Jewish/Muslim religious conflict is desired over the status quo. The Christian population is less than 2% here now and seems to be declining as they immigrate to Canada and the West. The Christian private schools have taken a bold move and have been on strike since September 1st, when this school year was scheduled to begin. They're asking for funding equal to what the Jewish private schools receive. 11,000 people protested outside the prime minister's office in Jerusalem recently and protests continue in Nazareth. May some agreement be found soon! [UPDATE: An agreement was reached on September 27th and school is in session. Thanks be to God.]
This unique land contains palm trees next to pine trees. Outside my flat are lime trees, grape vines, pomegranate trees, olive trees, rosemary, lavender, thyme/hyssop, ...seemingly wild and prolific even in the most dry and hot part of summer.
My time was primarily with the Palestinian Christians whose main language is Arabic. Sometimes they turn to speak to me and forget to switch to English. They quickly realize it, apologize, and translate. Pretty amazing. Most people I know here speak at least 2 languages--some 4 or 5 (French, Russian, etc.). They answer the phone in English "hello," then converse in Arabic and end with "bye bye." The road signs are in 3 languages, Hebrew, Arabic and English. I enjoyed taking some Arabic lessons and having another bridge to my friends and coworkers.
The photos are of how my milk comes in a plastic bag, a beautiful old arch I pass when walking downtown to the Basilica, the first fresh figs I've had, and examples of the buildings that are probably each occupied by a family with the different core family members on each floor.
The last photo is a special farewell breakfast I had with Christine (in the middle) and Jane, the amazing ladies that run SERVE Nazareth. Christine is from England and Jane is from Nebraska. They wear many hats and do it all well, with kindness and a smile. I am grateful to them for the opportunity to be here and for taking such good care of me.