Called to Lead The Way

Female Palestinian Lawyer to Speak at The UN For International Women’s Month

Scarlet Bishara is a judge in the Ecclesiastical Court of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and a member of Beit Jala congregation. Photo: Ben Gray/LWF

West Bank/New York – As the only female in the entire Middle East serving as a judge on the church Ecclesiastical Court which governs family matters among Christians, attorney Scarlet Bishara, a member of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), will be a panelist at the United Nations’ Sixty-Third Commission on the Status of Women (CSW63) in New York, USA on 13 March.

The UN Bureau of the Commission will meet 11 – 22 March 2019, to reaffirm statements and review future strategies that support the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) document adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979.

Bishara will speak during a side event, organized by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and the Church of Sweden, on the topic of Religious Actors Promoting Gender Equality Through Personal Status Laws in Palestine as a social protection system.

After the recognition and establishment of the Lutheran Ecclesiastical Court in 2014 by the Palestinian Authority, and inspired by the LWF Gender Justice policy, the ELCJHL established a groundbreaking amendment to its Personal Status laws in 2015.

I hear them.

Attorney Scarlet Bishara

One example of changes to the policy was an increase in the age that a girl can be allowed to marry from 14 years old to 18 years old.

Suad Younan, then head of the ELCJHL Women’s Committee and co-organizer of a 45-member seminar which launched the Arabic language Gender Policy in 2016, continues to encourage striving for equality in all religions and in the government.

“[It is important for the ELCJHL] to use its prophetic voice and effective tools to challenge ecclesiastical and socio-political fixtures,” Younan said in a 2016 LWF article.

The Personal Status Laws are cases such as divorce, inheritance, child custody, alimony, and other family matters, such as marriage age as mentioned above.

In Palestine, legal cases concerning the family are handled by the religious community.  Outside of the Islamic Sharia court, there are four Christian Ecclesiastical courts: the Catholic, the Anglican, the Orthodox and the Lutheran courts. Each of these denominations has its own law.

Bishara says that because of the culture, when a case reaches the Ecclesiastical court it is usually the last resort for a family, especially for women.

Most of the time the women come to the courts after consulting the family, their fathers, and their pastors. Bishara says that often they continue to face suffering because usually, particularly in the case of the Catholic and some Orthodox churches, they are judged by unmarried men – priests.

“As an unmarried man, it is difficult for them to understand the situation of women,” Bishara said.

She explains that because of the culture, most of the men will place the blame on the wife first, saying, ‘she didn’t cook well, and made her husband angry. She didn’t raise the children well, or she didn’t satisfy her husband, therefore, he beat her.’ This is the cultural norm that we face in the Middle East.”

As a woman, Bishara says her role as a female judge is simple… “I hear them [the women].”

She also understands the consequences of not listening to women. In the past, many were turned away and told to ‘be patient’ or to give their husband another chance, which has led to women and children being badly hurt by domestic violence.

“I am trusted with their stories because I am a woman.”

Bishara says that her male colleagues, the two ELCJHL pastors and head of the court, ELCJHL Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, respect her insights, support her position as judge, and accept her decisions in cases, fully.  She stated that Bishop Azar, installed as bishop of the ELCJHL January 2018, has given his blessings to continue the progressive work of gender equality within the church.

“She understands how other women are feeling. She explains things that the men don’t understand,” said Bishop Azar.

“She represents us in a good way. We notice the positive outcomes of what we have today with her on the court as judge.”

Bishara wrote in her paper to the UN,  “the Lutheran Family Law of 2015 provides a sustainable framework for answering questions raised about how to rectify gender imbalances in the personal status laws in Palestine that are still promulgated by religious institutions of all faith backgrounds.”

Her message to the commission is that the Lutheran Family Law can serve as a theological- and biblical-inspired model that other religious communities can use to craft their own laws guided by gender equality, including the Islamic laws.

“The religious communities in Palestine are uniquely positioned to champion the rights of women in Palestine.”

During her discussion with the CSW63, Bishara is excited about the future possibilities of the ELCJHL’s gender policy. She hopes to eventually see one ecumenical law for all Christians that upholds justice for all woman.

Overall, she believes that because of the dual court systems in the Middle East, civil and religious, it is the religious community that will be the leaders in a just system for women.

“Change in the Arab world is in the hands of the faith leaders.”

Dina Nasser, a health advisor to the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, site coordinator for the Juzoor International Training Center in the West Bank, and an expert on hospital infection control is also a panelist with Bishara during the UN CSW63 side event.

Bishop Azar Addresses ELCJHL Partners

Bishop Ibrahim Azar speaks to the ELCJHL partners on Saturday, January 13, his first full day as bishop of the church. Pictured, (left) Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Bishop Susan Johnson of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.  Photo by Ben Gray / ELCJHL

Jerusalem, 13 January 2018 – The day after the consecration of The Rev. Sani Ibrahim Azar as the fourth Palestinian Bishop of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), Bishop Azar addressed the international partner churches in attendance for the installation. The international partners of the ELCJHL include organizations, churches and councils that have entered into mutual companionship and accompaniment for the betterment of both.

Representatives from all of the 29 ecumenical partners, member organizations and companion churches attended the first address to them from the newly consecrated, Bishop Azar.

Bishop Azar casually stood in front of the group gathered in the refectory hall of The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City without a podium and without notes and greeted the longtime friends and supporters of the Palestinian Lutheran church.

In a gentle and measured manner,  Bishop Azar thanked partners for decades of missional work in the region. Peppered with humor, Bishop Azar told the partners that he would implement a new strategic plan for the next five years that would include: Spiritual care for the people of the church, financial sustainability projects, Diakonia to the community, and efforts to continue gender justice.

“Our pastors and laypeople will go where the people are, we will not sit by idly in our churches waiting for the people to come to us,” Bishop Azar said.

During the question and answer session of the address, Bishop Susan Johnson of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and the President of The Coordination Committee for Cooperation between the ELCJHL and Overseas Partners (COCOP) asked Bishop Azar which of his many names (Sani Ibrahim “Barhoum” Charlie Azar) should the partners to use.

“In writing, Bishop Ibrahim Azar and in speaking, Bishop Barhoum,” Bishop Azar humbly replied with a smile.

Photo Gallery of the Address

Celebrating 30 Years of Ministry

ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan pulls away the veil of the monument placed on site at Christmas Lutheran Church commemorating The Rev. Mitri Raheb’s 30 years at the Bethlehem church as pastor. Ben Gray/ELCJHL

Bethlehem – The Church, community, family, and friends came together today, June 9, 2017, to celebrate 30 years of faithful service to The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church by The Rev. Mitri Raheb. – The Church, community, family, and friends came together today, June 9, 2017, to celebrate 30 years of faithful service to The Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church by The Rev. Mitri Raheb.

Sunday, June 4th was the last worship service presided by Rev. Raheb at Christmas Lutheran. Rev. Raheb will remain an ELCJHL ordained minister with a concentrated focus on the Diyar Consortium. Diyar is a collaboration of college, and wellness, arts and cultural centers in Bethlehem for community enrichment.

The small Bethlehem church was packed with beloved friends, parishioners, ELCJHL clergy, representatives from the Palestinian Authority; including the Mayor of Bethlehem, Mr. Tony Salman. The ecumenical public support for Rev. Raheb’s shift from the pastor of a parish to the full-time minister and manager of Diyar was also present. In attendance was the Greek Orthodox Bishop Attalah Hanna, Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabah, the Palestinian Ambassador to the Vatican Mr. Issa Kassissieh, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Advisor on Christian Relations Mr. Ziad Bandak.

The Finland Ambassador to Palestine, Ms. Anu Saarela and German Representative to Palestine, Mr. Peter Beerwerth came to honor Rev. Raheb’s work in the church and in the global arena. The Coordination Committee for Cooperation between the ELCJHL and Overseas Partners (COCOP), representing nine international Lutheran churches and organizations, also honored the international relationship Rev. Raheb has cultivated.

Rev. Raheb was honored in sermons and speeches for his daily dedication to the church and the empowerment of his people in the face of persecution while living under 50 years of occupation. It was said that his gentle spirit, tenacity toward change, justice, equality and business sense are his marks of excellence. It was said that Rev. Raheb always uplifts others to take pride in being born in the very place where Jesus was born, and to not give up hope in the power of the cross, which he discusses in his latest publication co-authored with Dr. Suzanne Watts Henderson, The Cross in Contexts: Suffering and Redemption in Palestine.

Patriarch Emeritus Sabah, jokingly referred to Rev. Raheb as Obama Obama, making reference to Rev. Raheb’s German Media Award in 2011 given to leaders who demonstrate exceptional excellence, vision, and leadership. In May, the same award was presented to Former U.S. President Barack Obama in Berlin.

There was praise as Rev. Raheb was referred to as a gardener of the people and of the community. He is known for community redevelopment or planting new olive trees where war and poverty had demolished others. His peers were referring to his work at Diyar Consortium as a large part of that redevelopment in Bethlehem. Diyar was created in 1995 out of the destruction from the second Intifada that ravished Bethlehem economically and socially. The center offers a place to create art, learn skills, and reclaim heritage through its many community outreach programs.

This is where Rev. Raheb will consolidate his ministerial and managerial work. It was said that his ministry broadens beyond parish ministry.

He was lauded as a Palestinian Liberation Theologian who speaks unwaveringly with boldness, courage, and gentleness about the plight of the Palestinian people.

The Rev. Munther Isaac succeeds Rev. Raheb as the pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church – Bethlehem.

Arabic Language Press Release:  Arabic Language Press Release

Live Stream: https://youtu.be/Zw5xjX7QX58

Rev. Mitri’s Farewell Address:

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.elcjhl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Farewell-Address-of-the-Rev.pdf” title=”Farewell Address of the Rev”]

Bishop Younan’s Sermon:

[pdf-embedder url=”https://www.elcjhl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Bishop-Sermon-Mitri-9-June-2017.pdf” title=”Bishop Sermon Mitri 9 June 2017″]

 

 

 

Dar al-Kalima Student’s Artwork Featured on World Council of Churches Christmas Card 2016

Bishop Younan shares the World Council of Churches (WCC) Christmas card with other students of Dar al-Kalima. The WCC chose artwork from Dar al-Kalima student, Massa Zahdeh, as its 2016 Christmas card display.

First published 22 December 2016 on http://www.oikoumene.org/

Geneva/Bethlehem, 22 December As Christians worldwide await the arrival of the Holy Child in late December, children in Bethlehem have been playing a particular role in preparation of the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) Christmas message this year.

Through a collaboration between WCC Communication and Bishop Dr Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, Palestinian children from a variety of schools in Bethlehem were invited to share drawings, illustrating their own perspectives on the Christmas story.

The project formed part of a deepened collaboration for just peace in the Holy Land, and the contributions display a variety of illustrations of what this means for children in Palestine today.

“I believe communication belongs at the heart of the work and being on a pilgrimage of justice and peace together,” says WCC director of Communication Marianne Ejdersten. “We cannot give account of the reality around us, or articulate our hope, if we are not communicating this to one another and to the world.”

“The invitation to the students to share their own reflections with drawings was part of this, to reflect on the role of communication in building just and peaceful communities. Communication for peace creates chances for people to consider and value non-violent responses to potential and actual conflict,” Ejdersten adds.

Once the children’s drawings had been submitted, the WCC appointed a jury of WCC staff to select the strongest contribution. The winner, Massa Zahdeh, was a Muslim student of the Dar al-Kalima Evangelical Lutheran School in Bethlehem whose drawing now features on the cover of the official WCC Christmas Card.

The WCC found a proud and joyful principal in Dr Anton Nasser when visiting the school on 8 December. “It’s a big honour and joy for me and the students to see the drawing by Massa Zahdeh with the Christmas message from Bethlehem distributed to the churches all over the world,” Nasser said. “This is a peace initiative and inspires students to reflect on just peace in the Holy Land.”

The drawings were a source of inspiration for the WCC general secretary’s annual Christmas message, and also formed the basis for the WCC’s Christmas Video 2016.

The members of the WCC jury were: Semegnish Asfaw; Manoj Kurian; Isabel Phiri; Frederique Seidel; Pamela Valdes; Caroline Van der Veen; Ani Ghazaryan Drissi; Marc-Henri Heiniger; Stanley Noffsinger.

The Dar al-Kalima Evangelical Lutheran School in Bethlehem was founded in the year 2000. It is co-educational from kindergarten through the 12th grade, and believes in peaceful co-existence among all people, including harmony and tolerance among Palestinians, both Christians and Muslims.

Christmas 2016, A greeting from the World Council of Churches

Weihnachten 2016, Grußbotschaft vom Ökumenischen Rat der Kirchen

Noël 2016, Voeux du Conseil œcuménique des Églises

Navidad 2016, Mensaje de Navidad del Consejo Mundial de Iglesias

WCC Christmas message in Hebrew and Arabic

WCC Christmas video 2016

World Council of Churches (WCC) Delegation Visits Holy Land

Participants in a meeting with church leaders hosted at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem by Patriarch Fouad Twal. (© WCC/Marianne Ejdersten)

Participants in a meeting with church leaders hosted at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem by Patriarch Fouad Twal. (© WCC/Marianne Ejdersten)
Participants in a meeting with church leaders hosted at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem by Patriarch Fouad Twal. (© WCC/Marianne Ejdersten)

JERUSALEM – Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), as well as Dr Agnes Abuom, moderator of the WCC Central Committee, Metropolitan Dr Gennadios of Sassima and Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, vice-moderators of the Central Committee, spent time with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land during their pilgrimage to Palestine and Israel on March 7th-12th, 2015.

The delegation held worship at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem with Propst Wolfgang Schmidt, Representative of the Evangelische Kirche Deutschland (EKD) in Jerusalem and Rev. Carrie Smith, pastor of the English-Speaking Congregation in Jerusalem and Special Assistant to Bishop Munib Younan on Monday, March 9th, 2015.  At the conclusion of worship, the group went together to visit the Haram Esh-Sharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque where they met with the director of the Islamic Waqf in charge of the holy site.

As well as visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the delegation, with Bishop Munib Younan, were invited with the Heads of Churches to an official lunch at the Latin Patriarchate by Patriarch Fuod Twal.

“Our role is to give Christian witness to the world and work for justice and peace,” said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in regards to his visit to the Holy Land.

The Heads of Churches in Jerusalem, including Patriarch Theophilos III of the Greek Orthodox Church, Patriarch Fuod Twal of the Latin Church, and Bishop Munib Younan of the ELCJHL, held a discussion with the WCC delegation on the significance of ecumenism in a time of growing extremism.  In regards to the talk and the visit, Bishop Munib Younan stated, “The more we feel united, the more we can combat any kind of extremism that is existing in the Middle East.”

To read more about the WCC visit, you can visit their website.

Bishop Younan Celebrates 1,000 Years of Christianity in Sweden

Bishop Younan Celebrates 1,000 years of Christianity in Skara, Sweden

Bishop Younan Celebrates 1,000 years of Christianity in Skara, Sweden
Bishop Younan Celebrates 1,000 years of Christianity in Skara, Sweden (© Church of Sweden)

Recently, a representative of the World Council of Churches (WCC), the Swedish crown princess, Bishop Munib Younan, church leaders and thousands of others took part in the celebration of one thousand years of Christianity in Sweden held in the Diocese of Skara in southern Sweden.

The diocese, which is one of the oldest existing dioceses in Sweden, was once a diocese of the Roman Catholic Church. Since the Protestant reformation it has been part of the Church of Sweden, which is Lutheran.

The weeklong celebration included a pilgrimage of young people from five countries who walked seven days together, worship services with strong ecumenical representation from different countries, concerts, workshops and seminars. More than 12,000 participants took part in the celebrations.

During the official lunch held on Saturday, in which Crown Princess Victoria participated, Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters, WCC associate general secretary, expressed appreciation for the ecumenical attitude of the Church of Sweden:

“I was touched to see so many representatives of churches from different parts of the world. While celebrating 1000 years of Christianity in your country, you have included the concerns of churches in the Middle East that are much older and are under pressure right now,” Wolters said. “And you are willing to learn from African churches that are much younger. That is a strong sign of ecumenical solidarity and openness to ecumenical learning.”

One concrete example of ecumenical cooperation during the celebrations was a pilgrimage called “Walking to Emmaus”. It involved 45 youth between 17 and 22 years of age from Sweden, South Africa, Germany, England, and Palestine. They walked together for seven days and shared experiences of faith and life as well as a sense of the worldwide church.

The project runs from 2013-2015 and is led by the Diocese of Skara (Church of Sweden) in close cooperation with the Lutheran Church in Bavaria (ELKB), the South-East Diocese of the Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA), the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and the Church of Sweden.

The purpose of the project is to make it possible for 60 young people to take part in pilgrimages in Sweden during 2014 and in Israel and Palestine in 2015 to gain a common understanding of each other, different traditions and the worldwide church.

Participants in the closing worship included church leaders from Sweden, Finland, UK, Germany, the Middle East, as well as Archbishop emeritus Anders Wejryd of the Church of Sweden, the WCC president for Europe.

To read this article on the World Council of Churches (WCC) webpage, you can visit here.

WCC Denounces Actions Against Yazidis, Christians, and Other Minorities in Iraq

Geneva, 7 August, 2014

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

On behalf of the World Council of Churches, I am writing to solicit your prayers for the Christians, the church communities and all the suffering people on the Plain of Nineveh in northern Iraq, as well as the surrounding region. Reports in recent days have confirmed the forced displacement and indiscriminate killing of Christians, Yazidis, and members of other vulnerable religious and ethnic communities in Iraq as the result of military attacks by the “Islamic State”, a group formerly known as the “Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham” (ISIS).

I have communicated with the Secretary General of the United Nations, Mr Ban Ki Moon, urging him to deploy all efforts to bring a halt to the violence in Iraq and to ensure the physical protection of all people there and support for their human rights including the right to religious liberty. Now I ask for your support, in prayer and advocacy. Please contact your government officials requesting them to:

– Instruct their UN ambassadors to bring the plight of all vulnerable people and communities in Iraq to the Security Council for immediate protective actions.
– Obtain from the UN Security Council a binding resolution that ensures the immediate safe return of all those who were obliged to flee their homes and properties.
– Double their humanitarian efforts now, including urgent aid for the internally displaced and the refugees in neighbouring countries.

Please do also notify us of your action so that we can inform the churches in Iraq and follow-up on the issue at the United Nations.

In the region that is now Iraq, Christianity took root in the earliest decades of the Christian church, and it is there that some of the most faithful of our communities have flourished to this day. These are the brothers and sisters who are under threat now.

The Chaldean Patriarch of Babylon, Louis Raphael Sako, wrote earlier today that ISIS militants conducted a mortar assault last night that has driven as many as 100,000 Christians from their homes and villages, most fleeing on foot towards Kurdish cities where they hope to take refuge. Those fleeing include the sick and wounded the elderly, infants and pregnant women. The patriarch tells us that there is an urgent need for water, food and shelter.

Churches and property belonging to religious communities are being desecrated and destroyed by ISIS, and ancient manuscripts have been burned as an assault on the people’s religious beliefs. According to the Chaldean archbishop of Kirkuk and Sulaimaniyah, Joseph Thomas, whole towns in northern Iraq have been emptied of their populations.

Let us join in prayer and unite in action to restore these shattered communities, and to aid their people.

In the love and service of Jesus Christ,
Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri
Associate General Secretary for Public Witness and Diakonia and
Acting General Secretary

To read the letter in its original format, you can download it here.  (PDF)

World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel

World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel

World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel

The Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF), an international, inter-church advocacy initiative for peace in Israel and Palestine, is sponsoring the World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel from September 22nd to September 28th, 2013 for a week of advocacy and action in support of an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine and a just peace for all in Palestine and Israel. Congregations and individuals around the globe who share the hope of justice shall unite during the week to take peaceful actions, together, to create a common international public witness.

The theme of the week in 2013 is: “Jerusalem, the city of justice and peace.”

To learn more about what you can do, you can visit the World Council of Churches page or the PIEF page for suggestions.

WCC: Arab Christians Have Built Hope in Hopeless Situations

Bishop Munib Younan“We do not live in the mentality of the ghetto, nor in the mentality of a minority complex, nor do we live as dhimmi (dependent) people,” said Bishop Dr Munib A. Younan. “We have always been, as Arab Christians, building our societies, loyal to our countries and nationalities, bringing hope in hopeless situations.”

A Palestinian Christian from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, Younan was speaking at the joint World Council of Churches and Middle East Council of Churches conference on the Christian presence and witness in the Middle East, on 22 May in Beirut, Lebanon.

In his speech, Younan said that the process of reform continues to be at the heart of every Arab and Middle Eastern Christian. Their hopes, he said, will not end until they see the Middle East transformed through the values that Arab Christians cherish.

He particularly stressed a stronger engagement between Christians and Muslims. “Dialogue is important in some contexts, but we need full engagement. We need engagement with all monotheistic faiths, especially Muslims,” he said.

Continue reading “WCC: Arab Christians Have Built Hope in Hopeless Situations”