Oldest Supporter Continues 164-Year-Old Partnership

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The Jerusalem Society of the Berlin Mission and founder of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and its oldest supporter, met on 18 November 2016 at Abraham’s Herberge in Beit Jala with ELCJHL leadership to discuss mutuality, friendship, best practices and future cooperation.

“What do we need? We need trust and friendship. If there is no trust and friendship among us then we have to ask what is our core?” Bishop Munib Younan said.

In attendance were: Bishop Younan, ELCJHL Pastors Ibrahim Azar, Imad Haddad, Samer Azar, Saliba Rishmawi, Evangelical Lutheran Schools Curriculum Director Salameh Bishara, ELCJHL Accountant Adeeb Mreib, ELCJHL Secretary Bassem Thabet, Jerusalem Society chairman Bishop Hans-Jürgen Abromeit, former Redeemer Lutheran Church Jerusalem Propst Dr. Johannes Friedrich, and several board members.

Three ELCJHL pastors were not able to attend due to travel schedules.

The board received updates from ELCJHL congregations, the Evangelical Lutheran Schools, and an update on the vision of the Jerusalem Society.

The Jerusalem Society was founded in Berlin in 1852 and began its work as a development organization in the Holy Land. In 1959 the work of the Jerusalem Society gave rise to the autonomous Arab Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Jordan (ELCJ) which was renamed Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) in 2005.

“The foundation of the Jerusalemsverein (The Jerusalem Society) was not that protestant Christianity in Germany wanted to bring something to Palestine, but the realization that there was an immense amount to be received there,” Bishop Chairman Abromeit wrote in his mission and vision document.

The dialogue between the two partners addressed the inherent difficulty of missional relationships. Historically, as mentioned in Abromeit’s paper, missionaries came to bring the Gospel to the Holy Land and convert Muslims and Jews.

Conversion and bringing the Gospel was not the fundamental objective of The Jerusalem Society founder Friedrich Adolph Strauss, but conversely it was to help develop the already spiritually rich heritage of Jerusalem Arabs.

However, the board recognized that even with a unique approach of the “development” of existing Christians in the region, struggles to maintain mutual, thoughtful relationships continue presently.

“Our common task is to prove ourselves today in this partnership and to fill it again, and again with life,” Abromeit wrote.

The Jerusalem Society board member Dr. Friedrich asked ELCJHL leaders frankly, “We hear you want more help and support but what kind of support do you want?”

Bishop Younan responded,

“You have to consult with us. You must find interest in the locals. Ask how can we support the congregation. It’s good to support big projects but what about the local congregation.”

“Any help to the churches is help for the whole society. This is what our Muslim friends tell us,” Bishop Younan said.

Pastor Azar (Jordan) commented,

“We need partnership because Amman is a good outreach for the ELCJHL in Jordan as well as the Arab world. We would like to focus internally on our congregations; how to stand on our own. How do we help our congregation members find their identity? Why are we Lutherans? Why are we here and what is our mission?”

Pastor Azar (Jerusalem) added,

“Our work is to visit people and hear their concerns. As pastors it is to be with the people. The big challenge is how can I have the time to be with people in their situation.”

“How can you help me not because I need money, but because I am a pastor with these concerns. We need spiritual assistance,” he said.

One board member commented that sometimes the financial problems outweigh the spiritual. How can we support in a way that the spiritual and financial do not fight each other?

Ultimately, the two organizations agreed that they have trust and friendship and that is what will direct them to accompany and support one another for many more years — possibly another century.

“The maturity of the relationship between Palestinian Christianity and its religious faiths in Germany is reflected in the quality of the cooperation between the Jerusalemsverein (Jerusalem Society), the Berlin Mission and the ELCJHL,” Chairman Bishop Abromeit wrote.

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