Jerry Klein (JK)
Gene Young (GY)
Elizabeth Sanders (ES)
Marthame Sanders (MS)
JK: Good morning and welcome to “Catholic Views.” I’m Jerry Klein. This morning on the program, we’re going to talk by long-distance to Elizabeth and Marthame Sanders who are volunteers, missionaries in the Holy Land. They’ve been on the program before and I think you’ll be inspired by the message that they deliver as they prepare to wind up their time as missionaries there in the Holy Land and return to the United States.
JK: This morning on “Catholic Views,” we are joined by very long-distance. Elizabeth and Marthame Sanders, who are missionaries, have been working in the parish of Zababdeh and the school in Zababdeh in the Holy Land. You have been there for, I think, boy, about three and a half years, and your time now is coming to an end. I can only imagine that your feelings are probably all over the place.
MS: That's a good way to put it. A lot of mixed emotions going on right now. We're sad to leave this place. We're sad to leave our friends and the people who really welcomed us into this village and made us feel a part of it. But it's also comforting to know we'll be back among our family, and also that we'll be in a situation that's a lot more politically stable and economically stable and we'll be able to come and go as we want to.
JK: I want to go back just for a second and, if you would, maybe each of you could say something, or, I'm not sure who wants to start. How did you get there in the first place?
MS: This came out of a call that started back in the early nineties. I took a trip, a youth trip, here through the Presbyterian Church. And it was becoming aware first of the political realities of this place, and then becoming more and more familiar with the situation facing our brothers and sisters in Christ here in the land of Christ's birth. And it was really a call to follow in the footsteps of St. Paul, who would bring delegations of Western Christians to the East and called for us to support the "saints in Jerusalem," as he calls them, our ancestors, as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ. And so that led to us coming to the village here in Zababdeh three and a half years ago.
JK: Remarkable journey.
ES: Absolutely. It's been a fantastic experience, and such a joy and a privilege and a blessing to be among our brothers and sisters in Christ in this land, in the land of the birth of the Church. It's really been one of the most fantastic experiences of our lives.
JK: We know that you have many folks back in the United States that have been following your time there through your website, and I should mention that, because if people have not had a chance to look at that, it is a great record of what has gone on in the area in the last three and a half years. It's been helpful to me as I've followed the things that you have sent back home to have a better perspective, a different kind of perspective perhaps, than one might get when one watched the news. And I should mention that there are a couple of different sites that you use, but I think the easiest is probably the "come.to/zababdeh," is that right?
MS: Actually, the new site is probably the easier one, and that has a link to the old site.
MS: And that's saltfilms, one word, .net.
JK: saltfilm.net. All right.
MS: films, plural.
JK: plural. OK. Get the "s" on there, folks, so you can check that out. And I think, now you have on there pretty much everything that you've done over the time. Is that right?
MS: Yeah, it's true. I mean, it was an amazing time to come and serve overseas when the internet technology was in place in practically every household in America. And so, we had this chance to share our lives on a very personal and very daily basis. And it initially started as just a chance to connect with our families and also to share a little more of the realities faced by Palestinian Christians in Zababdeh and in the surrounding area, particularly in the northern West Bank. And then, as the political realities grew more interesting to people, and we could share how those were affecting not the political situation, but the daily lives of people as they try and come and go to work, try and come and go to school, try and come and go to the hospital, try and leave their homes, and so on and so forth, it was a way to share more of that. And we have been more and more convinced through our time here that there is a need for Western Christians to listen to the voices of the Christians in the Middle East.
ES: And that really informs the most recent project that we've been working on which is a documentary film about the lives of Christians in the northern West Bank. And that film is Salt of the Earth. That's the title of the film, consequently, saltfilms.net is the website where people can find out more information about it, as well as see clips from it. And the final product will have nine different people living in towns from Nablus, Jenin, of course Zababdeh, Jalame and Tubas, places where Christian communities still survive in the northern West Bank.
JK: I was struck by, you use some of the quotes from some of the folks that are going to be in that film in one of the, I think, actually, your Advent greeting that you sent out. And they're all, you know, quite striking. But two, in particular, that really caught my eye, was from Yvonne, who is a grandmother, and she wrote, or probably says in the film, I suspect:
|This land we're living in it is the best land in the world because it is holy. Christ was born here, lived here, died here, and rose here. He came to forgive our sins. We have to believe that God is here. These days, we are living – but we are not living. We can't do anything here.|
And it goes on. If that's the kind of message that people are going to get, it's a very powerful way to understand Advent. Even, I think, and, of course, on a much deeper level, what's going on in those people's lives every day.
MS: It's really, I think, that we have gotten away from the importance, and I've seen this in American Christianity, we've gotten away from the importance of incarnation and what that means. The incarnation of God as Man in Christ means that we live our lives with a Creator who is empathetic and sympathetic and compassionate and knows what we are feeling and facing. The incarnate body of Christ here in the land of Christ's birth is a shrinking reality, and it is an evaporating reality. People are leaving, people are traveling, and they are probably down to less than two percent. What that means for worldwide Christianity when the holy places become museums is a question that I'm not interested in asking, or hoping not to face. And so what we have been trying to do is trying to share these stories of these communities, what they face, both their spiritual lives, their economic situation, the historical situation, coming from Catholic, and Orthodox, and Protestant backgrounds, in all of these areas, and their realities so that we can see what it is that the witnesses to Christ's birth are facing in the land of that birth.
JK: You know, we try to make that as real as we can for people, and yet it's hard to grasp. I think we live our daily lives, and as you have said, we forget about so many things. We forget about incarnation, we forget about our brother and sister Christians who are living through this incredible turmoil that, if we lived through, we, I don't know, it'd be interesting to see how we would survive that.
ES: Well, I think one of the most powerful things that many of the people said that we've talked to, not just those in the film, is, "tell them we're here, and come visit." As Sylvia, a young college student, says, you know, "come see how Christmas is in the land of Christmas." And while many people feel that now is not perhaps the most opportune time to come visit, I think, actually, it's one of the most important times to come, to show solidarity with brothers and sisters in Christ, to really see with your own eyes, and hear with your own ears, the situation. It's really transformational. We've seen it transform the perspectives and hearts of people who have come in this time, in the midst of this Intifada. We remember the group that came from the Diocese of Sioux Falls the first summer we were here in August, a very large group. And we could see in the folks who came that this visit to this town was really a very moving and transformational experience and I would encourage people to consider it. People have come during this Intifada, and continue to come. Not very many, and we would encourage more to do so, to really get a sense, a very personal sense, of how the situation is for their brothers and sisters in Christ here.
JK: Absolutely, and we've tried in a whole variety of ways to keep people in touch with Zababdeh, because we've kind of adopted it as a sister parish to our Diocese. We continue to send some support to them. And for us, to try and put a face on what it is that people are going through. The support that some have given to the children, who are going to school, I think, where you taught, Elizabeth.
ES: Yes, absolutely. And that support has been deeply felt at this time when so many people can't afford to pay school tuitions. Many people have been out of work for three years now, and the situation is extremely difficult for them. And support from the Diocese and from Christians around the world to maintain the schools and keep those kids in class and keep them in these Christian schools has been both a very practical and a very spiritual support for these communities.
JK: We talked a little bit about Advent, the fact that this is really a season of hope, it's a season of trying to understand the incarnation, as you said. There are some things that are, I think, hopeful. Not long ago, in the last couple of weeks, a whole raft of religious leaders, representing in the United States, the largest Christian, Jewish, and Muslim groups, came together at the same place and urged the Bush Administration to really take a more active and determined effort to forge peace between Israel and Palestinians. While there have been joint statements before, I don't know that there have been any with the kind of list of leaders that existed this time. To me, that's hopeful, that maybe that message that you've been trying to get people to understand is getting through.
MS: Well, I certainly hope so. And you mentioned, we are wrapping up, so we are in a season of Advent and waiting ourselves. We are finishing up, we are packing, we have boxes all over the apartment right now with stuff that's going to be shipped back to the States, we're continuing work on this film project, and we're beginning to say our goodbyes to this place and to these people. And a couple of days after Christmas, we will be heading back to the States. And in front of us are six months of traveling, and touring, and speaking about the situation, and showing the film, and hopefully finishing up the film project, to continue this voice that…I think we can often get bogged down in the semantics of political arguments and forget that the most important thing that we, particularly as Christians, need to understand is that any solution needs to take as its basis the basic needs of people and their basic comforts. And those are the solutions that will work. It's not those that engage in empty phraseology. It's those that really get down to, we can say, an incarnate passion for humanity. And I think, in this place, while it's gotten a lot of attention over the years, is no different than any other place in the need for that kind of passion.
ES: And I'd add that just as the leaders meeting and urging Bush to really work towards that incarnational peace, those leaders came from Jewish, and Christian, and Muslim backgrounds, we have seen that here on the ground as well, that people of faith from many different backgrounds do work towards the same goal. And I think, often too easily in America, it's these issues around the Holy Land can be viewed as a battle of religions. However, we have seen people working towards peace, working towards a just resolution, towards a lifting of the Occupation, people from Jewish, and Muslim, and Christian backgrounds working together. And I would urge people to know that there are, this is, there is an interfaith community out there that is really working towards a just solution.
JK: You know, in some ways I think, as Americans, we really look for the simple solution, sometimes maybe too simple of a solution. We try to categorize: either you're good or you're bad, you're on the right side or the wrong side. And, you know, this is just too complex of a situation to make it that simple. That just doesn't work.
MS: I think that's right, and I think there's just the complexity of humanity. I mean, humanity is created in the image of God, but we are sinful beings. And so, you will find that, regardless of people's confessional backgrounds, you will find that that's the case. And so to say, you know, that one group of people is doing the right thing and another group of people isn't doing the right thing is every bit as racist as it is contrary to what we believe about humanity and what we believe about divinity. And I think it's the complexities of the issues that we really need to struggle with. And I also think, I mean, I see that here in the people here, that with any solution that is offered, people remain hopeful. And it may be the Oslo process, it may be this new Geneva Accord, it may be the Madrid Conference, it may be UN Resolutions, it may be any number of things, the Road Map, because they are so desperate, is probably the right word, desperate to get out of the situation in which their lives are turned upside down in a way which we can begin to understand.
JK: Well, I'm very grateful for the time that you have spent there, for the ways that you have kept us informed about what has gone on. I've appreciated the opportunities we've had, I think, on several occasions now, to have you on the radio program, obviously, and some stories that we've written in our Diocesan newspaper as well to keep people, to keep this issue in front of people so that we don't forget about the Christian community there that has really been caught in the middle in so many different ways. And I really encourage people to go to that website and stay in touch with your projects now as you come back to the United States and continue to share the message. Why don't you, again give us that website, and we'll try and stay in touch.
ES: Absolutely. The website is www.saltfilms.net. And we certainly hope that the Diocese will continue to follow, and keep in touch with, and maintain relations with the parish in Zababdeh. And I believe, hopefully next month you'll having an interview with Fr. Aktham Hijazin, I hope, the priest in this parish, who's very eager to maintain contact with you and share with you.
JK: I'm sure we will do that. And he will continue that link for us so that we do stay in touch with the folks in Zababdeh and we continue to hear how things are progressing. Good luck to you both as you come back to the United States. Again, I'm sure it's bittersweet. But we're looking forward to having you back in the country, too.
MS: Thanks, Jerry.
ES: Thank you.
JK: That's Elizabeth and Marthame Sanders, missionaries who have been working in the Holy Land for the last three and a half years, returning to the United States now just after Christmas. But do stay in touch with their project through their website. Thank you very much. I always enjoy talking to the Sanders. I'm going to kind of miss having them on site over there.
GY: They're amazing. They're an amazing couple. They've done a lot of great work there, but they are getting ready to come back to the United States.
JK: You've had a chance to talk to them, too, haven't you?
GY: I did. I've talked to them a couple of times. Most of the time I communicate with them is through email, which is an amazing thing, too. But I never get tired of hearing their experiences in bring the Word to the people of the Middle East.
JK: Yeah. Exactly right. It's exciting that some of the work that they're doing now which, of course, will continue. They're working on that documentary film which they mentioned. And I think it'll be interesting to stay in touch with how that is progressing. saltfilms.net is the website, again, for folks that want to kind of stay in touch with that, and also they're going to be around the country. I think they have a schedule of where they're going to be when on that website as well. So people could check that out.
GY: Maybe we'll get to see them close by here.
JK: We might, if we're lucky.
GY: We hope.
JK: Very good. That's our time for "Catholic Views" this week. Our thanks to all who helped make the program possible each and every week. I'm Jerry Klein. We'll be back next Sunday.