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April 20, 2003

Zababdeh Children on Palm Sunday
Easter Greetings to those of you who celebrating this morning.  Today is Palm Sunday here in Zababdeh, as the three families of the church Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant celebrate the major feasts together.  In the past, busses would leave from the village for Jerusalem to take part in the grand procession following Christ's footsteps from the Mount of Olives into the Old City.  For the last three years, the closures and travel restrictions have made that tradition impossible.  So the ecumenical precession around the village would have to represent the walk to Jerusalem.

The scouts took the lead, with drums and bugles, closely followed by the children in their best outfits carrying elaborately-decorated palms, some taller than their bearers.  The rest of us followed behind, singing hymns and reading Scripture as we stopped at each of the churches, at which the congregations parted ways and continued their worship inside.

It was particularly wonderful for us to be here this year, since it will be our last Easter Season in Zababdeh.  This was also true because we weren't sure if we'd be able to share in it at all.

Palm Sunday Procession
On the night of March 19th, with war on Iraq an imminent reality, our superiors sent instructions for us to leave.  With heavy hearts, we packed our bags and made our plans for our - hopefully - temporary departure to Cyprus.  The next morning, we went to the school assembly to say our farewells.  Elizabeth promised not to cry, because it would upset the children too much.  Marthame said a few words about why we were leaving, while Elizabeth told each of her classes individually how much she would miss them.  It was Marthame who had to remember not to cry at that point.  We told everyone that we hoped our absence would be brief, and we'd see them again very soon.  Most were interpreting our departure as permanent, however, assuming we were simply trying to soften the blow.

After assembly, Elizabeth was mobbed by weeping and distressed seventh and eighth graders, asking her to write a message in their autograph books, trading emails, giving her farewell gifts (hastily purchased at nearby shops).  The whole thing was a whirlwind - it was moving, sweet, overwhelming.  We, too, hoped that this wasn't the final goodbye, and wondered how much harder that one will be.  After trying to get our schoolwork in order , and saying farewell to teachers and staff, we went home to await our taxi.

While in Cyprus, we felt like teething babies.  The gnawing pain of our absence from Zababdeh was constant, numbing.  We distracted ourselves with the beautiful scenery, the fascinating history, the variety of restaurants, all like bright shiny objects in front of our eyes.
Marthame and Fr. Firas, Melkite priest
It worked, but as soon as there was nothing to divert, our minds came back here.  Daily text messages and emails with the village allowed us to encourage and be encouraged by our friends.  This ZNN (Zababdeh News Network) kept us updated.  School was closed one day in anticipation of war-related problems, the Jenin students' attendance was spotty from day to day due to closures - all in all, things were "normal," except for the dusting of snow.  Two weeks after leaving, we received clearance to return.  We were elated.

Our welcome back was as warm as our departure.  As we went around to visit with friends, everyone we saw along the street greeted us with the traditional greeting, "Thank God for your safety!"  It was good to be home.  And as we processed through the streets of the village today, singing hymns with all of Zababdeh's churches, we were grateful to be back.  Hosanna indeed!

Salaam al-Masiih (Peace of Christ),
Elizabeth and Marthame

PS  If you are interested in seeing more of our Cyprus trip, please visit our journal.