Journal in the Holy Land
June, 2001
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Disclaimer:  Returning home this past month gave us a break from the cyber fishbowl we've created for ourselves.  So there are many fewer photos and sounds than normal.  Nevertheless, below you'll find some of what we've been up to Stateside, more for the sake of our own memories than anything remarkable (although two Sosa homeruns is nothing to sneeze at!). 
6/1/01:  There's no such thing as a straightforward journey in these parts.  We decided to fly back to the States from Amman rather than from Tel Aviv, happy to avoid the many questions and searches we'd be subject to at Ben Gurion Airport.   We caught the early morning taxi from Zababdeh to Ramallah, then Ramallah to Jerusalem, Jerusalem to the Jordanian border (after being hustled for a while, we found the taxi stand for the shared taxis to the Allenby Bridge).  Once at Allenby, we managed to get lost.  We went through "VIP" customs (i.e. non-Arab), put our bags under the bus waiting outside, and boarded to find we were on the "non-VIP" (i.e. Arab) bus.  When we disembarked, our bus driver was beside himself.  Apparently nothing is allowed underneath the Arab buses - security precaution, no doubt.  We were quickly whisked away to the VIP section (Jordanian side of the bridge, now), where the wait is much shorter and the taxis are ten times the price.  We rode into Amman on the Arab bus (i.e. non-VIP), from there to the airport, where we waited for eight hours for our 3:00 AM flight.  But we met the airport doctor-on-call and chatted with a French documentary filmmaker just returning from a project in Iraq.  The flight to Chicago (via Milan) was unremarkable, as was picking up our rental car near O'Hare, though everyone was a little bit too friendly.  "HI!  Where did you come from today?"  "From Jordan."  "WOW! (long pause) Where's that?"  We wound our way to friends north of Chicago for dinner and an early, early bedtime.  Oh, wait.  This story began yesterday!

6/2/01:  A quiet day to readjust to American life (though everyone expects us to say "yes", we've had little culture shock.  Everything's just a little bit more Disneyfied over here), write a sermon, and gather for good food and conversation with friends, this time from our old church community in Park Ridge (NW of Chicago).  And, again, another early bedtime.

6/3/01:  Pentecost!  We both led worship at the early service at First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette (our most recent American stomping grounds), though Elizabeth had to skip out on the later service.  It was good to preach a nice, full sermon again, particularly in the church community where we had grown to form our ministry to the Middle East.  We gave a program that night at the same church on our work in Zababdeh, and close to 200 people came (including one from Zababdeh), many of whom we had never laid eyes on before!  That was kind of cool.  We were pretty wiped out, but people didn't seem to notice (maybe they had jetlag, too).  News came this morning about the terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv, which gave our work and our talk a certain urgency.

6/4/01:  Ah, the cat.  We headed down to Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, where we lived for five years. In addition to quality visiting privileges with Hamish (The best cat in the world!  Yes you are!  Yes you are!  Who's a good kitty?  You are!  Aren't y - sorry), we had time to see dear, dear friends, neighbors, and Thai restaurant owners.  And there is nothing, nothing at all, like driving in Chicago at night.  Especially when you've got WHPK's Blues show on the radio and the lights of downtown in your eyes (video - 25 sec.).

6/5/01:  One stop we were able to make was to visit our friends at the Worship Center in Evanston, whose prayers of support have strengthened us throughout our time in Palestine.  They have been continuing their sister-church relationship with First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette, where we also got another brief chance to drop in.  After visiting them and having taken care of a few items of import (and some of no import at all), we headed for Texas, ambitiously setting out after evening rush hour, planning to drive late into the night.  We didn't even make Springfield.  Apparently the jetlag was more than we thought.

6/6/01:  Nothing but driving, accompanied by John Cougar Mellencamp (video - 22 sec.) as we drove through the Midwest.  It was great to be able to get in the car and just drive.  No checkpoints, no putting khaffiyes on and taking khaffiyes off of the dashboard, just driving and listening to the radio while America whizzed by.  Apparently some kind of weather pattern got stuck over the Midwest, so the flood plains are at it again - so much so that we were detoured early in the morning off the interstate, but the waters were lapping up to the edge of the road for much of Illinois and Missouri.  The St. Louis arch let us know we were miles and miles away from Lubbock, Texas, Elizabeth's home, where we arrived (alternating car naps) at 3:00 AM.  There seems to be a pattern of sleep deprivation here...

6/7/01:  In addition to spending time talking to many of our supporting churches, we are also attempting to get good family time, to purchase "necessary" items (like clothing) for next year, and to fatten back up.  Today was no exception as we partook of all three.  We also got a chance to spend time with some folks from Lubbock's Covenant Presbyterian Church.  We had visited there last summer before we left and had struck up a conversation in our first few months in Zababdeh about the possibility of pen pal relationships.  Since then, the Covenant youth group has been writing letters with Marthame's 12th grade religion class.  The youth leaders, several of the youth, and some others from the church gathered at a local coffee shop (along with the religion editor for the local newspaper, who is interviewing us tomorrow) to chat more informally about what has been happening in Zababdeh.  We turned quite a few heads in the shop as we pulled out our maps of the West Bank and the newspaper's photographer stood on tables and chairs to get our picture.

6/8/01:  Today we saw the inner workings of Lubbock's news hub: the Avalanche-Journal (conjuring images of the impossible--a landslide in pancake-flat West Texas).  We spoke with Beth Pratt, the paper's religion writer, for several hours.  She was quite curious about the work we were doing and intrigued by our photos as well.  Given that Lubbock receives a 24-hour Zionist Christian TV station, this was probably a welcome change of pace.  They said we'll probably be the front page of next week's Vista section.  Word came today (via email) that Abuna Louis is leaving Zababdeh.  He will be headed to Jaffa of Nazareth to be the parish priest.  No word yet on his replacement.

6/10/01:  Sunday.  We went Episcopalian this time, visiting Elizabeth's mom's church, St. Paul's on the Plains and Fr. Peter Fritsch.  Fr. Peter had been visited a few years back by Fr. Hatem Shehadeh from St. Paul's Church in Shefa'amer, Galilee (whom we met back in March), which gave us a nice jumping off point.  He invited us to speak for about five minutes at each worship service, and then to do a talk and slide show after each service.  We had a nice turnout, and a good response with some lively conversation (a curveball question thrown into the mix). We then headed off to see the sights of Lubbock, including the windmills museum, an homage to these dying-out sentinels of the plains, and a center for renewing support for alternative energy (sometimes a hard sell in west Texas). Housed in a giant warehouse, it has dozens of old and restored windmills - quite varying in size, shape, and function, and many of them manufactured in Illinois (of all places).

6/11/01:  One of the most important sights that we had to forgo yesterday (being closed) was (no, not Prairie Dog Town) the Buddy Holly Museum.  Luckily, today it was open. Buddy was born and raised in Lubbock and attended the same high school as Elizabeth (a few years earlier) before turning the music world on its ear in his 18-month career.  18 months!  And in an effort to round off our Texas experience, we had a big plate full of red meat.  It gave us a chance to talk with friends who had gotten us connected to Net Results magazine, one of the places that first published us.  We gave them two of the hand-made olive wood crosses that were given to us by one of our friends in Zababdeh.  He gave them to us as we were leaving Zababdeh, saying, "Give them to our friends in the States."

6/12/01:  Our time in Lubbock was far too short (as we find ourselves saying often to friends here and there) as we headed off to Elizabeth's dad's new place on the shores of Lake Nasworthy in San Angelo (home of the San Angelo Outlaws' ice hockey team).  Our accompaniment for the drive was Tex-Mex polka (video - 17 sec.).  We exposed ourselves to some of San Angelo's finest cultural offerings, including swimming in the lake, dissecting mollusks (live ones!  In Texas!), and eating Tex-Mex food followed by Sonic milkshakes served by waitresses on roller skates (video - 5 sec.). 

6/13/01:  Cut from San Angelo to the state capital Austin, home of Elizabeth's brother (Marthame's family at least has the decency to congregate in one place at one time!).  There we joined with him, his girlfriend, and some old Texas friends for good food, good conversation, and good air-conditioning, Austin-style. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to watch Austin's ice hockey team, the Austin Ice Bats play. We didn't get to see Lubbock's Cotton Kings either; if the league holds out for another 2 years, surely we'll see them play hockey Texas-style.

6/14/01:  Our next destination is Atlanta, another two day drive.  So today took us down around the Gulf of Mexico and its swampy, boggy, wateriness as we cut through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.  More appropriate radio accompanied the journey, including some mud-stawmpin' blues in Mississippi (video - 29 sec.).  Jimmy Swaggart's radio altar-call almost had us pulling off the highway.  We could almost smell the tears in his eyes.

6/15/01:  Elizabeth saved a turtle today!  As we got near Smyrna, GA (Marthame's folks' home), a turtle was trapped in the road amid suburban traffic.  Elizabeth hit the brakes, picked up the critter, and released him to the wild freedom of the Sanders' Smyrna cul-de-sac.  We arrived in town just in time to attend a banquet benefiting the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Fund at Peachtree Presbyterian Church.  It was attended by over 300 people from around the Southeast and featured the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Michel Sabbah!  It was a treat to get to see our friends from the Patriarchate in Marthame's home town as well as to meet new friends whom we had known on-line only from responses to our letters.  We were also introduced at  the gathering, which caught us quite by surprise.  We confirmed with Patriarchate folks that Abuna Louis will be going to Jaffa of Nazareth in August, and learned that his replacement will be a young Jordanian priest, Abuna Aktham, who has been working in the village of 'Aboud for the past few years.  We have heard good things about him, but have only had the chance to meet him briefly on one of our trips to Jerusalem.

6/16/01:  Well, the unremarkable rental just became remarkable.  The company, whose Enterprise(TM) shall remain nameless, couldn't follow through on their promised insurance deal, since they are franchised and each office is independent and we were 700 miles from ours and unable to renew our contract.  But we're not ones to play petty games with such Enterprises(TM), so we'll let it go.  We also got a glimpse at the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal's piece on our work, which looked quite impressive, bearing the headline "Palestinian Perspective" on the front page of the Saturday weekend section, and containing many of the photos we have taken of the village.  We were very happy to get that kind of coverage of the Arab Christian community. Unfortunately, our village was identified (several times) as Beit Jala and not Zababdeh, so we can't show it to our friends in Zababdeh - they'll wonder why we've been spending all of our time in Beit Jala!  Marthame's sister is in Atlanta to visit, as is his college roommate, so we've been playing lots of board games and getting caught up on movies. Tonight Marthame's folks took us out for a special dinner (Elizabeth relished her pork chops - kinda hard to get in Zababdeh) to celebrate our wedding anniversary (six years!) a day early.

6/17/01:   Today is the actual anniversary date.  We both took part in the worship service at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, Marthame's home church, where everyone has known him since he was just knee-high to a grasshopper.  It's always good to come home.  We also got a couple of opportunities to do our slides and give a talk, first at the morning Internationals Class where the discussion was quite lively, and then that evening over dessert and coffee.  Between the two we had about eighty people, most of whom knew Marthame when he was a small, smart-alecky redhead.  We topped of the perfect homecoming day with a dinner from the Varsity (including "naked dogs" and "jumbo FOs").

6/19/01:  We got the chance to eat lunch with the staff from First Presbyterian Church.  They were celebrating the birthday of a member who coyly claimed her age as "90 and holding" (slyly omitting a decade).  We couldn't think of a better person to give one of the Zababdeh crosses to.  We also had a chance to visit with one of the priests at Atlanta's Greek Orthodox Cathedral, which we happened upon as we wound our way through the city.  We took a peek at the incredible, delicate iconostasis before heading off to Peachtree Presbyterian Church.  The church is in the middle of establishing new ministry relationships in Palestine, and are sending a group to Beit Sahour in July (we hope to connect with them and bring them to Zababdeh).  We gave our program, and the issue of Iraq drew the most attention and heated discussion.  It has been interesting to see this, particularly since our message was not an argument to lift the sanctions, or to embrace Hussein, but rather to understand that there must be nuance in our political understanding and that the people of Iraq are worth praying for.

6/20/01:  On Sunday, we heard the announcement in church that one of Marthame's childhood friend's father had died recently.  Norris Hogans had been a great leader at the church and in the city of Atlanta, as well as someone that Marthame had known and respected, so we made sure that our calendar was clear for his memorial service today at First Presbyterian Church.  He had been sick and had suffered long, but he left behind a great legacy.

6/21/01:  Today we met with more of our supporting churches.  It has been humbling to see how the support for our work has grown over the past three weeks, coming from many, many different theological backgrounds.  There seems to be a yearning to be in fellowship and solidarity with Christians in the Middle East.  We also got the chance to gather with Marthame's extended family (on Dad's side) and talk politics, theology, human rights, business, a little bit of everything.  We also got to meet Marthame's newest little cousin!

6/22/01:  Marthame's cousin came down from New York in time for an evening of bluegrass and barbeque at the retirement center where their grandmother lives (and Marthame's mother works).  We got the prize for the furthest traveled, and ended up closing the joint.  Our final request of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" (video - 16 sec.) may have been questionable in retrospect, given the audience, but we clapped and sang along anyway.  We then made our all-important Atlanta pilgrimage to Krispy Kreme, the hottest, sweetest, most addictive donuts ever made (video - 11 sec.).

6/23/01:  After having lunch with Marthame's grandmother, we were able to fulfill one of Elizabeth's long-time wishes.  In our ten years of courtship and visits to Atlanta (ten years?), Elizabeth has never once seen the State Capitol building nor any of the Civil War markers that dot the city.  We finally did the latter, pulling off the road in Vinings to glimpse one.  And, it turned out, that Marthame's (Yankee) great-great-grandfather's Infantry was featured on the sign (7th Indiana).  Imagine what we'll find if we go to the Capitol...

6/24/01:  Our last day in Atlanta gave us the opportunity to worship at Roswell Presbyterian Church, which had thrown a Christmas party for the children of Zababdeh.  The Senior Pastor Lane Alderman interviewed us for a couple of minutes in each worship service, and we gave our program between the two services with over one hundred people.  We had a great discussion, but not enough time.  There is an exciting energy alive in that church, and we feel like we are just beginning to explore our relationship with them.  After lunch with Marthame's parents and another of his cousins (how many are there?), we headed off to Louisville with good Kentucky God-fearing bluegrass as our soundtrack (video - 19 sec.) and fried pork rinds in our bellies, arriving in time to stay with good friends and their incredible dancing dogs (video - 13 sec.)!

6/25/01:  Today was a full day of meeting with folks at the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s General Assembly offices.  Our host there was a teacher in Ramallah in 1993 when Marthame first visited Palestine, sowing the seeds for our work there.  We are talking with them about how we might work together in the future, since we went about it backwards finding the job in Zababdeh on our own.  There's been a good spirit in our conversations, and we're excited to see where they might lead.

6/26/01:  Another half day of meetings at the GA (General Assembly), including a more formal interview between the three areas with whom we'd be working: Middle East, Education, and International Volunteers.  The good spirit from the first day continued, and they should be following up with us soon after they get the results of our psychological tests (I hope they don't find out about Elizabeth's irrational fear of baguettes).  We hit the road to Chicago, again leaving too soon to have spent enough time with dear friends, but it got us to Chicago in plenty of time to hit rush hour traffic (wouldn't want to miss that, would we?).

6/27/01:  Now we're back in Chicago with three whole days to rest (and finish up a Master's thesis) before heading back to Palestine.  Should be enough.  Friends from Park Ridge Presbyterian Church got us tickets to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play, now that they're actually in a pennant race.  Sammy Sosa hit two dingers, but it still wasn't enough to win as the Mets came back in the late innings.  Lost by one run!  We did get some more time with friends and deep-dish Chicago-style pizza - THIS is Chicago!

6/28/01:  A quiet gathering this time with a most interesting selection of folks in Presbyterian circles.  We had the two of us, two former Egyptian missionaries to the Sudan, an American "mission mobilizer," a professor specializing in Arab Christian communities, a minister working in media relations, and a Jewish convert to Christianity.  Clearly, three hours was not nearly enough to get in all of the conversation we wanted, and to hear everybody else's stories!  There are some interesting people in the world...

6/29/01:  Early this morning we met with friends from First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette to talk about what might happen in our partnership down the road.  We seem to be juggling a lot of partnerships, but each of them has come to make sense to us in its own particular way.  Today we also hit downtown Chicago ("The Loop"), getting a chance to visit with some of the editorial board of the Christian Century, who have taken a deep interest in the Palestinian Christian situation.  They published a piece written by us a few months ago, which was a real treat.  We also got a chance to visit with friends who were Marthame's classmates in seminary and to admire Chicago's art collection (the Picasso "ramp"  - video - 6 sec. - in particular).  Our perfect Chicago time was rounded out by an outing at the famous Second City (show title: "Slaughterhouse 5, Cattle 0"), where some of their alumni gathered for an after-hours (read: late) round of skits and improv.

6/30/01:  After returning our Enterprising(TM) rental car, we got ready for our jaunt back to Palestine.  Expected arrival: July 1.