Bethlehem Bible College - April 2018 Update
Palestinian Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
by Rev. Dr. Jack Sara, President of Bethlehem Bible College
In February of this year, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was temporarily closed by Jerusalem’s Christian leaders in protest of a new taxation imposed upon the Christian institutions by the city of Jerusalem. This was an unexpected break in the status quo going back to the Ottoman era which had previously granted tax-free status to the city’s religious institutions. The shocking announcement included a century of back taxes, totaling almost $200 million; an expense that would have forced many ministries out of the land. Some leaders felt this imposition was a way to continue to weaken the presence of Christians in the city. In protest, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of Jerusalem’s most-visited sites was closed.
Because this event took place about a month before Easter, there were worries that the church would remain shut during our holiest season. Thankfully, after three days of closure the situation was at least temporarily resolved, and the doors of one of the world’s oldest churches were swung back open.
As Christian Palestinians, these issues affect us in a personal way. It reminded me of my upbringing in the Old City and caused me to reflect on the significance of these sites. I grew up on the Via Dolorosa, quite close in proximity to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. My parents still live at the 8th station of the Via Dolorosa, where it is traditionally believed Jesus addressed the women of Jerusalem who were mourning as he carried his cross to his death.
“But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” Luke 23:28
At one time, the 8th station of the cross was set by one of the gates of Jerusalem as one departed the city towards Golgotha. The current walls now include the area where it is believed Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected; now marked by the ancient church.
You might say that the place of Jesus’ crucifixion is in my backyard. The church is a dominant structure of my neighborhood, and its scent of candles and incense perfume the streets of my childhood. As one who grew up around such a place, my life is steeped in the imagery of Jesus’ last days in Jerusalem: of Good Friday and the following triumphant Sunday morning. As we approach the season this year, I cannot help but reflect once again about the importance of the cross and the hardship our Lord had to suffer – culminating in his death on the cross – in order to bring salvation to the world.
While in the West this holiday is known as Easter; here in the Holy Land we call it the Pascha feast, or the Resurrection celebration. This celebration has an affectionate nickname in Arabic called Eid Al Kabeer, which essentially means “the big holiday.” Accordingly, Christmas usually is called “the small holiday.” Palestinians call it Eid Al Kabeer because the resurrection is the hope for all Christians. Particularly here and across the wider Middle East, where suffering and hardship have been the primary description of our lives for so long, Eid al Kabeer is what gives us strength. Through decades of war, upheaval, violence, occupation and injustice, we relate with the Apostle Paul who said,
“We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-11
During Easter, Palestinian Christians remember the suffering of Jesus in different expressions and traditions. For Lent, we may fast from food or sweets. We participate in processions through the alleys of Jerusalem and Mount of Olives. But we also engage in celebrations that take place around the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, joined by other worshippers from around the world. Every year, we are reminded again of the life of Christ working in and through us on behalf of all nations.
It is the hope of the resurrection that continues to give us the stamina to serve our Lord in this land. Though it has been, and continues to be, a land of suffering and bloodshed, it is still the land of good tidings where the Gospel message began. From Jerusalem, his Word has been proclaimed to the ends of the earth. While we at Bethlehem Bible College continue to suffer with our people, we also share in the joy which is found in the knowledge of God. We know that we are ultimately called to the higher purpose of expanding God’s Kingdom and making the name of Jesus famous, both locally and globally.
As we celebrate the Big Feast, we also wish that it may be “the big celebration” for our brothers and sisters around the world. We pray that together our lives will become radiant with the love of the Lord who continually calls us from death into the power of his resurrection.
Wise Women of Bethlehem Bible College
Gender equality is one of Bethlehem Bible College’s core values. It seemed appropriate to bring greater attention to this due to the amazing achievements of a few of our faculty members during International Women’s Month. Our hard-working staff and faculty strive to provide quality education that holistically ministers to our students, and we are thankful for their commitment and fortitude.
Our first faculty member we are celebrating is our guidance specialist and on-campus counselor, Dr. Madleine Sara. Dr. Madleine teaches and provides counseling at the college, all the while remaining heavily involved in other ministries such as serving on the pastoral team at her local church in Jerusalem, counseling and coaching women for her ministry called “A Pot in His Hand,” and raising her family.
Having recently received her doctorate in Spiritual and Leadership Formation at George Fox University, Dr. Madleine is forging new paths in a culture and society that is often resistant to female leadership. Her dissertation was focused on Palestinian women in the evangelical local church. She tackled difficult and often controversial scriptures concerning the leadership of women in the church and came out convinced that women can and should be involved in leadership roles not only in the church but in society as well. Her hope is to take the church a step forward in recognizing the blessing of having women involved in more positions of leadership and allowing them to fulfill God’s calling in their lives without gender restrictions. “I hope to use my dissertation to open more discussions and to teach my own research in trainings for next generation leaders. I want to coach women leaders, helping to be a spiritual director for others and to help further this in Arab culture, where it is especially lacking.”
Additionally, one of our other faculty members Grace Al-Zoughbi Arteen, the head of the department for BA studies, was recently accepted to a PhD Theology program at the London School of Theology. Her dissertation is entitled, “Theological Education of Women in the Arab World: An Exploration of Religious and Cultural Assumptions Impacting Their Participation.” Grace, too, has long been passionate about women in education and is adamant in seeking out ways to empower women in the area of education, but specifically theological education. Grace’s study and research up to this point has revealed that while it is definitely an issue within Arab culture, there is a long way to go world-wide when it comes to women being educated in theological studies. She sees the potential in the Arab women and students she works with, but sees the lack of position, placement or even opportunities for these women to pursue furthering their knowledge of theology in this context and culture. Much of this has driven her to the topic of her dissertation. “This work will stretch me. It is forcing me to be exposed to different views, and I hope to do all of this for God’s glory. My hope is that more people will study God’s Word, and that my work will be an encouragement to those around me.”
Through their own context and experience in this society, Madleine and Grace are forging a new way forward within the Arab Christian culture of the importance of women in leadership and education. Through their dedication and fortitude in pursuing a field that is marginalized and often goes unnoticed, they are sowing seeds of empowerment and change. These wise women of Bethlehem Bible College are laying the groundwork that we pray and strive to see bearing fruit now but also in the future. We are so proud of their hard work, but also of their character, boldness and steadfastness in this endeavor.
Read more about Bethlehem Bible College HERE.
The Outreach Foundation is seeking $2,000 per month to support the mission and ministry of Bethlehem Bible College.