Our relationship with MOST Ministries began in 2003 when my wife, B.J., and I joined an eyeglass team to Bangalore, India to commemorate our 30th wedding anniversary. I also served on the MOST board and had the opportunity to chair it for a couple of years.
In 2012, Gayle Sommerfeld contacted me about a MOST trip to Bethlehem, Palestine. The team’s purpose was to conduct a staff/volunteer retreat for a senior ministry (Ajyal) within Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb’s Diyar Consortium. My role was to provide team building and leadership training.
My initial enthusiasm about the trip was mainly focused on the opportunity to use some of my professional experience and career interests. I enjoyed prior MOST teams but this would be the first time I would leverage my professional background on a mission trip.
I was quite a novice regarding the Israel Palestine conflict. When Gayle mentioned the trip, I thought Bethlehem was located in Israel. I was aware Dr. Michael Connor & Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb of Palestinian Christians living in the Middle East but knew little about their struggles under Israeli military rule.
As part of the trip preparation, I learned more about Rev. Dr. Raheb and the various ministries he has launched. He is an internationally recognized theologian, author and speaker on justice and peace and an advocate for non-violent resistance.
During the trip I learned a great deal about the Palestinian narrative. After the trip, I took time to process and learn more about both Israeli and Palestinian narratives. I was prayerfully seeking the Holy Spirit’s direction and having discussions with my pastor.
This resulted in starting a Palestine ministry at our Church, St. John's Lutheran, Salisbury, NC. We began partnering with Bright Stars of Bethlehem (BSB) in 2013 on awareness building (hosting art exhibits, culinary events, speakers, films and podcasts) as well as fundraising. We coordinated a BSB holy land tour in 2015.
In 2017, as part of the World Council of Churches program, I served as an Ecumenical Accompanier for three months in the South Hebron Hills region of the West Bank. For the past two years, I have been making presentations about my experiences. In addition, the NC ELCA Synod produced an online series of my classes on the Israel Palestine conflict (https://leaderslearn.org/nc-synod-video-courses/)
B.J. and I will be spending the first three months of 2020 in Jerusalem volunteering at the guest house, Ecce Homo. We're looking forward to serving and meeting international pilgrims as well as fellowship with both Palestinians and American missionaries we have come to know.
Over the years, MOST Ministries has blessed us in a variety of ways. If it wasn’t for the 2012 MOST opportunity, I may still be mistaken about Bethlehem’s geographic location but, seriously, I would not have experienced Palestinian brothers and sisters who inspire me in my faith journey and the blessing of our church partnership with existing Palestine ministry initiatives.