The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2: 14)
It is the season of year when God’s people celebrate. Peace, joy, and hope came to earth in the gift of Jesus.
My wife and I have many friends at Bethlehem Bible College. We have been blessed by their friendship and hospitality. We have used their facilities for orientation sometimes. We have volunteered there painting dorm rooms and helping as needed. We sometimes stop by with our group to hear their story and visit their campus and shop.
Last week classes at the college were ending for the semester and a small group of ESL students gathered for a party to celebrate. The ESL teacher is an American. As we do in North America, everyone brought sweet treats. There was one assignment for the day – “talk about your dreams”.
Here are a few of their responses, reported by the teacher and sent to us by one of our friends, as they talked about their dreams:
One student was very upfront: “There is no such thing as dreams here. How can we dream? We only see what normal life is when we go to other countries. Here, everything is dark. We are not free. Our children have nightmares because of the soldiers who come into our homes in the middle of the night. My biggest dream is for my children to leave this place and live somewhere else.”
This student is in his 40’s, the oldest in the class, a hard worker and father of 7 children. His English is good, he smiles a lot, and he sometimes brings éclairs or some other sweet to share with the class. I was surprised to hear him talk this way, and even morose that he said it all without rancor, but rather resignation.
“Your home has been invaded by Israeli soldiers? Why? Do they arrest people in your family?”
“Sometimes. But mostly they come because they want to scare us.”
“How many times have they done this to you?”
He shrugs. He has lost count. “Many, many times. When I was a child until today. This is our life.”
“You mean, they come into your home at 2 am and just hang out in your house? And they do this frequently?”
“Yes,” he says. “They kick down the door. They act like our home is theirs and we are the intruders. Sometimes they make us stand in a corner or go into a room. They hold guns in our faces. Or they make us stand against the wall or hold our hands in the air for a long time. Then, they leave. My children have nightmares. Sometimes they wake up screaming in the middle of the night. They are afraid to go to bed.”
Everyone in the class is nodding their head. We are a small group of six students.
I discover that he lives in a notoriously occupied part of Hebron, Tel Rumeida, next to the settlement. That explains it. “They want our house too,” he says. “We cannot leave our home for too long. If we do, they will move into it while we are gone.”
Another student nods his head. “That is what happened to my grandparents who also lived in Hebron” he says. “The settlers stole their home. They moved into their home while they were still living in it and forced them to leave. They all had guns. My grandparents had no choice.”
I know these stories, I’ve heard these stories. But until now I did not know the extent to which my own students had experienced these stories. I ask the class how many of them have experienced night raids from the IDF — and all but one of them has. Some of them–if they live near a settlement or in a refugee camp–have experienced this more times than they can count.
One student, a Christian, experienced it only once, when she was a little girl. The army burst into their home at 2 am, to take her father to the police station for questioning. He is an artisan who makes rosaries and other Christian mementos out of olive wood. His crime? Nothing. They were trying to find out information about one of his neighbors.
“We are used to it,” they tell me. “But nothing will change. Nothing ever gets better here. It only gets worse.”
Bethlehem Bible College is a Christian ministry, and most of its students are Christian. They live in biblical places like Hebron, Bethlehem, and Bet Sahour. Bet Sahour is literally translated, “house of the shepherds” and Bethlehem is the birthplace of the Prince of Peace.
It is the season of hope. While Jesus came to bring peace, joy and hope; God has chosen to leave the work incomplete. Around the world too many live without hope. It is not enough for believers today to sing of hope as if it is everyone’s reality. We are called to enter into the brokenness as doors are opened to bring hope.
We are the people of God who are called to lead. We must do more than speak of hope; we must be hope-bringers. We are entrusted with the story and the good news of great joy.
In your corner of this broken world, be the message of Christmas: Live in Hope! Be Hope! Bring Hope!
Devotionals are written by Jeff Blamer, Vice President of Member Services