Back to Bethlehem
May 11, 2002

Dear Friends,

In just a short while, I hope to finally return to Bethlehem.
Although I do not know what the checkpoints will be like, I imagine,
like so many Palestinians, I will find a way home.

I am anxious to see friends and colleagues, to hug the children, to
talk to my neighbors, to begin to help pick up the pieces.  Already,
this morning, less than 12 hours after the withdrawal of Israeli
forces, schools opened - a sign of an unwillingness to give into the
despair and destruction wrought by the 35 days of curfew, closure and
military assaults.

I am as excited about worship tomorrow as I probably have ever been.
The congregation at Christmas Lutheran Church will gather for the
first time since Easter Sunday on 31 March tomorrow at 10:30 am.
Even as we make our way through broken doors and look through
shattered windows, I know the sounds of hymns and prayers will be
balm to weary souls.

It is easy to get lost in the euphoria of just going home.  I know
little has actually changed.  The Israeli troops have not left, but
remain as they have for the last 19 months all around the city, as
around all other cities in Palestine.  A new fence being constructed
by the Israeli army along the northern border of the Bethlehem area
is sure to even further cut Jerusalem off from the peoples of this
area. Gaza awaits invasion.  People cannot move from the villages to
the cities for health care, supplies or schools. No, the reality is
that hard work awaits us all.

But, just for today, I will simply rejoice in seeing the people I
love and respect. I will rejoice in the gift of returning home. I
will give thanks to God for the opportunity to live and work among
the people that I do.

Rev. Sandra Olewine
United Methodist Liaison - Jerusalem