Messiah News

Gaza and Israel - Part 1

Dear Sisters and Brothers in Faith,

Last week we included a link to ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton's pastoral letter on the escalating violence between Israel and Hamas. You may know that I served as bishop of the Oregon Synod for 12 years, from 2007-2019. Bishop Eaton was both a synodical bishop collogue and then my presiding bishop during those 12 years. I appreciate the courage she displays in writing this letter and echo her thoughts. As the situation in the Middle East continues to worsen I want to add a few contextual comments.

We in the ELCA have a companion Lutheran Church in this region - the ELCJHL (The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land.) You might not expect to find Lutheran churches in this part of the world, but there is a Lutheran congregation in East Jerusalem, one in Jordan, and four in the West Bank. Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) in East Jerusalem was also set up by the Lutheran World Federation in 1948, when Israel was established, to give aid to displaced Palestinians who were being relocated out of the "green zone" into both Gaza and the West Bank. AVH is the first and only hospital to provide radiation therapy for cancer patients in the Palestinian territories and is the only medical facility near the West Bank offering pediatric kidney dialysis. I share this with you so that you know we as Lutherans have a vital and active presence in the Holy Land and a close relationship with the Palestinian people. Sadly, the services of this hospital are often unavailable to those it is intended to serve due to political tensions. Now would certainly be one of those times. 

Presiding Bishop Dr. Sani-Ibrahim Azar of the ELCJHL writes, "The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land is shocked and distressed by the escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and its surrounding areas; and we are particularly concerned by the potential for today's events (October 7) to trigger even greater violence throughout all of Palestine and Israel. We lift in prayer the families of innocent civilians whose lives were lost today as they mourn their loved ones. We also pray for healing for all the injured and traumatized. . ."

As you might imagine Christians in Israel and Palestine are few in number. They also see their ministry as one of helping bridge the gap between Muslims and Jews. They serve all those God brings their way without prejudice. Bp. Dr. Azar suggests in his letter that it is "crucial to understand the circumstances from which violence emerges. In this case, it is a symptom of a people deeply wounded by extended and systematic violence and oppression." I suspect he refers here to the last 75 year history of Palestinians in the Holy Land (as distinct from Hamas) but he would also be one of the first to recognize this as a truth of Jews historically as well. 

You may be familiar with the ELCA document and initiative called "Peace not Walls." For those interested in our church's perspective and engagement with the decades old distress in the Holy Land you may find more information of interest here. I am glad to be in conversation with those who wish to talk.


Pr. Dave Brauer-Rieke

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