General Secretary’s Letter from Bethlehem

General Secretary

PYM General Secretary Christie Duncan-Tessmer is currently traveling as a member of a delegation of the National Council of Churches to the Middle East. This ten-day trip includes visits with diplomats, politicians, church leaders, and activists in Lebanon, Egypt, Israel, and Palestine. PYM will be posting periodic updates from Christie this week during her trip, to share what the NCC delegation is seeing and witnessing through our General Secretary’s eyes.

Tonight is our last night in the Middle East. Every day so far, I’ve felt like the day couldn’t be any longer or more emotional. Each day I learn that it can be. This was absolutely the longest day filled with more experiences than I can process.

There were three primary events. The first was a visit to the Palestinian city of Hebron, where evidence of the occupation is stark. The second was a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The last was a closing dinner with regional leaders.  I would like to bring everyone from PYM — every single one of us of every age from every meeting — on the journey I was on today.  At this moment, however, hours before I start the long journey home, what I can offer is to share a few highlights.

Hebron. This Palestinian city is now divided in half, with Palestinians living in one half and Israeli settlers in the other. Between and within these two halves, there are checkpoints that are staffed by armed soldiers. Our American passports allowed us to go anywhere we wanted.  A few of the things I saw: a man who was denied entrance through a check point walking to try to enter his home through a different checkpoint; a child handing out candy to everyone in the street to celebrate his brother being released from jail; the burial place of Abraham and Sarah; the street covered with an awning of fencing so that the trash that the settlers threw down from their homes into the Palestinian side of Hebron wouldn’t land on the ground; the Palestinian non-violent activist for human rights, Issa Amro and the organization he runs, Youth Against Settlements, who talked about his work.  There were so many more sights and understandings that I will need to find another way to share with you.

Church of the Nativity. We went under the sanctuary to see what is believed to be the exact spot where Jesus was born, and where he was laid in a manger.  Because the church is partly under the care of the Armenian Orthodox Church, and one of our delegation is an archbishop in that church, we also were taken by the priest of the church to the Armenian sanctuary, the rooftop of the church, and a section of the church that once was the school taught by Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin.

Dinner. A dinner was held for us to which local political leaders and activists were invited. The conversation was an opportunity to begin to synthesize much of what we have experienced in the last ten days, and to identify some initial thoughts of next steps for the National Council of Churches.

Christie Duncan-Tessmer
PYM General Secretary