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My last days in the West Bank

As I am writing this its a cold Tuesday morning in my Apartment.
I woke up hearing rain splatter against the windows.
Browsing the news and facebook as I usually do in the mornings, I quickly understood that it is nearly freezing in Texas, the state that I will return home to in a few days.

I started volunteering last December in 2011, then in August was full time as media director. Producing and designing graphics, film, editing for TV shows and global projects for a internationally known Arab mission organization that promotes the clear gospel of Christs message through serving, giving and messages.
Because of sensitive private information I will not mention names or descriptive details public on the internet in my blog.

Just a few days ago I took a night walk to the Nativity Church here in Bethlehem, just a few kilometers away.
Usually overly crowed every year with tourists trying to get gimps of where Christ was born, this year was unsettling with the absence of them.
Due to signs of war in the distance or thoughts of terrism happenings the crowds were thinner.
Paul Crouch of TBN funds Bethlehem with Christmas decorations in the streets of Bethlehem.
Around Bethlehem there are strands of lights, reindeer and Santa statues to celebrate the holiday. Fifty years ago, Christians made up 70 percent of the Bethlehem population. Today, about 15 percent. The rest is Muslim majority.
Last night was the night they were carrying up a ten foot star on top of the towering tree in the Nativity square right in front of the Nativity Church.

I actually found two true representations of Christ that night. A nativity scene which was unlit, tucked away underneath stairs in the Bethlehem peace center, and a building displaying Gloria in excelsis Deo (Latin for Glory to God in the highest) in Christmas lights. Nothing about Christ or even about the Jewish heritage that Christ was born in.

My apartment overlooks the view with the Jerusalem settlement Har Homa to the left and West Bank towns scattered below Herodium to the right with a slight valley in between which lays the Dead Sea the lowest place on earth.  On clear Autumm afternoons you can usually see the mountainess lands of Jordain across the Dead Sea. in the past, its been a background worth filming against for sure!

My position as media director in this Arab Christian mission stationed in Bethlehem has taken me all over the country visiting all corners of the land.
The introduction to Bethlehem was a God send. I was praying, fasting for a week in December of 2011 during my Christmas break from Kings School of Media.
God, please begin to show me opportunities and connections for me to serve in a ministry when I graduate next year from KOK that has a global impact for the gospel. To use my gifts in media, I would be part of a small team of people accomplishing the same goal making a great impact in a need in the world. A week later I met one of the pastors in the church service who showed a video to the congregation. It was about their recent mission trip to an extream Muslim area within the West Bank. I was touched with awe from what she shared and what was happening with Arabs, Jews within the country. Poverty, neglect, personal stories of lives being persecuted for Christ! I was coming from an American mindset that Jews were stubborn with all their laws, Arabs were thieves dirty terrorists. All Arabs hated Americans and were just off to get their money, their God Allah was worth dying for and killing other people in the process. And that was that. I couldnt of cared less what went on with them. The Jews were Gods Holy chosen people and they had a right to take back their land threw any means possible because God was for them, who could be against Gods people? I quickly understood that I was dead wrong and I needed  to repent to having a rebellious attitude.
The whole situation between Arabs and the Jews just seemed like another bible story. Seemed it was far away and to dangerous for western folk to care about. Unless you have walked in another culture, eaten their food, drank with them, lived with them, you havent a right to put them in a category of sinners .
From coming from this avenew of life, after a few weeks of volunteering in Bethlehem I quickly found out they are living, breathing heart emotional people. To quote what a friend on mine recently said No matter who you are or your neighbors are, if you cut it bleeds the same way.
Its only through Jesus and the understanding that he gives that we can hope to understad out brothers and sisters across boarderes. Matthew 5:23
After months of work in Bethlehem, I began to bond with a thousand questions on my mind. They were not bitter with the Jews, they did not seek revenge. Instead they blessed and reached out toward them. And that, just blew me away.

With the mission they have totally upgraded the television studio.
Once a families home twenty years ago, they have converted it into a TV studio and edit bay.
When I arrived in the middle of the year they started literally prying up the floor boards and chipping off the paint to upgrade the studio. That was only the start.
Soon after we got new professional gear such as new EX3s and a top of the line Mac Pro.
This helped greatly with the production of streamlining media. All of this I knew from the ghetto from my previous year studying at King School of Media. Praise God!

When I first joined the team, one of the projects was in Jenin a highly dense Muslim tarroism training town just west of the sea of Galilee.
I do not understand the arabaic language so half of what happened that day I did not fully recognize. Later when I was debriefed, I quickly understood the full story of drama that was going on and the intense situation of believers in that area.

Over the course of the year I would be introduced to more places that were off the radar.
Another place was going with a group of Americans behind the garden tomb area just passed Damascus gate visiting an elderly woman whos house was built into the hill as a cave. Inside was furniture, pictures, appliances just like any other home.
She served us with home made cookeis, tea and coffee as she shared her story being translated into English by a pastor.

Normally I only had several hours notice before the next project came into place.
Peter, we are going to Jericho to get a testimonial on tape! Peter we are going to Galilee for mission retreat with some of the church! Peter, we are going to Nazareth for a three day conference tomorrow. You think you would be able to tape it for some reality show footage?

A few times a week I would head to the office headquarters where the leaders came to discuss the topics of the day. There was usually one or two gathered around a local Arabic news paper reading the columns, with a guest in the office. Whenever I come through the door around the corner I would be greeted warmly with the Secretary offering me some coffee. This coffee wasnt like anything I have ever had before. Mostly because they dont use a filter, straight black. Drink this and it will put hear on your head unlike me an 83 year old man  said to me.

Every year during Christmas eve there would be a huge parade in Bethlehem with marching bands parading the streets in decorative colorful outfits.
The streets where blockaded off and separated for the bands within the rustic streets of old.

In the times of war between Gaza and Israel, for instance during Operation Pillar of Defense, going from Bethlehem into Jerusalem was more of a hasstel.
I would have to wave my passport a few times at the Checkpoint guards notifying that I am American and to unlock the gate for me to get by.
Usually Jewish soldiers would search my camera bag with guns pointed sniffing through items.. No! that 300mm lens does not contain explosives!
Usually I am able to get across to Jerusalem in no more then 20 minutes in these types of situations. In early morning commuting there would be hundreds lined up waiting for hours some getting up at three in hopes to be one of the first out of Bethlehem for jobs in Jerusalem.
At these times, Arabs in the streets got hostile towards the Israel side. You could hear gunfire as Israel gave off warning shots at crowds gathered. We could be watching tv and all of a sudden the awful stentch of tear gas and burnt rubber wifted through the windows. The first few nights I was curious to see what all the comotion was about on the main street. As soon as I left the compound my eyes teared up and throat began to swell up. I wouldnt wish this situation on anyone.
There was a time we were sitting in a restaurant when someone said Does anyone else smell gas?. Outside was a strong odor of tear gas seeping through the cracks of the windows and doors.

Living in Bethlehem, there was a certain oppression that lingered throughout the town.
One of darkness and hopelessness. But also light that over compasses with the joy of knowing you do not have to conform but you can overcome.
I am a firm believer in Christs assurance and being protected by his protection not through religion or works but through faith. In that, the spirit of God counsels me were to go and were not to go. Who to stay away from and who to open with welcoming arms.
In that assurance I can be confedent that He will never leave me where ever I go, even if I mess up. Ive tested it to the max sometimes, which is necessary for those of us who have a calling to go to the ends of the earth.

In the last few months I have had the pleasure to train and equip two bright young men in the television studio.
They speak and understand English and Arabic.
So they are able to help out with the Arabic-English translation and write sub titles, captions, in-field work and communicate better with the culture.
Coming just about every other day or just once a week I split up the time into projects assignments and teaching.
Other then training an intern for a few months at my former job back in America for Total Patient Care, I have realized that it takes more humbleness and learning from a teachers perspective then anything. Most of the time they are teaching me with technical questions that I have to give an answer.
They are passionate about learning and each one of them has different skill sets that can be used in production.
Its been an honor to be able to get to know them, both in the personal and at work.

I will miss Bethlehem greatly. It hasnt phased me yet that I am leaving the middle east completely in only a few more days after the West Bank. I cannot wait for the next Journey that Jesus sends my way! If you have any questions feel free to contact me!