The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


A Christmas letter

Ohio family now in Holy Land yearns for ‘a Christ child to bring peace that passes all human understanding’

For 10 months my wife, two children and I have been living in a house on the Mount of Olives, but only recently have I started waking up in the morning knowing I was in East Jerusalem, not Toledo, Ohio. It’s a curious feeling — your brain catching up with your body, finally fully arriving in a new place, a new culture, with new neighbors. 

My wife Angela and I serve under the auspices of ELCA Global Mission as co-pastors of the English-speaking congregation at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City. We also serve as assistants to Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. We accompany the descendants of those who were present in Acts 2. They are linked by baptism to our spiritual past, present and future as a people of God seeking God’s will in the world. 

Since we live and serve in Jerusalem, there are ordinary moments that aren’t so ordinary in this context.

My daily commute comes close to the valley between the Mount of Olives and the Old City, which may in fact be the biblical Gehenna that Jesus uses as a metaphor for hell. How many pastors can say they drive through the valley of the shadow of death on their way to work each day? It’s one of the perks.

At the Anglican school in West Jerusalem, our children’s classmates are from all over the globe. Many of their teachers are Israeli. Many of their classmates come from well-heeled Palestinian families. You can imagine the classroom discussions.

Our son, Seth, frequently has a Canadian friend over to play Xbox. Joshua’s dad is from the Philippines and now works for the U.N.; his mom is from Croatia. Our daughter, Chelsea, and her Italian friend, Gemma, recently climbed the fig tree looking for the last fruits of the season.

Seth went through his final year of confirmation with Jan, a Norwegian classmate. We celebrated our son’s confirmation with 10 Palestinian Lutheran confirmands in a joint English-Arabic service on the Mount of Olives in October.

These kinds of things happen on a regular basis, and Angela and I never cease to marvel at the surreal quality of it all. This is the new ordinary, and it is extraordinary. 

We like to buy falafel sandwiches from the tiny restaurant adjacent to the eighth station of the cross (Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem) on the Via Dolorosa (the street believed to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion). We walk past the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to visit our money changer on a monthly basis. I get my hair cut in the Muristan where crusader knights once maintained a hospital for pilgrims in the 12th century. The chapel where we lead worship was their refectory some 800 years ago.

Life here tends to put a sacred spin on the ordinary moments. My kids grow tired of being reminded that, for all we know, Jesus ascended to heaven from the patio where we often eat our evening meal (Israelis and Jordanians fought a pitched battle there in 1967, as the bullet shells we found above our home attest). 

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