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January 22, 2009

ELCIC and ELCA Bishops Reflect on Recent Trip to Middle East; Amid Darkness Bishops Witness Signs of Hope

Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) National Bishop Susan C. Johnson and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) Presiding Bishop Mark S. Hanson released a report today reflecting on their recent visit to the Holy Land and sharing stories of both the darkness and light they experienced as part of the journey. The trip allowed the bishops to witness first-hand, the daily and increasing limitations of human rights in the region, which they felt would be impossible to do without travelling to the Middle East and, talking with people about their experiences and hopes and fears.

The North American leaders, 42 synod bishops, as well as spouses and staff members, participated in a weeklong series of meetings with religious, political and community leaders in Israel and the West Bank from January 6-13. The trip, part of the 2009 Bishops' Academy, had been in the works for over two years and was planned, as a witness to God's will for a just peace for all people and as an expression of accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and ministries of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), says the report.

Just weeks prior to the start of the trip violence broke out in Gaza raising concerns about the safety of academy attendees. After prayerful consideration and communication with people who live and work in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the trip continued as planned. Reflecting on the decision to proceed, the leaders say the situation in Gaza provided a dramatic backdrop to the travels and for their conversations with people from different faiths and viewpoints who endure fear and bear oppression in ways the bishops have never known.

With scripture and worship framing the daily agenda, the bishops say they felt God's Word coming alive in startling and powerful ways which further shaped their days and learning. At many points along the way, the Bishop's worshipped with members of the ELCJHL including at Jesus' baptismal site in Jordan, on the Mount of Olives, at the Separation Wall, and in the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where, Lutherans were invited to celebrate the Eucharist for the first time ever in a small stone chapel marked with stations of the cross.

Bishop Johnson and Hanson say they commend Bishop Munib Younan, leader of the ELCJHL, for his tireless work for peace in the Middle East and feel that the trip provided an opportunity for awareness and, fuller knowledge of the 'facts on the ground' - the cruel details of the burden of occupation for the Palestinian people that go unreported in our countries and a deeper understanding of Israeli reactions to hateful rhetoric and killing rockets. From this understanding, the bishops hope advocacy will emerge, including a call to advocate for justice and peace that is central to Christian discipleship.

In addition to the darkness, the strangulation of occupation, the diminishing Christian population, the remembrance of the Holocaust, the fear of war, the bishops say they saw light, the contagious joy of Palestinian children at the School of Hope, the shared witness of an Israeli and a Palestinian who both lost loved ones and now work together to end the killing cycle of revenge, sharing Shabbat worship in synagogues where congregations prayed for peace in both Hebrew and Arabic, the powerful healing ministry of Augusta Victoria Hospital, and the determined presence in Bethlehem and Jerusalem of Lutheran ministries that transform lives and keep hope alive.

As an affirmation of the difficult decision to continue with the trip as planned, the bishops heard many variations of the words, You came at just the right time to uphold our spirit.

Just as the 2009 Bishops' Academy concluded, prayers for a cease-fire in the region were answered. The bishops say they, pray that negotiation can continue so that the attacks can be halted from both sides and humanitarian aid can be provided for those who are in need of food, medical attention, and housing.

A full version of the Report and Reflections from the Bishops' Academy Visit to the Holy Land is online: http://www.elcic.ca/Documents/academyreportJan09FINAL.pdf

Highlights, pictures and news releases from the 2009 Bishops' Academy can be viewed online: http://elcic.ca/From-the-Bishop/default.cfm

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The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada is Canada's largest Lutheran denomination with 162,000 baptized members in 613 congregations. It is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the Canadian Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.

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