Holy Land 2020: Remembering our baptism

March 01, 2020

See photos from the journey in the gallery at right

Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar led a group of 43 clergy and laity on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land from Feb. 10-20, 2020. The guest spiritual leader for this pilgrimage was Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi, who serves the Pittsburgh Area.  
Over the next five weeks, we will share photos, videos and stories from the pilgrimage. The following is from the first two days of the journey. 

Day One

At Qasr el Yahud (Castle of the Jews) in Bethany Beyond the Jordan, on the banks of the river where Jesus was baptized, the pilgrims remembered their own baptisms.

Bishop Devadhar said that while United Methodists believe in only one baptism, we recall our baptism “so that we can lead our lives as Christians in our daily living.”

The liturgy for this and all of the worship services during the pilgrimage were written by Rev. Jill Colley Robinson, Dean of the Cabinet and Vermont District Superintendent.
In her sermon on Joshua 4:19-24, Bishop Moore-Koikoi encouraged pilgrims to take a stone from this place and put it “where the children might see” and ask about "the God we serve." She told pilgrims to listen for what God is saying to them and urged them to share it. "Don't keep it to yourselves," she said; "someone needs to hear it." (Hear an excerpt from her sermon below).

The day also included visits to Qumran, the site where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, Jericho and ended with a chance to float in the Dead Sea.  

Qumran, on the West Bank, is where, in 1947, the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in caves. The Scrolls are believed to have been written by the Essenes. The Essenes were a group of Jews who fled to the area to escape what they saw as the corruption of Jerusalem and who may have been known to John the Baptist.
Jericho is the oldest city in the world; its walls and tower were built some 10,000 years ago. The Tel (or mound) al-Sultan, which was excavated in the early 1950s, shows 23 strata of civilization and habitation.

From atop the tel you can see Mount Nebo, where God showed Moses the Promised Land and, opposite, the hills that the Crusaders called the Mount of Temptation, and is the traditional site of Jesus’ temptation by Satan.

Pilgrims also had the chance to float in the Dead Sea, which is seven times more dense and ten times saltier than the ocean. 

Hope Secondary School serves disadvantaged Palestinian youth (Click to enlarge image).

Day Two

Pilgrims visited the Hope Secondary School in Beit Jala on the West Bank. The nondenominational Christian school, founded in 1962 by the Mennonite Church, was built to educate and support disadvantaged Palestinian students.

The school began as a secondary school, but is continuing its expansion so that it will serve students all the way through their education. They have added grades kindergarten through three and plan to add grade four in the fall.

The Hope School, said General Director Khader Saba, is a “second-chance school.” Many of the students have been rejected by other private schools for behavioral or academic problems. The public schools, he said, are severely neglected.

These students’ difficulties, Saba said, often grow out of poverty and a lack of family support. Some students even reside at the school, which offers them a caring home.

Saba said there are many stories of transformation once students come to Hope and get the caring and support they need.

One such student is Simon, whose parents split up when his father converted to Islam. He was rejected by both his Muslim stepmother and his Christian stepfather, so could not find a home with either of his parents; he lived in an orphanage for several years.

He found his way to Hope School, and since graduating does woodworking in a workshop created for him at the school.
A small gift shop at the school sells his work and other items to support itself (see photos in the galleries at right).

The school’s chicken farm is another revenue source. There are now 2,500 chickens producing eggs for sale.

On a pilgrimage in 2014, Northern Maine District Superintendent Jackie Brannen visited the school  and learned they wanted to raise chickens, but needed funding to get started. She helped form a small committee with others in Maine to raise funds for the project.

Hope School is also an Advance Special of The United Methodist Church #12018A. Click the link to learn more or donate through the Advance.

Saba said the school is grateful for the strong support of United Methodists, and is happy to host visiting groups at the school.

“Such visits always let us feel we are not alone,” he said, especially as the Christian community in the Holy Land continues to shrink.
Shepherds’ Fields 
The Gospel of Luke tells us, an angel announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds tending their flocks. These fields in Bethlehem are where shepherds traditionally grazed their sheep. The pilgrims stopped here to sing The First Noel.

The Shepherds' Field Chapel, called The Church of the Angels, was built by the Franciscans in 1953. It was designed by Italian architect Antonio Barluzzi. Inside the chapel Rev. Rachel Fraumann led pilgrims in singing O Holy Night. Take a listen ...


The Church of the Nativity
The original church was dedicated in 329 by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine, over the cave/stable said to be the birth- place of Jesus. A silver star on the floor of the cave is a place of veneration for pilgrims, who kneel at that spot. (click the image to enlarge).

Pilgrims also visited Bethlehem Bible College, an Advance Special of The UMC, which has the mission of training Arab Christian leaders to serve and strengthen their church and community in the Holy Land.

See photos from the journey in the gallery at right.

See other stories about the 2020 Pilgrimage