The school, founded in 1962 by the Mennonite Church, is aptly named: It is providing hope to 130 disadvantaged Palestinian students – including 15 orphaned students who live at the nondenominational Christian school full time.
“We target those students who are in need. We target those students who the doors have been closed on them,” said Laila Nour, who works in sponsorship/fundraising for the school. “There are many students, who without being at Hope School, would be on the streets.”
The boarding students, she said, are “the neediest of the needy.” The school provides not only an education, but for all their needs – including housing, clothing and food.
“We welcome them. We give them everything – plus we give them love and care, and most of all, we introduce
them to faith,” Nour said. “We don’t try to convert any student, but we try to show them how to live a Christian life – love your neighbor, be kind, don’t steal, all the teachings from the Bible we try to teach our students, and we have succeeded. Not because of us, but because of the Lord; He is with us always. He has never let us down.”
While Christian students are the majority, 40 percent of the students are Muslim. Nour said while the Muslim students have the option not to attend daily chapel, “willingly, all of them come down. We are very proud to say this,” she said.
Muslim graduates often come back to the school and express their gratitude for the time they spent learning about the Christian faith.
“Muslim graduates come back to us – from destitute children to very successful grownups – men and women – they say without being in this room [the chapel], without hearing from the Holy Bible, we would be nowhere, we would be nothing,” Nour said.
“Not only are the Muslim students willing to listen to the Word, but graduates say the Word has changed them,” she said. “This is what we do at Hope School.”
Hope School teaches the curriculum specified by the Ministry of Education to students in grades 7-12 (ages 12 to 18). The school recently started a Kindergarten for students ages 3-5. There are two classes, and the number of students has grown from 16 last year to 23 this year.
This year, the school also has a first grade; the plan is to create one grade each year as the children move up so that, eventually, the school will offer K-12 education.
But expanding the school and providing for children in need takes funding, and Hope School General Director Khader Saba talked to pilgrims about some of the ways the school is generating revenue.
Hope School rents its new soccer field to 12 local teams from the surrounding area, and expects to soon open its cafeteria to the public to offer people in the community a place to gather for coffee, etc. The school has also taken steps such as installing solar panels to help reduce energy costs.
A significant source of revenue is the chicken farm; the school sells the eggs produced by its 2,000 chickens.
Northern Maine District Superintendent Jackie Brannen was on this pilgrimage; she talked about the role she and others from New England played in helping to support the chicken farm.
When they visited the school four years ago, Rev. Brannen said, they learned the school wanted to sell eggs, but the school lacked the funds to get started.
See more photos from Hope School in the gallery at right
So she, Mid-Maine District Superintendent Karen Munson, the Rev. Jongsun Lim, and lay person Bob Packard formed a small committee to raise the necessary funds. We all donated and worked with our churches to raise money, she said. For example, the children in Sunday School at Auburn (ME) UMC raised funds as did many others.
“It was a wonderful effort and we were very excited about it,” Rev. Brannen said. “While we were only a small part of Hope School's story, I have kept a close relationship with Khader and Laila. The school is very dear to me.”
Financial support is critical, Saba said, but feeling solidarity with other Christians is also important. The Christian population in the Holy Land is shrinking, he said, as Palestinians leave to find a better life elsewhere.
“Your visit lets us feel that you are with us and God is with us,” Saba said. “It is very important for us to feel the solidarity – that we are not alone struggling to survive in the Holy Land and to keep the living stones ... I fear that in 20 years the only representation of Christianity will be the dead stones of the churches.”
Bishop Devadhar urged pilgrims to talk about what they saw and learned at the school and throughout the journey.
“Friends, people like us coming and visiting the Palestinian people and giving business to them, really keeps the economy going to a certain extent,” Bishop Devadhar said. “I think that is very important for us, because our brother here and his fellow Christians and others, they really depend on our visits to places like this, so we can go out as ambassadors.”
“We may sound like John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, but we need to keep shouting and keep crying so that one day our Palestinian brothers and sisters can feel like they are children of God, that they, too, have a place,” the bishop said.