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The Land Where Jesus Walked by Steve Hemphill

I first visited the Israeli Occupied Territories of Palestine in 1986. I went to visit my British friend who was a volunteer at the Evangelical Home for Boys in Ramallah. That 2-week visit changed my life and led me to return the next year and a lifelong love of the Arab world, where I have lived and visited many times.

The Home was an Anglican mission which has since disappeared from the scene. Similarly, the First Baptist Church of Ramallah where I worshiped has long since closed. At that time, I spoke no Arabic, so I was hesitant when an old Arab gentleman in his Sunday 'go to meetin' keffiyeh (robe) came running up to me outside the church door. I was certainly surprised when he yelled as he approached “Hey, they tell me you're from Kansas City, my brother is Chairman of the Political Science Department at KU!” Everywhere I went the Palestinians loved Americans, loved American TV and dreamed of visiting or emigrating someday. The optimism in the late 80's was based on the belief the U.S. would mediate a solution to the Israeli occupation. But as the occupation dragged on and grew more aggressive, the Arab population grew more militant Muslim. The relatively large Christian population of the West Bank has largely disappeared as they either emigrated or died. Bethlehem has been a Christian village since soon after Jesus' time but, no more.  

The Anglican priest who ran the Home had previously served as Deputy Mayor of Ramallah and was a friend with Yassir Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. I recall him telling me the Americans should pay attention to Arafat because he was moderate compared to the violent extremists waiting to take his place. His comments were prescient as Hamas gained influence and the plight of the Palestinian people led to Al Quieda and ISIS.

The young boys at the Evangelical Home have long since grown to adulthood. Some immigrated to Europe and we are Facebook friends. Presumably, most were unable to escape and remain there as either closeted Christians or converted Muslims. I've returned a few times over the years and lament how few Christians remain in Palestine. I pray that someday, the land where Jesus walked will once again welcome his people back home.

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