Jerusalem – Goodbye for Now


Our time in Jerusalem is drawing to a close – we leave early tomorrow morning.

We have accomplished our initial purpose, completing the videotaping of our “Stations of the Cross:  A Biblical Devotion” video Bible study.  Now Tim must edit it into a finished product.  You can view the introduction here.

Today we went to the overlook (Old City from the Mt. of Olives) where I took the above photo.  Tim also took my photo from that spot and I took one of Tim working


Of course, my favorite photo from our time here is the one I’m now using for my Facebook photo, a photo from the children’s cancer unit at the Augusta Victoria Hospital:


It was a pleasure also to produce video for the Lutheran World Federation/Jerusalem (Mark Brown) and its Augusta Victoria Hospital.  As Tim finishes editing these videos I will link them here.  We also were privileged to produce video for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and Bishop Munib Younan.  Some of those videos are now up on You Tube and I’ll add others as they become available.  Here’s the list thus far with the links embedded:

I was also able to produce a video greeting for my congregation, Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California. (view it here).  This trip would not have been possible without Mt. Olive’s support.  Tim and I are very grateful to our wonderful Holy Land hosts, especially Mark & Susanne Brown, Carrie Smith and Bishop Younan.

Watch for more video as well as two newspaper columns – I’ll post links here when they are “ready for prime time” viewing.

Now a long trip home.

Still at it…


New Leadership – Consistent Vision



Tim and I spent Monday with the leadership, staff and patients at the Augusta Victoria Hospital (pictured above) on the Mount of Olives here in Jerusalem.

The Lutheran World Federation’s Augusta Victoria Hospital (or AVH as it is known here) has a more than 65 year history of serving the Palestinian people, a Christian hospital serving all people of all faiths.  That vision along with high quality health care has only been strengthened in recent years.  AVH is the first and only hospital to provide radiation therapy for cancer patients in the Palestinian territories and is the only medical facility in the West Bank offering pediatric kidney dialysis, making it distinct among the few hospitals which serve the millions of Palestinian people in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.  More on AVH here.

Continuing that vision is the hospital’s new Chief Executive Officer, Walid Nammour, who we interviewed and accompanied as he interacted with patients and staff around the hospital.  Here he is with a toddler dialysis patient and his grandmother:


In addition to Nammour, we interviewed three patients:  a young cancer patient, a young adult dialysis patient, and an older dialysis patient.  All were high in their praise for the staff and care at AVH – through our Arabic translator we heard words like “family,” “caring,” and “high quality.”  In recent years the hospital has begun to transport patients and their families by bus from Palestinian areas which have been nearly cut off by Israeli internal check points.  All of those we spoke with have benefited from this transportation, although their travel from home to the hospital is still far from easy.

Here are photos of the patients we interviewed:


Our time at AVH ended with an interview with Mark Brown who has served as the Lutheran Federation’s Jerusalem representative for more than ten years.  Here is Brown with Nammour:


Then we hurried off to the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity evening prayer service at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City.  In other areas of the world, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity was celebrated last week, but in Jerusalem, because the Armenian Christians celebrated Christmas and Epiphany last week, this observance was postponed one week.  Each evening there is a prayer service at one of the Christian churches in the Old City.  Redeemer’s service on January 25th brought together an international congregation with parts of the service in English, German, Swedish, Danish and Finnish.  The church was full and the music was wonderful.  A link to Tim’s video from this service is here.

ChristianUnity Service

A very full day.

And, of course, we are still at it….

A Restful Sunday

Tim and I got a day of much-needed rest today – no interviews or videotaping!


We began the day with worship at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Redeemer is a ministry partner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the English-language Lutheran congregation in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). ELCA missionary Carrie Ballenger Smith serves as pastor there.

I was honored to be asked to assist with Holy Communion and read the Old Testament lesson.  Here’s a photo:


Worship in Redeemer’s St. John’s Chapel was filled today with visiting groups from Luther Seminary in St. Paul and the University of Notre Dame.

Thanks to Tim, I was also able to send a video greeting back to worship at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California, where I serve as Senior Pastor.  You can view that video greeting here.

Still at it…

Hope in Palestine

It is not uncommon to hear from Palestinian Lutherans that they are not optimistic about the future of Israel/Palestine relations but they remain hopeful because of their faith in Jesus Christ.  And because that is the only way to survive in a very difficult situation.

Hope was certainly a theme of today’s time in Palestine as we visited briefly with Walid Nammour, Chief Executive Officer at the Augusta Victoria Hospital and then headed to Ramallah for videotaping of stories at the Lutheran School of Hope.  More on Augusta Victoria Hospital will come on later days.

At the Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah we visited an Environment Club recycled art project activity, listened to the school chorus sing their school song, watched the wonderful student dancers and even got to observe a German language spelling bee (students speak Arabic, English, and German). The Lutheran School of Hope has 458 students, 22% are Christian and 78% are Muslim.

Here are three photos from our time today at the Lutheran School of Hope:

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Students making art projects out of recycled plastic bottles.  Hope School has one of the 26 Environmental Clubs sponsored by the ELCJHL’s Environmental Education Center.  There are also clubs at the other ELCJHL schools.


The Lutheran School of Hope Chorus singing their school song for us.


And the school dancers performed for us.

You can read more about the Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah here.

Earlier today Tim finished editing the introduction to our “The Stations of the Cross: A Biblical Devotion” video Bible Study.  I think it turned out quite well – you can view it here.

Tired today, but still at it…

Schedules change

Today we were scheduled to travel to Jordan to visit the new Lutheran Pilgrim Center at Bethany Beyond the Jordan – Jesus’ baptismal site.  However, these plans got cancelled.


This gave us the chance to return to the Old City to tape the remaining sections of our “Stations of the Cross” video project as well as a video greeting for Mt. Olive Lutheran Church members who come to worship services this weekend.


Of course, the biggest task for the “Stations of the Cross” video Bible study project remains – editing – but it is a good feeling to have the taping “in the can,” so to speak.

You can read more about the Lutheran Pilgrim Center at Bethany Beyond the Jordan here.  The Presbyterian Church – USA did a video about the center which you can view here.

Tomorrow we head to Ramallah to visit the Lutheran School of Hope there.

Still at it…

Life in Palestine Goes On

Today Tim and I visited Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) Schools in Beit Sahour (The Evangelical Lutheran School, Salim Jaber, Deputy Principal) and Bethlehem (Dar Al-Kalima School, Anton Nassar, Director) and the Environmental Education Center in Beit Sahour (Simon Awad, Executive Director).

We also visited with Dr. Charlie D. Haddad, the ELCJHL’s Director of Education.  I am interviewing Dr. Haddad in this photo:


There will be videos coming from these visits, but the overall message is the excellent education that the Lutheran Church in the West Bank is providing for Christian and Muslim children, education which teaches, even emphasizes, peace-building and interfaith understanding while still being unashamedly Christian as well as holding up the church’s commitment to the environment and environmental education in the midst of occupation and continued political unrest.

While we were at the Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Sahour I thought often of our preschool at Mt. Olive, especially when I was with the 3 and 4 year olds in Beit Sahour, how their lives are in so many ways the same but in important ways very different from the lives of our Mt. Olive Preschool children.  Here’s a photo of the 4 year old class at Beit Sahour:


The Evangelical Lutheran School in Beit Sahour has 439 students, 80% are Christian and 20% are Muslim.

Later, the students at the Dar Al-Kalima School in Bethlehem danced for us:


The Dar Al-Kalima School in Bethlehem has 309 students, 34% are Christian and 66% are Muslim.

Here is a photo of me with Anton “Tony” Nassar, Director of the Dar Al-Kalima School:


Students were visiting the Environmental Education Center in Beit Jala while we were there:



This was a very full day!

But, we are still at it…

Merry Christmas!



Today Tim and I had a special treat – we were invited to accompany Bishop Younan and other Jerusalem Lutheran Clergy to “Christmas Greetings” at the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem.  While western Christianity celebrates Christmas on December 25 and Orthodox Christians celebrated it on January 6 this year, the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem is unique in celebrating Christmas and Epiphany together on January 18 & 19.  It is the custom for the Christian leaders in Jerusalem to visit each other for their Christmas celebrations so today we got to tag along with Bishop Younan for these greetings which included a welcome by the Armenian Patriarch and greetings by the Latin (Roman Catholic) Patriarch.   Those Christian leaders in Jerusalem who attended today’s gathering are pictured here:



That’s Bishop Younan fourth from the left with the Anglian and Greek Orthodox leaders on either side of him.  The Roman Catholic Bishop is third from the right and our host Armenian Patriarch is fourth from the right.

Tim produced a short video about this event – you will find it here.

We then had a long interview with Bishop Younan which we taped in the Crusader Chapel of Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City of Jerusalem.

However, most of our day was spent working on the videotaping for our “Stations of the Cross” video Bible Study.



Here we are working on the final five Stations, all of which are located in or around the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem.  We completed close to one half of our work on these studies today!

The day closed with a lovely dinner with a number of young adults who work in various Palestinian ministries in the area, including the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission who are working here this year.

We are tired, but, hey, we got to celebrate Christmas again today!

Still at it…

In Jerusalem

Tim Frakes and I arrived on Tuesday morning at the Tel Aviv airport and were met by an LWF staffer who then delivered us to the Augusta Victoria Hospital compound on the Mount of Olives in east Jerusalem where we are staying while we are in Jerusalem these days.


After some quick unpacking we headed off to the Lutheran World Federation’s Vocational Training Center in the Beit Hanina neighborhood of east Jerusalem.  There we interviewed that center’s director, Yousef Shalian, and heard of the amazing work the center does in vocational training for high school age young people.  While the unemployment among Palestinian young adults is very high, 40% or more, those graduating from the LWF Vocation Center have a 90% chance of finding work!  More on the center’s wonderful work with Palestinian young adults can be found here.

Here’s a photo of our interview with Yousef Shalian (that’s Tim with the headphones on the left and me on the right) –


Here’s one with Tim videotaping the students and their instructor in the center’s electronics class –


And one of students in the center’s ceramics class –

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We’ve been awake now more than 24 hours and are fading fast.  We have dinner at the Brown’s home this evening and then early to bed.

But, for now, we are still at it…

16 Scripts


Yesterday, I finished work on 16 scripts for the “Stations of the Cross” video Bible study.  They are, of course, just “drafts” since Tim Frakes and I plan to allow what we experience next week in the Holy Land to influence the study and its visuals.  But, truth to tell, it does feel very good to have some copy “in the can,” as they say!

My last visit to Jerusalem was in February of 2008.  I traveled with my then synod bishop, Claire Burkat, and others on the invitation of ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan.  While in Jerusalem I recorded my Ash Wednesday sermon for Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, where I was serving at that time as Senior Pastor and, with Tim Frakes help (Tim was also along the last time) sent it back to Lansdale for almost-live use for Ash Wednesday worship.  You can view that sermon here .  It will be interesting to see how much things have changed, or not, since this last visit.

still at it…


In 2015 my friend, Tim Frakes, and I realized that we wanted to do a film project together, something that would help the church.  I had recently returned to parish ministry at Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Santa Monica, California, and found that Bible study via the Internet is a good way to bring more people to the study of the scriptures.  Our weekly Mt. Olive bible study (on the coming weekend’s Gospel text) has many readers, including some who are not regular worshipers and many for whom this is their only scripture study.  The traditional texts of the “Stations of the Cross” provide a good structure for a Holy Week Bible study – they focus on the events of Jesus’ life from his betrayal through his crucifixion.

Tim and I now head to Jerusalem, Jordan and the West Bank next Monday, January 18, to produce this Bible Study series on the “Stations of the Cross” in Jerusalem.  While we are there we will also shoot video stories for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (the ELCJHL) and for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF)/Jerusalem.  This week I am finalizing my “Stations of the Cross” scripts (to which Tim is already adding art images) and Tim and I are finalizing the schedule for our time in the Holy Land.  We look to be very busy with all of the plans our hosts have for our time!  We return to the USA on Wednesday, January 27.

This is my fourth visit to Jerusalem and the ELCJHL and the first without a group and the first that is not churchwide or synod-sponsored.  A number of folks have contributed to our video Bible Study “Stations of the Cross” project – thank you!  We have raised enough funds to cover our airfare and some ground expenses.  LWF/Jerusalem (the Rev. Mark Brown) is providing our housing and the ELCJHL (Bishop Munib Younan) is helping with transportation.  Thus, we will be in good hands!

Tim is an award-winning video producer with his own company, Tim Frakes Productions.  We served on the ELCA churchwide staff together in the 1990’s and 2000’s and have kept in contact since that time.  You can find out more about Tim’s other projects here.  Tim is donating his time for this project, as am I.

I will try to blog here as often as I can, daily if possible.  Here is one of my favorite photos from a past visit – the view coming down the Mt. of Olives toward the Old City of Jerusalem


Still at it….