Yesterday, I was at the Sunshine School, an amazing independent school for children aged 2-6 years old in the Arab village of Beit Hanina in north Jerusalem. This Christian school has a mix of local Muslim and Christian Palestinian students and some expat children too and a strong Christian element to the curriculum. It is part of Christ Church but runs on a shoestring as parents are asked to pay according to their means.
Miss Rebecca was quickly involved in the assembly, singing familiar songs like ‘Jesus’ love is very wonderful’ – I had been missing my Little Rainbows workout! – and helping tell the story of Jesus calming the storm. The theme of the assembly was that we do not need to be afraid because Jesus is with us – you might just about make out some of the props in the picture – a very urgent message for these children. The community within which they live was home to some of those who have been shot for involvement in the spate of stabbings which have been blighting Jerusalem in the past weeks and has seen much trouble.
I had a wonderful few hours with the children and staff but what was deeply humbling was how grateful they were that I had made the effort to go and visit them (really it was very little effort, a fifteen minute taxi ride was all it took!). A recurring theme of my visits since I arrived has been this gratitude that I have come to Jerusalem and am willing to spend time with people here. Please do not underestimate how forgotten people feel here, particularly the Christian minority, or the power of just being present. This is particularly true at this time when many people are cancelling their visits to Jerusalem and when schools are half empty because children are too scared to venture out. People feel encouraged and valued just because I have turned up and listened; this is not about the fact that it is me, but that someone came and was present for a while.
God understood the power of dwelling with people. That is why he was present in the Temple. That is why he sent his Son to live amongst us: it is why Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, was born only a few miles from where I am sitting. The beautiful opening chapter of the Gospel of John talks about how God came and dwelt amongst us. Literally the word is ‘tabernacled’: he set his tent amongst us and spent time with the people of this Land; by the gift of his Spirit he can dwell with us now.
I wonder, who could you encourage by turning up and being with them for a while? You have no idea how important it might be to that person; it seems such a small thing and really takes so little effort. However it can make all the difference in the world to them because it tells them that they have not been forgotten, that they are not invisible, that they matter, that they are loved. Although Jesus is with them through the Holy Spirit, sometimes it helps to have a more solid presence; as his disciples we are called to be Christ’s body. So who can you go and bless by just being present with them for a while? I know that you too will be blessed mightily in return!
I am giving thanks for the work of the Sunshine School and all who seek to show Jesus’ love to the people here.
I am praying for all who are afraid, that they might know that Jesus is with them, and for an end to the violence.
P.S. Although tensions here are high and there has been much violence, I feel very safe and am taking advice before I venture out!