With hope and persistence Holy Land Christians counter turmoil and uncertainty
As our brothers and sisters across the Holy Land live with the threat of a widespread COVID-19 outbreak, they also must negotiate the devastating impact that intermittent shutdowns and the disappearance of tourism have had on the economies in the region.
In recent months, American Friends has talked with many leaders of Diocese of Jerusalem’s schools, hospitals, and centers for children with disabilities about their faithful work to keep the doors open, pay staff, and continue the good work God has set before them to do.
Dr. Walid Kerry, director of St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus, a northern West Bank city of 350,000, spoke eloquently about the diffculties facing people across Palestine.
“Many families have completely exhausted their savings. The traditional fabric of Palestinian society – extended families supporting each other – which has served our culture for millennia, has begun to unravel as those resources have been depleted,” he said.
“The entire middle class is going bankrupt, but, in the midst of this gloom, we remember that St. Luke’s is a charity hospital. We provide care for those without, and in such trying times we feel blessed we can provide so much protection and support for those who desperately need it.”
Many patients who would normally be able to pay for treatment at St. Luke’s now seek a reduction in fees. While the decrease in income over the past six months has impacted the hospital’s fiscal health, Dr. Kerry and his staff believe that charity care to all who enter St. Luke’s doors is at the core of its mission as the only Christian hospital in Nablus. In appreciation for the support they receive from their American Friends, he said, “We will continue to do our best to extend your good work to our community.”
East Jerusalem’s residents have been hit hard by the pandemic. While the first cases were confirmed on February 21, no testing sites were set up on the Palestinian side of the separation wall until mid-April.
Lack of access to healthcare coupled with the disappearance of religious tourism, compound the impact on families in East Jerusalem. Of the Old City’s 1,400 shops, 45 percent have closed due to the pandemic and the number of daily visitors, which would normally average 200,000 is down to 5,000.
During a recent conference call with the AFEDJ Board of Trustees, Archbishop Suheil Dawani thanked all of you American Friends for your support of his emergency fund to assist needy families. The Archbishop shared that more than 120 families have benefited from the fund. As the economic turmoil continues in the coming months, people’s situations will become increasingly desperate.
The people of Beirut continue to struggle to recover from the massive explosion on August 4. Archdeacon Imad Zoorob, vicar of All Saints Episcopal Church in Beirut and the director of St. Luke’s Center for Rehabilitation in nearby Beit Mery, recently explained that the devastation of Beirut’s central city only further strains the effects of inflation and instability all Lebanese face.
“We are grateful for the help of our American Friends that al- lowed us to assist the members of our congregations whose homes were damaged as well as other neighbors. With God’s help I am able to support those who despair over their lives,” he said. St. Luke’s Center, a day and boarding school for 57 students with cognitive disabilities, was closed at the start of the pandemic, yet staff members maintain contacts and continue lessons with the children. “We worry about them,” said Archdeacon Zoorob. “Many of them are not well-cared for by their parents and suffer neglect.”
He said that if the government allows the school to re-open he is concerned that government subsidies will not be enough to even feed the children. “We Lebanese used to buy a [liter] of milk for 10,000 Lebanese Lira, about $6US. Now we pay 90,000 Lira, which is equivalent to $50US.”
He added, “In God, we have hope. Otherwise, I don’t know what will happen.”
Dua’a Bisharat, principal of Saviour’s Episcopal School in the city of Zarqa reported that many families are suffering because of the economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
“Government salaries have been reduced by as much as 50 percent, and many parents have lost their jobs which makes them unable to pay their children’s school tuition,” she explained. With no promise of tuition dollars flowing from vulnerable families, Saviour’s teachers still received training over the summer to conduct online classes in the event of a quarantine.
Bisharat and her staff remain commited to serving the students in their care even in the midst of uncertainty. “I tell my teachers, take an umbrella. God will provide the rain.”
At the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Salt, Archdeacon Luay Haddad, the institute’s director, explained, “Despite all the rough circumstances we face, we must continue being part of God’s ministry here on earth.” The loss of income from teacher training courses and student boarding fees, coupled with the expense of developing and enabling online education for all students, puts HLID in a precarious financial position.
Archdeacon Haddad added, “The future of our beloved institute is not certain yet.”
Teaching and learning at HLID continues both at the school and out in the community. The third cohort of students in the three-month culinary arts program is in full swing with safety precautions in place and distance learning continues for deaf children at the Al-Azraq refugee camp.