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Bethlehem Bible College: a sign of peace in the Middle East

It’s a place that strives to empower future Christian leaders and advocate for peace and justice. Find out why BMS World Mission is proud to support a place like Bethlehem Bible College and how it continues to thrive as an important presence in Israel-Palestine.

Tear gas canisters litter the college grounds. It’s a sad but all too familiar sight for students and staff at Bethlehem Bible College.

With tear gas coming through the windows and disrupting their studies, you’d think most people would react in anger. But not Bethlehem Bible College student Walter Brynjolfson. He decided that he could transform one of the canisters into a missile of peace.

Walter has repurposed tear gas canisters that have been fired into Bethlehem Bible College grounds into Christmas ornaments. He gathered them, polished and painted them and covered them in colourful ribbons. He calls them “peace parcels” and sells them online to local residents with the hope of raising awareness of the plight of the Palestinians and raising money for the college.

“He turned a sign of death into a sign of life,” says Rev Dr Jack Sara, President of Bethlehem Bible College.

Which aims to provide a platform and safe learning space for students like Walter.

The school was founded in 1979 and at the heart of its vision is to prepare Christian leaders to serve Arab churches and society despite difficult circumstances and a dwindling Christian population. Before 1948, Christians made up about 8 per cent of the Holy Land and today less than 1.5 per cent are Christians in the Palestinian community. The college hopes to shape students into life-long learners and inspire them to follow Jesus’ way of creative justice and mercy in both their personal and professional lives.

“God is using the students in different ways, whether to plant churches, pastor churches, teach in schools or lead ministries,” says Dr Sara. “They will be very influential and impact the Palestinian people.”

BMS supports the students and staff at Bethlehem Bible College in financial and practical ways. “As an institution we’ve been blessed by the continuous contribution of BMS for scholarships and supporting some of the initiatives we have both in Bethlehem and Nazareth,” says Dr Sara.

One of the initiatives that BMS comes alongside to support is the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference held at Bethlehem Bible College. The theme for this year’s conference was: Christ at the Checkpoint 4: the gospel in the face of religious extremism. The conference had about 500 Palestinian and international Evangelical leaders taking part, exploring the rise of religious extremism within Christianity, Judaism and Islam and how it impacts the Israel-Palestine conflict. The goal was to challenge Evangelicals to take responsibility for ways in which we have exacerbated tensions and to help resolve conflicts in Israel-Palestine by engaging in a deeper way with the teachings of Jesus.

“A great diversity of speakers were given the platform this year,” says Philip Halliday, BMS Regional Team Leader for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, who attended the event. “They all expressed their convictions with great passion, but respectfully and graciously with regard to others who don’t agree with them. It was quite something.”

The Christ at the Checkpoint Conference is an important part of Bethlehem Bible College’s continued efforts towards peace building in the Holy Land. Bethlehem Bible College is situated in an area affected by economic difficulty, challenges in terms of freedom of movement and practical material challenges, like access to running water.

“We’re living in an area where a lot of times you feel like you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” says Dr Sara. “Yet, we’re bringing the hope of the Lord and speaking light into a lifeless place.”

Located in the city where Jesus was born, it is very clear to see that the Spirit of God is alive in the students and staff at Bethlehem Bible College. In a world so desperately in need of peace and healing the college is an inspiration, as it remains steady in its unwavering commitment to advocate for justice and empower future Christian leaders in the Middle East.

Please join us as we pray for Bethlehem Bible College. Give thanks for the strong tradition of training Christian leaders in Israel-Palestine and for the excellent theologians studying, working and being sent out from the school. Pray that God will continue to strengthen the students and faculty and in addition that people around the world are inspired to advocate for justice as they do.

Photo credit: first photo and fifth photo by James Emery, cc Creative Commons.

This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission.   

BMS World Mission, 15/04/2016
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