When asked why peacemaking is an important part of the mission of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Jo Lucas pauses thoughtfully.
“The work of social justice is peacemaking,” she said. “Without justice there can be no peace. Without committing our lives to that I see no connection to Jesus.”
Lucas is the chair of the Mission and Social Justice for the Presbytery of Ohio Valley. Along with the other committee members, she began reading books by the Rev. Mitri Raheb, general director of the International Center of Bethlehem.
According to its Web site, the ICB is an ecumenical institution that promotes the building of Palestinian civil society. The center has an emphasis on women, children, youth and the elderly, but participants come from many backgrounds.
Raheb had been in the States as a mission worker in residence, working with many different PC (USA) ministries, including the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. Committee members had heard a speech from Raheb at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and began reading his books, I Am a Palestine Christian and Besieged in Bethlehem. Lucas became captivated by the stories and Raheb’s work.
The next year, Raheb came to Indiana, where First Presbyterian Church of Columbus hosted him. It was no coincidence that this is Lucas’ congregation.
After the presentation, Lucas asked Raheb questions regarding his peacemaking and mission work: “What can we do that would make sense? What can we do with what we’ve learned?”
Raheb’s response was simple.
“Come and see,” he said.
Lucas and 12 members of her presbytery did just that.
In February 2006, a group of peacemaking Presbyterians from the Presbytery of Ohio Valley made its first visit to Israel/Palestine, including a stop at the ICB.
“It was a pilgrimage. We were seeing places of great significance to all of our faith history,” Lucas said. “While there, we explored the possibility of a partnership with ICB and the people of Bethlehem. What could we do half a world away?”
Three years, later the partnership the ICB and the presbytery is blooming. In an effort to involve small and large congregations as well as individuals, Lucas’ committee created several different elements to the work.
One aspect is the audiological clinic at the ICB-sponsored Health and Wellness Center in Palestine. Because there are so few places to receive care in the area, the clinic serves more than 4,000 people a year.
In the past three years, Lucas’ committee has collected and forwarded more than 75 gived hearing aids to the clinic. The committee has received donations from as far away as California.
The ICB also sponsors an elementary school, Dar Al-Kalima, whose mission is to prepare its students for the challenges of the 21st century. With donations from congregations, Sunday school classes, families and individuals, the presbytery has sent more than $27,000 for use as educational scholarships to the school.