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Holy Land: Letter from Beit Sahour, the Shepherd's Field


Marianne and friends

Marianne and friends

But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests." - Luke 2:10-14 NIV

"We are the shepherds, and we have to repeat the story that Christ is born to save us all. It happened in our small village. What joy! The presence of the churches here reminds us of that great story and the angel telling the shepherds not to be afraid.

My name is Marianne Qumsieh. I am nine years old. I go to the Orthodox school in Beit Sahour where our family lives. I pass close to the Shepherds' Field every day. My father Issa (Arabic for Jesus) is a dental lab technician. My mother Reem (Arabic for gazelle) is a housewife and I have a younger brother who is six. We are a close family. We start the day by praying the Lord's Prayer or singing "Christ Is Risen." I go out in the morning to buy bread, sometimes before going to school.

There are 29 students in my class, both boys and girls, including two Catholics and four Muslims. My best friend is Suad who is a Muslim and my other friend Narmine moved to America, but we have kept in touch. She calls me, and we write to each other. We have Muslim neighbours, and I consider them as my brothers and sisters. I love my school, my teachers and Father Issa Muslih, our parish priest and religion teacher. He knows so much about liturgy and the saints, and he and tells us the story of the shepherds in a way that makes it meaningful even today. We are the shepherds, and we have to repeat the story that Christ is born to save us all. It happened in our small village. What joy! The presence of the churches here reminds us of that great story and the angel telling the shepherds not to be afraid.

How can we not be afraid with all the Israeli tanks around us? We cannot move or travel. We have to stay at home. I like reading and playing games on the computer. I love roller-skating and jumping rope when I can go out to play. Because of the situation, many people are leaving our town and going abroad. My aunt who is Greek has left for Greece, and even my father sometimes thinks that he will leave, but I want to come back and stay in my country, even if I study abroad.

Even though I am nine years old, I have not seen the Church of the Resurrection (Holy Sepulchre) in Jerusalem. I have not gone to Jerusalem because we are not allowed to travel there. The restriction of movement is so bad. As for the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, we come often and we take part in festivities in the open air in the courtyard. Today, I am glad that I could come to see it again. As Palestinian children, we try our best to live normal lives. I go to Sunday school, summer camps and take part in some activities, but we do not have community centers or even a good library like in other countries. Because of the occupation, we are not like normal children nor can we live a normal childhood. Our country is beautiful, but the Israelis have occupied it, and they want to keep us uneducated, but we will keep learning and living. Come and visit us. See that we are a people too and it is because of our faith that we do not give up hope."

Closing Prayer

God, we give thanks to you for the wonderful news of your great love for all people. We ask that we too might be like the shepherds, and share the good news. We pray for children like Marianne, who live in fear. Be with them so that they will not be afraid. We pray that walls of difference and fear come crumbling down, so that all of your people may live in peace and love with one another. Amen.

Source: CMEP's 2015 Advent reflections are from Ahlan wa Sahlan: Welcome! Advent Stories for Children www.globalministries.org/meinitiative_advent

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