Jerusalem and West Bank

The ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program in Jerusalem and the West Bank connects closely with its companion church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL). As described on this companion church’s website, "though Palestinian Christians have been here since the first Pentecost, the roots of the ELCJHL are in the mid-19th century when German and English missionaries came to teach and minister to the local people." Today, pastors and other leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land are primarily Palestinian Lutherans. The bishop is the Rt. Rev. Dr. Munib A. Younan, who was consecrated in 1998 and in 2010 elected president of The Lutheran World Federation. Bishop Younan is also past president of Fellowship of the Middle East Evangelical Churches and provides leadership for the ecumenical Patriarchs and Heads of Local Christian Churches in Jerusalem group, as well as the interfaith group the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land.

Under Bishop Younan’s leadership, congregations of the companion church are located in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Beit Sahour, Ramallah and in Amman, Jordan. The congregations are engaged in a range of diverse ministries in their respective communities, including four schools, which together serve more than 3,000 students per year. The denomination also administers three additional educational programs, including Al-Mahaba Kindergarten on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem, the Martin Luther Community Development Center in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Environmental Education Center in Beit Jala.

Through the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program, young adults ages 19-29 serve primarily in these education programs but also are involved in the congregations for regular worship and fellowship time. All of the ministries with which ELCA young adults are currently involved are within approximately 25 miles of one another, so the program in Jerusalem and the West Bank is very compact, and takes place largely in and around Jerusalem and immediately adjacent cities.

The Holy Land is an extraordinarily rich place culturally with Palestinian, Israeli and Jordanian sites that are of deep cultural and religious significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims, among others. While the emphasis of the program is on service in accompaniment relationship with our Palestinian companions, over the course of the year ELCA young adults have opportunities to explore some of this history, and a natural extension of the program in this setting is to give some time to exploring the significance of the place to our own faith, and the faiths of our neighbors. While this is a challenging context in which to serve, the stories and even phrases and images we find in our scriptures often come alive in new ways for volunteers, primarily through the accompaniment relationships and work of service, but also through getting to know the place itself.

The political situation in Jerusalem and the West Bank is complex. However, it is not so complex that it cannot be understood, and young adults serving in this context are oriented to the political situation and its related history and are often able to help others better understand the context upon returning home after service. While there is significant political tension in the region today, the perception many people have concerning security often does not accurately reflect the actual situation, particularly when it comes to Jerusalem and the immediately surrounding areas where we serve. While important precautions need to be taken, and while we go over these thoroughly during orientation, as noted by the U.S. Department of State’s travel information for the area (updated December 2012), "over three million foreign citizens, including hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens, safely visit Israel and the West Bank each year for study, tourism, and business." Due to the locations of the church’s ministries, most of the routes traveled by ELCA young adults serving in Jerusalem and the West Bank are generally very close to, or identical with, the routes traveled by these pilgrims, tourists, and/or international NGO workers and business people. We also stay closely informed about any rising security issues related to occasional political flare-ups or demonstrations, which volunteers are not permitted to attend even if only to observe. When political and/or racially motivated violence does occur today, it is generally targeted, and almost never at international visitors and volunteers. A network of people well-informed on the politics of the region stay in close contact with the country coordinator, and contingency plans are fully in place should they become necessary. Once again, on a day-to-day basis, for ELCA young adults, security concerns largely fade into the background of the more immediate, rewarding and meaningful work of serving in an accompaniment relationship with the schools and the people of the churches.

What opportunities are available?

The ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission assignments in the Jerusalem and the West Bank context are largely set by our companion church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, as the best matches for the goals of the program. The program has some room to continue to evolve as needs change, or as gifts and backgrounds of volunteers suggest; however, they are currently as follows, as these settings largely fit the needs identified for us by the leadership of the church (ELCA young adults may be assigned to one or more):
  • English class assistant is the most common assignment. The ELCA young adults function as native English speakers who assist teachers in K-12 classes at the schools. This assistance takes many forms depending on the situation and background of the volunteer — from small-group work, to tutoring, to leading an activity occasionally in support of the lead teacher.
  • ELCA young adults may assist students with visual impairments and other special needs, particularly the volunteer serving at the Helen Keller School for the Visually Impaired in Jerusalem.
  • Kindergarten assistants often provide help with recreational activities, field trips, etc.
  • Nursery school and daycare assistants support the work of lead teachers with very young children, often of diverse national and cultural backgrounds. This is heavily the work of the person serving at Al-Mahaba Kindergarten on the Mount of Olives.
  • Young adults often get involved in after-school activities such as swimming or other sports, music, drama or dance, photography, visual arts, etc.
  • Communications assistance, including writing and proof-reading, editing, photography assistance is often needed, especially for English-language materials at the schools, the environmental educational center, and occasionally at some other ministries. This work sometimes involves research as well.
  • Event planning is sometimes needed, and general administrative and office work is sometimes also assigned (copying, compiling, etc). The latter is not the primary work of ELCA young adults, though the writing and editing, event-planning, and research work is the focus of the person serving at the Environmental Education Center, where the work takes place mostly in an office environment.
  • ELCA young adults in the Jerusalem and West Bank context are asked to become involved regularly with the congregation connected most closely with the community of the site where they serve during the rest of the week. At a minimum, young adults are asked to attend worship and fellowship with an Arabic-speaking congregation at least half of the Sundays. Young adults have sometimes found opportunities in congregations to get involved in activities like providing special music, reading Scripture, developing English-language materials for visitors, errands, working with youth, and so on. This is very welcome, and even encouraged, when it can be done without distracting from the processes and leadership already in place at the congregations. Many young adults also find it helpful to attend worship occasionally with the English-speaking congregation of Redeemer Lutheran Church, which is itself one of the congregations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.
It should also be stressed that the relational aspects of the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program are as important as what we get done. The program helps foster relationships, builds bridges across communities, and improves cross-cultural understanding. The service work is important, but it is only one part of the experience that makes it meaningful for most ELCA young adults.