More than 200 visitors from the Palestinian Autonomy areas, Israel and Germany celebrated on Sunday evening in Beit Jala the inauguration of the “Beit al-Liqa”. After almost two years of construction, the Christian retreat and schooling centre in the heart of the Palestinian autonomy town was completed. More than a million Euros in donations, most of it from Germany, made possible the development of this project – which also includes a Kindergarten – even during the difficult months of the “al-Aqsa Intifada”.
Johnny Shahwan, who himself was born and brought up in Beit Jala and, together with his German wife Marlene, is the founder and leader of the centre, defines “Beit al-Liqa” as a place of hope in the darkness which at the moment covers the disputed Holy Land. Musa Abu Ali too, pastor of the Baptist church in Beit Jala and chairman of the “Evangelical Local Council of Churches in the Holy Land”, spoke in his welcome address of the “light”, reconciliation and love which Palestinian Christians want to radiate into their environment from this new retreat centre.
The Palestinian Autonomy bureau was officially represented by the General Director of the Palestinian Ministry for Internal Affairs, George Hasboun, the Bethlehem Mayor Hanna Nasser, a delegate from the Palestinian Legislative Commitee, Bishara Daoud, and the Director of Youth and Sport for the Bethlehem and Beit Jala region, Khalil Shahwan. Hasboun, who also functions as respresentative of the Bethlehem Governor Huhammad Madani, emphasized that his land needs centres like “Beit al-Liqa”, because “man does not live by bread alone!”
Karl-Heinz Geppert from the Liebenzell Fellowship Association (“Liebenzeller Gemeinschaftsverband”) put a humorous touch on his retrospective account of the building period. Initially there had been reservations, according to Geppert, as to whether it was feasible, in view of the unrest between Palestinians and Israelis, to go ahead with such a project at all. “We are building in a war zone”, quoted the pastor from Weinheim on the “Bergstrasse” from comments made at the time by Johnny Shahwan, “while houses are being bombed to pieces over there, we are busy building a house to the glory of God over here!” Looking back on the development, Karl-Heinz Geppert emphasized that “all of this has only become possible because so many people are praying for Beit al-Liqa!” More than 10,000 intercessors in Germany alone, according to Geppert’s estimation, are providing prayer support for the German/Palestinian couple, who were sent out by the “Deutsche Missionsgemeinschaft ” (DMG) in Sinsheim.
Geppert heads up the Israel team in the Liebenzell Fellowship Association. For years he has been supporting Johnny and Marlene Shahwan and their four children in their ministry in Beit Jala. He had come to the inauguration of “Beit al-Liqa” together with a more than 20-strong group of travellers, among them the Chief Inspector of the Liebenzell Fellowship Association, Friedhelm Geiss, Lutheran vicar Johannes Luithle as representative of the “Evangeliumsdienst” in Israel, and Helmut and Helga Ziegeler, representing the Brethren Church in Osterholz-Scharnbeck, from which Johnny and Marlene Shahwan were commissioned. Also present at the ceremony was Dr. Roland Werner, leader of the “Christus-Treff” in Marburg, who also heads up the Johannite hospice in Jerusalem’s Old City.
Pastor Evan Thomas of the “Beit Asaf” church in Netanja led a delegation of Messianic Jewish pastors. The Israeli believers expressed their “solidarity and love” to their Palestinian brothers and sisters by presenting them with a large bunch of flowers. In his closing prayer, Pastor Thomas expressed his desire that Beit al-Liqa become an “oasis of love”.
Translation by Nicola Vollkommer