By Claire Smith—Bible Society—Swindon
You can almost feel the air become heavy with tension as you approach the checkpoint. You pass through the wall, an angry scrawl of graffitied words and colour. On the other side, it’s a jumble of taxis, cars and people. We’ve arrived in Bethlehem, the town where Christ was born more than 2,000 years ago.
I was on my way to visit a children’s Bible camp funded by Palestinian Bible Society in Beit Sahour, a district of Bethlehem. It was my first visit to the Holy Lands, and I wasn’t prepared for the insistent way the wall depresses life here. Time and again, we met Palestinian families dogged by unemployment, poverty and a grim limiting of their prospects and hopes.
But as we arrive at the Bethlehem Bible camp, it becomes clear that Bible Society has created a genuine oasis of joy in this troubled town. Children arrive for the day with broad smiles on their faces. They hug the leaders, chatter excitedly and line up ready for class.
At the Bible session, run by Bible Society volunteer Sally, I was moved to see the children’s responses. They hung on her every word, enchanted by the story of blind Bartimaeus. ‘Jesus loved Bartimaeus enough to heal him,’ she tells them. ‘And he loves us too, each one of us.’ After the story, everyone is up on their feet for more singing (a song called The Best Shepherd), then Sally quizzes the group on what they’ve heard before they pray.
Later, I meet 10-year-old Saliba. He’s a chess champ, and challenges me to a game. While we play, I learn about his life… Saliba’s been to the camp a couple of times before and loves it. Last year, he was given a children’s Bible, and he says he reads it every night. ‘I like the story of the resurrection because it was a miracle,’ Saliba says.
Despite the troubles, he tells me, ‘I feel joyful about living near Bethlehem because I live near a place that’s holy.’ As Saliba romps to checkmate, the bells rings for the children’s next session and we say our goodbyes.
Leaving Bethlehem, I notice the Bible reference 1 Corinthians 13 painted on the separation wall, and I’m reminded of a comment made by a colleague… These children’s Bible camps are chipping holes in the wall, fostering love, kindness and hope, and letting the Bible shape the lives and values of children like Saliba.
In that haven of joy, fun and laughter – away from the military presence, violence and aggression of the region – the Bible’s message is being brought alive for a new generation.
Photographs by Clare Kendall/Bible Society—Copyright 2012©