If you aren’t aware of the serious issues concerning Israel with Bethlehem then you won’t understand how amazing it is that I was able to go there. Right now citizens of Israel are not even allowed into the city, and citizens of Bethlehem are not allowed in and out at all. Its not really encouraged to go there as a foreigner; in fact it is strongly discouraged, but hey… you only live once.
Let me start from the beginning. I had just spent the morning in the old city and was pretty worn out. I sat down outside Jaffa gate for a bit of rest when this man approached me. He said hello and began talking. (FYI: I am not in the business of speaking with strange men, especially in Jerusalem, especially who are Arab; but for some reason I felt comfortable.)
After a bit of conversation, he told me he was a believer. Now, for someone to openly come out and say that was pretty unusual….well, extremely unusual! I thought, either he was trying to get information out of me, or he could actually be telling the truth. I played it safe and didn’t tell him anything about me. Then his family came over and I talked briefly with them as well. As time went on I felt more and more that they were in fact believers and telling the truth.
Now comes the interesting part… He tells me that he is going to Bethlehem today and asks me if I would like to come along for a tour. (He is from Jordan; therefore, is allowed into the city.) At this point I am at a crossroads and have two choices.
1. Trust this man and go with him, knowing fully well that I am putting myself in a bit of danger.
2. Play it safe and don’t go.
Welllll, I said a quick, “Lord, what should I do?” and immediately felt a peace about going. (Good thing I asked God and not my parents. I think I know what their answer would have been.) So, we got on a bus and took a 30 minute ride to Bethlehem.
During the trip he was telling me all about his family, his past, his present etc. I must say he is a very well educated and knowledgeable guy. He also felt the need to brush me up on my Bible knowledge, even though I knew all he was telling me. It was sweet though.
Bethlehem: The entire city is completely walled in….it’s a site to see! You cannot get in or out without going through security checkpoint, so they have control of everything. What happened next was pretty surreal. We entered the city and began walking down the middle. Bethlehem is divided into two sides: Muslim and Christian, though the Muslim percent is about 80 compared to the 20% Christian. I can honestly say that I was the ONLY white person there. I don’t think there’s been a time in my life when I felt more uncomfortable. All the women were fully clothed with their head covering and here I was, walking with a tank-top and kakis in the midst of them. I asked Ibrahaim if I should cover up and he said, “No! You’re fine. You’re with me,” like it was a silly question.
I could go on and on about the situation there, but all I will say is that its heartbreaking! These people are prisoners within their own city. Living in such closed quarters with people groups that historically just do not get along, its no wonder why there is such duress there. Constant fighting and danger is always a threat to Bethlehem.
After walking around and meeting TONS of people (he seems to know everyone) we went to the Nativity Church, built on the site where Jesus was born. Most of us westerners picture Jesus being born in a stable, like we see at Christmas time; but the truth is that it was more of a cave back then. Caves were called stables, so we had to go underground to see it. Then we slowly, but surely made our way back to the entrance to leave.
All in all I have to say it was an experience that I will NEVER forget! Putting my faith that God would protect me was a giant leap for me. Coming back to Tel Aviv and telling people where I went and how I got there; I realized how crazy it really was. No one could believe I did that, and some of the girls were in amazement. None of my friends here have even been inside Bethlehem.
I told Ibrahaim that it was a God thing that we met, and he responded, “Of coarse, sister!” I truly believe that it was, and here I am alive and well 🙂
p.s. There is a picture of Ibrahaim on my previous blog, Jerusalem pics, in case you’re wondering.