Our Experience at BBC

by Bart and Pat Den Boer

As this whimsical Banksi post-card shows, Bethlehem is both a place of conflict and oppression and a place of welcome and warm hospitality. It has come to illustrate our view of our time in the Land.

We came on a six-month mission to serve, learn, and grow. We came looking for challenge, excitement, and a deeper understanding of the land and cultures of the biblical lands. As Americans and as Christians, we came with a natural affinity and respect for Israel, but with the desire to help Palestinian Christians any way we could. We found ourselves identifying with the struggles of all Palestinians, including Muslims.

Our volunteering at Bethlehem Bible College served as the basis for attending joint Palestinian-Israeli peace rallies, reconciliation efforts between messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians, and visits to local hospitals, orphanages, and social service centers. Through the college we taught English to the locals, began to learn Arabic, and became a small part of the larger Bethlehem community. Flexible schedules allowed us to travel the land. Through the BBC Guest House we met visitors and volunteers from all over the world. Within a short time we felt we belonged at the college and within the community.

To serve, learn, and grow. But in our experience it was the people that made our time at BBC memorable. It was the Christians at the college. It was the Muslims we met at the checkpoint. It was the dinners and coffee times and camping trips which demonstrated the warmth and caring of the Palestinian people.

Ameen's Story

Our friend Ameen's story illustrates our experience in the Land.

The four of us are sitting on the veranda of Ameen’s house in Tekoa, an ancient village on the way to the Judean Wilderness  just east from Bethlehem. We are allowing our food to settle after an “If you respect me you will keep eating” type Arab meal. I remember the Bedouin custom of personal sharing and ask, “Would you tell us about your time in prison?”

Ameen is in his early thirties, a husband of one wife and father of four, with one on the way.

When he was 18, his family’s ancient landholding was taken from them. The Israeli government was expanding its (illegal) settlement of the same name. It needed his land.

“Prison was a nightmare. One and a half months of–how you say it—seeing no one, kept in underground place?” Ameen illustrates. “Solitary?” I answer. “Yes, that’s it. Cold, damp, tied up in a cramped way. There was always this awful movie playing in the room… of a spider crawling in a web. The soldier would come to beat me, interrogate me. Then every day the same thing to eat; one frozen egg and small bread. Everyday.”

Ameen remembers the day the soldiers came to take his family’s land. His mother crying. His father crying. “The soldiers just showed us their papers and said there was nothing we could do.”

His family’s ancient land… gone.

“One day I passed out during interrogation. After a month I prayed to my God. A Jewish soldier came and snuck me some warm chocolate milk and some cake. They brought me to the hospital. The doctors wanted to know why I was so thin and my blood tests so bad. When they brought me back to prison I got more to eat. That soldier took big chance and brought more cake and milk. After two more weeks they changed my prison to the one at Megiddo, where for a year I could exercise, have visitors. Then I came back here.”

Ameen had just graduated from high school that day in 1998 when he picked up a rock and hit one of the Israeli soldiers taking his land. Now, 15 years later neither he, nor any of his brothers or sisters or parents can ever get permission to enter the State of Israel. So every morning at 4 a.m. he sets up his little breakfast stand at the Bethlehem checkpoint and sells coffee, tea, and breakfast bars. He also invites friends of Bethlehem Bible College for dinner.

Although he is Muslim, Ameen says “God must look over the whole earth, find the ten best people, and then send them to the Bible College.” He senses something different about folks associated with BBC.

As we are leaving, he says, “Remember Monte and his wife from Jewish Tekoa, the young man and his girlfriend we met camping? Well, we are e-mailing to set up a time they can come for dinner, just like you.”

We came to Bethlehem Bible College looking to volunteer for six months; we experienced one of the most challenging, exciting, and fulfilling six months of our married life. We left Bethlehem wanting to stay.

July-December 2012