Tuesday, 17 August 2010

House of Grace

Sunday, after church service at St Luke’s Anglican church in Haifa (and the inevitable lunch thereafter), we went to the business district where, surrounded by tower-blocks, government offices and roadworks, stands the House of Grace.

Just walking into the compound, one feels a sense of peace. The old church was once the Greek Catholic cathedral, but has now been restored to a most beautiful and serene sanctuary. One of the ikons was gifted by a drug addict who inherited it from his mother, but was terrified he would sell it to feed his habit, so gave it to the church! And that is maybe a clue to what else goes on here, for the house was set up 28 years ago by Agnes Shehade and her late husband Kamil as a half way house for prisoners, released from prison but with nowhere to go. This rehabilitation work continues to today, with the prisoners, Jew and Arab, living with the family in the house. The centre has had various emphases over the years, and today supports over 400 needy families and works to empower young people at risk. It also inspires the youths to volunteer in other projects.

The house is usually closed on a Sunday, but we were welcomed into Agnes’ living room, given juice and fruit and Arabic coffee and were just so overwhelmed by the hospitality and grace shown by this remarkable woman. Her four sons and one daughter were brought up in the house with the prisoners and the needy and amazingly all of them are still involved, giving of their skills. I was tremendously touched by what I had seen – it truly is a house full of grace.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

August update

A Wedding in Cana
Earlier this month I was privileged to be invited to the wedding of the daughter of Husni, one of the maintenance workers. Husni is from Cana and a Muslim (he was on the hajj to Mecca last year), so, unlike the wedding Jesus attended there, there was definitely no water into wine at this one. Interestingly the sexes were segregated, with the men sitting apart from the women in a separate hall – too bad, as the women seemed to have all the music and dancing. When the groom arrived he was hoisted on the shoulders of his friends and carried to the bride, and they danced together.

Disco on the Lake
I was visited by two friends recently, and for the first time in my 9 months here, I went out with them on a boat into the centre of the Sea of Galilee. We had rather expected a quiet spiritual experience, but we hadn’t reckoned with the arrival of a busload of acutely disabled children along with the young people looking after them. Suddenly the disco music started and the peace was shattered, but it was wonderfully touching to see the young helpers enthusiastically manoeuvre their friends in wheelchairs in the disco! And fascinating to hear the Birdie Dance in Hebrew!! (I am afraid we didn’t join in.)

Tiberias is sweltering in the August heat. We are into the 40s, but the ‘perceived temperature’ (taking into account humidity) is nearer 50. Even showers, turned to the coldest setting, are hot. I am surprised anyone comes to Tiberias at this time, but there are a lot of orthodox Jewish families around. We have also had a lovely group of about 30 young people from an Anglican church near the coast, who have been having seminars on prayer. It excites me that they are able to have access to the hotel and its facilities through the subsidy scheme (which comes out of the hotel profits). It also gladdens my heart to see such enthusiastic young people in the church.