NOVEMBER 2, 2023

a reconciling in Christ Synod

News from RMS Pastors Meghan and Gabi Aelabouni, West Bank, Palestine


Dear friends in Christ in the Rocky Mountain Synod,


Since 2019, our family has had the blessing and the privilege of representing this synod as ELCA missionaries in the Holy Land. Currently, Gabi serves as the ELCA Area Desk Director for the Middle East and North Africa, connecting the ELCA to our partnerships in Israel/Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and more. Meghan is the ELCA Theologian in Residence for the Middle East/North Africa, assisting the bishop and office of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) and serving as co-pastor of the English-speaking congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem, alongside the Rev. Sally Azar, the first Palestinian woman to be ordained and serve as a pastor in the Holy Land. We live with our three kids (who are 15, 11, and 8) in Jerusalem.


Over these past weeks of devastating violence in Israel and Palestine, we have been grateful to receive messages of support and to be in your prayers. Our family is safe in Jerusalem, and we continue our work in accompanying our local partners: especially the ELCJHL, the Palestinian Lutheran church that is part of the local Indigenous Christian community in the Holy Land. Even though Christians are a small minority in Israel and Palestine, Christian churches have a crucial role to play in the community. The ELCJHL is one of those churches, serving its neighbors of all faiths through education, health care, social work, gender and environmental justice work, and ministries for youth, Deaf adults, and much more. The ELCA is part of that important work through financial support, short- and long-term personnel (like our family, and the Young Adults in Global Mission program), and the accompaniment, awareness-raising, and advocacy of ELCA members in a campaign called Peace Not Walls—which is now in the process of receiving a new name and identity, as SUMUD: for justice in Palestine and Israel (more on that below).


As many of you know, these are heavy days, filled with a palpable grief and anxiety. The violence directed against Israeli civilians in southern Israel on Oct. 7 was terrible; and the Israeli military response in Gaza—airstrikes, incursions, displacements, and a total cutoff of electricity, water, food, and fuel—has also disproportionately affected civilians. Of the many thousands of people killed in Gaza so far, the majority have been children and women, in large part because children are half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population. A number of the victims have been part of Gaza’s small but faithful Christian community, including whole families killed by airstrikes while sheltering in a local church, or killed in the explosions at the Al-Ahli Hospital, a ministry of the local Anglican-Episcopal Church that is also a partner of our Lutheran World Federation hospital (Augusta Victoria) in Jerusalem.


These heartbreaking statistics and stories are likely already known to many of you. What is harder for the news to capture is how this violence has rippled out in waves, affecting our partner communities on the ground. Many of our colleagues and friends in the ELCJHL have loved ones or colleagues in Gaza who have called them with messages of farewell, assuming they will not survive this war. Many have lost family members or other loved ones. Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank have essentially been locked in, as the military checkpoints that are part of their daily reality have remained tightly closed, keeping many from getting to work, seeing family in Jerusalem or other parts of the West Bank, seeking medical treatment, or visiting their own farms or fields (in a harvest season with much work to be done). More than 100 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank in revenge attacks, many by extremist Israeli settlers who have acted with the aid (or without being prevented) by Israeli soldiers.


Our fellow pastors, who have the challenging task of preaching the Gospel to their people living under occupation, are traumatized and demoralized by the suffering of their members, searching for some kind of hope to offer but feeling like this is the beginning of the end of the Palestinian people. Why? In part, because so many voices in the international community are making no distinction between Hamas and Palestinians in general, including Palestinian churches like the ELCJHL that have always been committed to nonviolence, and so they are justifying what is looking more and more like a genocide of the entire population of Gaza (and, at least half of Gazans live there today because they, or their parents or grandparents, were forcibly displaced from their homes elsewhere in the Holy Land in the Nakba (the catastrophe) that accompanied the establishment of Israel in 1948.)


And yet, the church keeps going, in all of its ministries. Yesterday, we gathered in Jerusalem with Bishop Azar and several pastors of the ELCJHL, along with remaining members of the international community, for a Reformation Day service that lifted up prayers for the Holy Land. We worshipped in Arabic, English, and German and heard prayers in seven different languages. We were also joined by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and representatives from the Roman Catholic church: a powerful reminder that in times of life and death, the Christian church can still find more ground for unity than cause for division. Every day, this church—living not only in the ancient land of the Bible, but close to the heart of the living Gospel—is teaching us what faithfulness looks like. Even now, and maybe especially now, we believe God has called us to be in this place at this time, to do what we can to support our Palestinian siblings in Christ as they, in turn, represent us all in embodying the caring and healing presence of Christ for their neighbors.


What can you do? Many of you have asked us how you can help. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Support healing in the Holy Land: Lutheran Disaster Response has a current appeal that will focus on humanitarian aid to Gaza for the long term. Give a gift here.
  • Sponsor our missionary work: Gifts can also be given to the ELCA to support our missionary work in the Holy Land. Become a sponsor at this link and choose our names from the drop-down menu.
  • Learn, Pray, Act: the ELCA has collected a number of updates and statements from our partners on the ground in the Holy Land, as well as worship resources, background information, and opportunities for advocacy to encourage elected U.S. leaders to call for a ceasefire and end to the war that is devastating the civilian population of Gaza. Learn more here.
  • Join the SUMUD initiative: We are just beginning to share more about our new ELCA initiative, SUMUD: for justice in Palestine and Israel, which will be the new name and face of what was formerly called Peace Not Walls. You can learn more about this initiative, and the reasons for this change, here.
  • Tell the story: Many of you have traveled to the Holy Land before; we have had the joy of welcoming a number of Rocky Mountain Synod members over the past four years. Now is an important time to “go and tell” what you witnessed, learned, and experienced while you were here. Help people you know to move beyond simplistic or dehumanizing narratives and to understand the very real needs for justice in Palestine and Israel.


Thank you again for your prayers and support.


In Christ,

Meghan and Gabi Aelabouni



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