The Message of Hope

As we go into this New Year of 2008 together, what is more appropriate than to remember the message of hope that we have encountered in 2007 in so many variations? An encounter of this sort that stands out more than others was the visit of Rev. Marlin Vis with our congregation on Dec 9th. At the same time, we were privileged to host a delegation from First Reformed Church in Astoria, Queens. Astoria’s Pastor Rev. Dwayne Jackson gave us a very encouraging sermon that day. Together, we welcomed Marlin Vis.

Marlin is a missionary of our denomination, the Reformed Church in America. He and his wife, Sally, live in Jerusalem where they work side by side with Palestinian Christians. In Jerusalem, Marlin and Sally embody the care and concern of North American Christians for their brothers and sisters in Israel and Palestine.

Marlin’s presentation was most interesting and was much talked about in the days that followed. As we had heard from our Lebanese friend Rev. George Bitar earlier this year, the number of Christians in this troubled part of the world is declining rapidly. In Palestine/Israel, there were between 18% and 20% in 1949.Today that number is between 1.5% and 1.8% of the total population.

Consequently, Marlin spoke to us of people forced to do everything in their power to provide an overseas future for their children because there is so little future in the land. He spoke of a middle class seeing their homes taken by others because they are now located in the wrong neighborhood of town. He told the story of family fathers facing the ugly crossroads of either saying “I forgive them” or “I will kill them”. And he talked of a people whose potential for hope has been exhausted because they have learned that they will be hurt again.

Yet Marlin did not end with these very difficult experiences. He moved on to convey to us a warning he had received from the Melkite Bishop Elias Chacour when first arriving in Jerusalem: “If you have come to take sides, don’t come. We have already too many of those here. But you are welcome if you want to serve as a bridge. We need people like you.”

Marlin then went on and shared with us that the Palestinian Christian’s contribution to society is enormous: in the West Bank, for example, they are 1.5% of the total population. Yet they educate 25% of all children in the West Bank in their schools. These Christian schools are very special, because they are relatively free from political bias. Their textbooks tell Palestinian children of the Holocaust that brought many of the ancestors of their Jewish classmates to Israel. Likewise they tell the Jewish children that their Palestinian classmates are not just “Arabs” but belong to a people with its own identity and its own need for a home land.

What could be more important than to be a bridge when cultures, political agendas, and religious biases clash the way they do in Israel and Palestine? We learned so much through Marlin’s words that day, and our interest and care for this particular region of our planet has certainly increased.
But we also learned something about ourselves. Bridges need to be built in our communities as well. The Sunday morning de-facto segregation of our worshippers remains largely unchallenged; the interfaith movement is still in its infancy; special needs people live separate and oftentimes shunned lives; and year after year our rotating Homeless Men’s Shelter gives us glimpses into a very different world. Bridges are needed here as well. As we now proceed into this New Year of 2008, I invite you to pray with me for God’s Holy Spirit. May God continue to use us as a good and sturdy bridge here in the city of New Brunswick!

In closing, I would like to thank the two committees of our church that were most involved in preparing for the events on Dec 9th, Christian Education under the leadership of Lauren Bernhofer and Invitation & Outreach chaired by Joan Fekete. Thank you to all of you who supplied wonderful meals and served our guests.

 

About Rev. Dr. Hartmut Kramer-Mills

Hartmut Kramer-Mills, a native of Jena, Germany, began his theological education at Heidelberg University. After the Middle Exam in 1986 he received a scholarship from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He graduated from McCormick with a Master of Divinity in 1988. He graduated from Marburg University in Germany with the Ecclesiastical Exam in 1990, and received a Dr. theol. from Greifswald University, Germany, in 1997. From 1990 to 1991 he was vicar at St. Wenzel in Naumburg, Germany. He was ordained minister of word and sacrament in 1993 through the Protestant Church of the Church Province of Saxony. From 1993 to 1998 he served as assistant pastor in Stoessen, Goerschen, and Rathewitz, Germany. At the same time he was lecturer for Church History at Erfurt College in Germany. From 1999 to 2000 he served the Spotswood Reformed Church in New Jersey as interim pastor. Since 2000 he and his wife serve the First Reformed Church in New Brunswick, New Jersey, as co-pastors.
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