Stories from the Global Church

Here you will find stories from the global church by ELCA global missionaries, scholars, and churchwide staff, brought to you by the ELCA Global Church Sponsorship team.

Grateful to be in accompaniment with Palestinians

Posted on April 14, 2012 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Elly McHan is an ELCA missionary in Jerusalem. She describes here two recent experiences of going through the checkpoint to the West Bank, something many Palestinians do regularly. To support Elly, or another of the ELCA’s 230 missionaries, go to

Waiting at the checkpoint.

Waiting at the checkpoint.

It was nearing the end of the work day, and so the nearer we got to the checkpoint the fuller the bus became.  Soon, the aisle was filled with Palestinian day workers — tired, dusty, dirty, sweaty men who were willing to crush into the bus because that meant they would get home that much sooner.

And as we poured out of the bus, we crossed the checkpoint together.  Through one turnstile.  Then another.  And yet another.  And as we entered in the wide open, fenced-in no-man’s land, and the 30-foot concrete wall rose up above us with its barbed wire and lights and cameras atop, I was almost brought to tears as I looked at the men around who had crossed well before dawn to spend their day building for others and now were crossing over once again, voluntarily and effectively returning to what seemed by appearance so much like a prison, knowing that once that first turnstile was crossed they could not re-enter unless someone else allowed them to.  And I found myself so proud to be walking with them.

A second crossing was with three youths from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL).  I was so worried about getting to our appointments on time that I asked them to meet me at the checkpoint at 6:30 am. They arrived promptly on time and with smiles on their faces.

And so we started our crossing.  Through the long cattle shoot along the wall, past one soldier and down the serpentine tunnel to the crowded lines of Palestinians waiting to pass, three by three, past the second soldier in the metal-detector room, to the third and final soldier who performs a final paperwork check.

I felt so proud as our youth kept their heads high, carried themselves with dignity, showed respect to the soldiers who issued one word orders to them. But I was most moved when we came out the other side of the checkpoint and the three young people expressed pain and concern for me, for the demands the soldiers had issued to me and the time they had made me stand waiting, not knowing whether I would be allowed to cross or not that day.

Once more I was blown away by these young people who, even as I was called to accompany them, were embodying accompaniment more fully and more honestly than most any I have encountered.

I am so proud to be working with the people of the ELCJHL and walking in accompaniment with the Palestinian people and all who continue to raise their voices and to shout out for peace and justice, for dignity and life abundant, for hope.



The ELCA’s best-kept secret: YAGM

Posted on August 2, 2011 by Hand In Hand

The Rev. Fred and Gloria Strickert are ELCA missionaries in Palestine. Fred is pastor of the English-speaking congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem. To support the Strickerts, a Young Adult in Global Mission coordinator or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

YAGM particiapnts see the world through different eyes.

YAGM particiapnts see the world through different eyes.

We have been blessed this past year here in Jerusalem with six amazing, dedicated, and talented young adults (we call them YAGMs) who have impacted our lives and the lives of the Palestinian church, while taking a giant step that means they will never see the world in the same way as before.

The YAGM program remains the ELCA’s best kept secret—even after 10 years.

I still remember the day 12 years or so ago when my academic advisee, Brandon, walked into my Wartburg College office announcing that he had decided to take a year off from college for this new ELCA program in England called “Time for God” — that was what the program was called that first year. I tried to talk Brandon out of it. “I’ll never see you again,” I told him. “You’ll just drop out of school.” Instead, Brandon returned a year later a different person, a new and improved Brandon, a Brandon who had new eyes for his academic work, a Brandon with a strong sense of calling for work in the church.

Over the next years, I found myself encouraging students to apply for this new YAGM program. Hearing about their experiences, I learned a lot about the world and the global church. I also came to realize what a gem the ELCA has in this life-shaping program.

Consider the impact that 419 YAGMs have had on the church returning from a year of service over these last 10 years — 40 to 50 every year.

Now after a year, we have said our farewells to our six YAGMs, who living and working side-by-side with Palestinian Christians have changed the perceptions about Americans while having their own eyes opened about people mostly neglected and often inaccurately maligned in the media.

By now, our six YAGMs — Janelle, Sarah, Abby, Trena, David and Luke — have arrived in the States, readjusting with culture shock but energized, and realizing they will never be the same. Two are heading to seminary this fall, one to grad school in social work, one to Lutheran Volunteer Corps, one to a community art program, and one to serve as a recruiter for ELCA Global Mission before later enrolling in Dental School.

In Jerusalem, there is an empty spot without them. By the end of August, however, we will be welcoming Michelle, Sara, Megan, Alma, Courtney, and Laurin-Whitney as they begin a year as Young Adults in Global Mission.

So we invite your prayers for the entire YAGM program throughout the world and especially here in Jerusalem.

Fred and Gloria Strickert


One woman makes her mark

Posted on June 21, 2011 by Hand In Hand

Fred & Gloria Strickert are ELCA Global Mission personnel in Jerusalem where Fred is pastor of the English speaking congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.

Honey Thaljieh

Honey Thaljieh

One day about 15 years ago, when we stood watching the boys kicking  around a soccer ball on the old Bethlehem Lutheran School playground (where the Dar Annadwa auditorium now stands), the ball went astray among a group of girls, doing what most 10- to 11-year-old girls would do. Most stepped back to avoid getting hit. But Honey Thaljieh  stepped forward, and with the kick of her foot sent the ball flying, beginning a long journey that would take her around the world on an amazing adventure.

From the Lutheran School playground in Bethlehem, Honey has emerged to revolutionize Palestinian attitudes about women’s sports and has taken up what one might call sports diplomacy, making it all the way to the White House with Hillary Clinton.

In the mid 1990s, when we spent a sabbatical in Bethlehem, Honey’s older sister Amal and our daughter Rachel became the best of friends.

The first intifadah spanned the years when Honey grew from 3 to 8. The second Intifadah corresponded to her late teen-age years. And she experienced some traumatic events living  just a stone’s throw from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem — a cousin, Johnny Taljieh, was shot by snipers as he left worship after serving as acolyte.

Honey found strength by faithfully attending church every Sunday, remaining active in Sunday school, youth group, choir, and in the Lutheran School there at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church. And Honey has made the most of it, completing her B.A. in business administration at Bethlehem University and becoming the head of the national sports programs for Palestinian girls and rising as a role model for girls growing up in Middle Eastern society.

Recently when we checked the news online, we saw a Huffington Post story with the headline, “Hillary Clinton Launches Girls Soccer Initiative,” and most of the quotes came from Honey, who was at the White House with other rising international stars.

Honey manages to find a positive spin on …  the restrictive conditions due to the occupation. “We have nowhere else to go and nowhere to put our energies,” she says. “We are just playing with our souls and spiritual abilities. It’s because we are strong, we are Palestinian, we face a lot of difficulties. We want to be something.”

The team is also at a disadvantage in that there are no regulation-sized fields in Bethlehem to practice.  Mostly they practice on the concrete surface handball court at Bethlehem University — a fact that has resulted in numerous knee injuries.  Honey recently threw out her knee and is undergoing rehabilitation.

Honey is the ideal role model for young Palestinian girls. Her “captain” armband is a reminder how she has always been a leader. The Palestinian patch on her jersey brings forth her patriotism and her role as a Palestinian ambassador of goodwill. And most of all, the cross around her neck, both on the field and off, witnesses to her strong Christian faith.

Who would have dreamed such a story when a 10-year-old Honey stepped forward to kick that soccer ball back to the boys on the Lutheran School  playground in Bethlehem?

Fred & Gloria Strickert

(For the full story on Honey, go to

Christmas Important for Christians and Muslims Alike in the Holy Land

Posted on December 29, 2010 by Hand In Hand

There’s nothing like a quiet visit to the Church of the Nativity a few days before Christmas, before the crowds take it over.  The church has several churches and chapels within it, the most important being the little cave-grotto you descend into where several spots mark the birth of Jesus and where he was laid in the manger.  Old Orthodox lanterns and the smell of oil and candles hang thick in the tiny sacred space.  Usually there is a line to get in, since each group gathers to sing O Little Town of Bethlehem or some other well-known carol, and the sound will echo throughout their memories forever.

But this day I found myself sharing the upper church with four young women, probably in their late teens.  One sat on the empty steps leading up to the sanctuary while another snapped her photo and then a second moved into place.  Then a sudden pause as they spied me standing among the columns on the perimeter– me, just another visitor, but me wearing my black suit and clerical collar, me, as far as they were concerned, a representative of the religious establishment.  After they offered an “Are we going to be in trouble for this?” look, I responded with a smile and nodded for them to continue.  Quickly, the third young woman took her place sitting on the step, posing for the camera, but looking my way hestitating.  I nodded to continue. Then the fourth followed suit.

I decided to walk over to the photographer.  Four figures froze where they stood, offering a worried look.

“If the four of you like, I can take your photo with all four of you together,” I volunteered. 

A sign of relief. Then the four of them took a pose before the altar, the cross, the sacred space recognized through the ages by Christians, while I captured a digital memory for their visit on this Dec. 23, when my visit just happened to intersect with theirs.

Did I mention that the four young women were Muslim?  Dressed in bluejeans and headscarfs they thanked me.  “Merry Christmas!” each one said in turn. 

“And Merry Christmas to you!” I said knowing the importance of the Prophet Isa to their faith and the significance of the virgin birth for them.  Then I added, “You are always welcome here!”

Christmas in Bethlehem is, of course, like no other place in the world.  At Christmas Lutheran Church, the service is usually in several languages, illustrating that indeed this message is a light to all the nations.  Then the atmosphere out in the streets is more like Mardi Gras than like a somber Christmas atmosphere.  People are laughing, welcoming strangers, all under festive lights in “Manger Square,” the plaza in front of the Nativity Church.  Once you have experienced Christmas in Bethlehem, a piece of your heart will forever remain there on Christmas Eve. 

Pastor Fred and Diaconal Minister Gloria Strickert serve Redeemer Lutheran Church in Jerusalem.
Follow them in their blog, Walk in

Images of Christmas in the Holy Land 

“We are people, all just people”

Posted on September 9, 2010 by Hand In Hand

A rally in Nazareth gathered thousands to protest against a desecration of a church in 2006. Photo: Rev. Julie Rowe.

As an ELCA missionary, I lived in Jerusalem four for years, serving with Palestinian Lutherans.  I lived and worked among Palestinian Muslims and Christians.  Most of them showed incredible hospitality to me and other Americans, making important distinctions between citizens of a nation and the impact of that nation’s policies.

Despite daily oppression and extremely harsh living conditions, my Palestinian neighbors were gracious and generous.

I remember my neighbor, Muhammed.  He had to get up three hours early during Ramadan to cross the checkpoint into Jerusalem to be at work on time, yet always went the extra mile to help me.

I remember Ibrahim, who opened his house and hospitality to all who needed a place to stay. 

I remember Khalid.  I met Khalid, a Muslim, after we both found out we were trying to help a Christian woman who had little money and no place to stay. 

When I met her, I suggested a few places near Redeemer Lutheran Church in the Old City of Jerusalem, where our offices were, and she said, “Oh, I couldn’t stay with them.” 

“Who is them?” I asked. 

“Arabs.  Muslims.  They’re dangerous and not Christian,” she replied.

I asked her if she realized she had come to an Arab church for help.  Three days later, I arranged for her to meet the man who had been helping her.  She never showed up for the meeting, but Khalid did.  She had gratefully accepted his help until she found out he was Muslim.  She then disappeared from our lives.  Khalid sighed, saying, “I don’t even ask whether someone is Muslim or Christian or Jew.  I just try to help.  If they need help, I help. We are people, we are all just people.”

The Rev. Julie Rowe is associate director for Middle East & Europe companionship with ELCA Global Mission.

A prayerful commitment

Posted on August 11, 2010 by Hand In Hand

The prayer reminder card prepared for the Strickerts' commissioning service.

Gloria Strickert shared this prayer reminder card that St. Paul  Lutheran, their home congregation in Waverly, Iowa, prepared.  The prayer reminder card will be distributed on Sunday, August 15, as the Rev. Fred and Gloria Strickert are commissioned to serve as ELCA Missionaries in Jerusalem.

This card illustrates the three-fold commitment of ELCA covenant sponsors to support a missionary prayerfully, financially and with encouraging communication.  Gloria and Fred are two fine examples of our 225+ ELCA missionaries serving alongside global neighbors in 50 countries.  ELCA Missionary Sponsorship helps make these “make a world of difference” ministries possible.  Learn more at

32, 22, 8, 18, 9,000

Posted on September 23, 2009 by Hand In Hand

Answer:  32 sponsor visits, 22 sermons, 8 children’s messages, 18 presentations, and 9000 miles.  What’s the question? 

Every two years, long-term missionaries return to the United States for two months of home-assignment leave.  During this time, the missionaries and Global Mission churchwide staff meet together, often at the Summer Missionary Conference.  Most of their time is spent meeting with their sponsors to tell the stories of the mission and ministries in their place of service.  Below, Marcia Holman, an ELCA missionary based in Jerusalem, shares what “home-assignment leave” meant for her and her husband, the Rev. Mark Holman.  Mark serves as pastor for the English-speaking congregation of the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem. Marcia’s service centers on community development and education.
–Sue Edison-Swift

Our home-leave assignment began in Philadelphia in June and ended in Minneapolis in August. Along the way we enjoyed visiting 32 of our sponsoring congregations. The itinerary included 22 sermons, 8 children’s sermons, 18 presentations, and countless potluck suppers–where we sampled everyone’s hot dishes and favorite comfort food. From beginning to end we drove nearly 9,000 miles before returning the beautiful “summer loaner” car to the extraordinarily generous Dan and Anne Ritter from Trinity Lutheran Church in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

 Throughout our visits, we were heartened by the level of knowledge – and hunger for more information – that people had for peace and justice issues related to the Middle East. Many were well informed about how the ELCA stands in solidarity, particularly with struggling Palestinian Christians living in Jerusalem and the West Bank. People were not only staying abreast of information in local and national media, they had also been reading some of the fine ELCA resources, including the “Peace Not Walls” materials and The Lutheran magazine. It was an exhausting journey, at the same time when heading back to Jerusalem, we felt supported and encouraged to return to the vital ministry in a land both holy and troubled.   
–Marcia Holman is an ELCA missionary based in Jerusalem.

West Bank YAGM team plant trees

Posted on April 16, 2009 by Anne Edison-Albright

Front: Nikki Schmidt, Marta Spangler. Back: Paul Kacynski, Martin and the Rev. Shadra Shoffner (YAGM coordinators), Daher Nassar (local host), Chelsea Mathis and Kendra Kintzi. (Unless otherwise noted, the pictured are ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission. 2009 Photo by Meredith Harber, YAGM.)

Thanks to ELCA Missionary the Rev. Shadra Shoffner for submitting this picture and caption. On Earth Day (April 22) give thanks and pray for those who plant trees and plant peace. Sue-s

During their mid-year retreat, the Jersusalem/West Bank ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) team planted trees near Nahalin Village, West Bank. The property belongs to a Palestinian Lutheran family who advocate for peace, saying “We refuse to be enemies.”

Walking with the risen Lord: An Easter Devotion

Posted on April 13, 2009 by admin

This Easter Devotion, written by The Rev. Mark Holman, is based on Luke 24:13-35. It appears in the Spring 2009 issue of Hand in Hand, the new ELCA Missionary Sponsorship quarterly newseltter. The devotion is written by the Rev. Mark Holman. Easter blessings!   Sue

Only Luke tells this story of Jesus’ tender patience: “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Later, their eyes were opened when Jesus blessed, broke, and gave the bread.

We have not yet walked the road to Emmaus, but we, and the people we serve, have walked plenty of stony roads in and around Jerusalem. Daily, we walk through 3,000 years of biblical history. At the same time, we participate in some of the pivotal events that will be reported in tomorrow’s international media.

We walk with people who grieve the loss of their precious homeland and now endure the incessant humiliations of occupation. We join in the struggle for peace and justice in a climate often simmering with vengeance and retribution. Most of all, in faith, we walk with the risen Lord who continues to be revealed when scripture is opened and bread broken. He is the one who brings life and sets us free.

dsc_0067b-785782The Rev. Mark and Marcia Holman are ELCA missionaries. Pastor Mark serves as pastor of the English-speaking congregation at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the Old City of Jerusalem. Marcia serves to strengthen community life among the women and men called to serve in Palestine.