This morning we left Jerusalem, where we have been based for the past 5 days, and traveled to Bethlehem. We first met with Jad Isaac, who gave us a recent history of Bethlehem, then went with us as we traveled through the city. Bethlehem and its surrounding cities, Beit Jalla and Beit Sahour are completely surrounded by the wall. You enter through one of two areas – a fully functional checkpoint, built just to the north of the main artery between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, or to the south, where the checkpoint is still under construction. We were told it would be finished within a month.

The effects of this, as well as residual effects of September 11th, 2001, and the current ongoing tensions were amazing. The city was like a ghost town in comparison to images I have seen on TV or heard other people talk about from their trips to Israel. When we arrived at the Church of the Nativity, we were the only tour group there. There were maybe a half dozen other people in there with us. This was also the case with Shepherds Field. For a city whose livelihood depends on tourism, this is devastating.

We visited the Guidance and Training Center, a group who work with tramatized children. The mental health of children is finally being recognized as a serious issue in the occupied territories. In order to deal with the tension, the bombings, children in many cases are developing physical afflictions (blindness as an example), emotional afflictions (almost an autistic state or post-traumatic stress disorder) or a combination of both. At this center, these issues are addressed with trained child psychiatrists and therapists. They also work with the whole family to help overcome the trauma.

In the evening, the group was divided up and we spent the night in the homes of families living in Beit Sahour. My family was delightful. It was a common situation – a two story home – on the ground floor were the parents, one son, his wife and two small children. On the second floor (where I stayed), was the other son, his wife and three children. It made for a very lively household. When I arrived, the Germany/Argentina World Cup match was on. I was immediately asked who I was pulling for (Argentina) – then all eyes were focused on the game. Once it was over, the entire family gathered for a barbeque, with chicken, pork, hamburgers cooked on a grill, along with several fresh salads and lemonade. As the second match started, I slipped away to bed – too much for me!

News Muse note: Beth Sullivan is the bookkeeper for DisciplesWorld and has served as board member of the United Christian Missionary Society and the Disciples Divinity House at the University of Chicago. Sullivan is visiting Middle Eastern holy sites on a trip with her alma mater, Earlham College, located in Richmond, Ind.