George Ghanem, a Fulbright Scholar at George Washington University, is an Arab Christian. He speaks plaintively and honestly about life as a Christian in the Holy Land, and about how all the violence there has affected Palestinian Christians. The Centreville, Va., resident volunteers with the Holy Land Christian Solidarity Cooperative, appearing at churches in D.C., Maryland and Virginia with nativity scenes, crosses, and other items, all handcarved from olivewood.
Robin Farmer writes about Ghanem in this morning’s Richmond Times Dispatch, available on the website inRich.com:
“Part of our ministry is also to publicize our story to the Christian churches in the USA to tell them what’s happening to the Christians of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. They need your help,” he said.
“There are no sources of income for them. This is not for them to get rich, just to provide daily bread.
“The Holy Land used to have 3 million tourists every year. These days there may be a thousand every year and they are individuals,” said Ghanem, who plans to sell the carvings tomorrow at Richmond’s St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church (3602 Hawthorne Ave.) from 9 a.m. to noon.
Most of the Arab Christians in the Holy Land are either planning to leave or thinking of leaving, said Al Janssen, author of “Secret Believers: What Happens When Muslims Believe in Christ.”
“With what’s happening there, in another 10 years there could be zero-Christian population in that area,” said Janssen.
“Bethlehem is enclosed by a huge wall. Nowadays if tourists want to go to the manger square where Jesus supposedly was born, they have to go through a checkpoint surrounded by a 25-foot wall. It’s not exactly the most inviting place to go.”
Janssen recalled an Arab Christian businessman who added 30 rooms to his hotel before 2000 in anticipation of strong tourism.
“When I visited him a couple years ago, only one person was staying there. He was desperate to get out. No way he can make a living.”
Ghanem said about 100 families leave the Bethlehem area annually. He estimates the Christian population in the Holy Land is less than 2 percent compared with 30 percent last century.
Ghanem is asking churches that are interested in his ministry to contact him at (703) 994-0578.
He’s surprised to learn so few people know about the plight of Palestinian Christians.