“Is This Really for Me?”
by Rev. Rick Sides
The Moravian Church
Since 1867 the worldwide Moravian Church has been involved in ministries of care, support, and advocacy for those in need in the Holy Land. The work began with founding a home in Jerusalem for persons with leprosy. Located in the Kidron Valley, not far from the Jaffa Gate outside of the Old City of Jerusalem, the home was named JESUSHILFE (the help of Jesus). By the 1880s, there were over 60 residents of the home, each receiving a place to live, medical treatment, and the loving support of a community grounded in acceptance and grace rather than banishment and fear.
By the time the nation of Israel was formed in 1948, the residents of the home included both Arab and Jewish patients. Still, the work of the home (which was physically located in the West Bank of what was then Jordan) became increasingly difficult. In 1957, the Moravian Church purchased a twenty-acre tract of land outside of Jerusalem near Ramallah, in the village of Abu Qash, to build an entirely new residential community. The new home was named Star Mountain. The new facilities opened in 1960, patients moved in, and over 7,000 trees were planted on the location, mainly through the efforts of Sister Johanna Larsen, a Danish Moravian nurse and administrator who had come to lead the work.
By the 1970s, mainly due to the advances in medical treatments for the disease of leprosy, the Moravian Church refocused the work of the mission at Star Mountain to support Palestinian girls with mental disabilities. By the 1980s, the work included a residential school and growing support for families in the surrounding villages who had children challenged by intellectual disabilities.
Today the Star Mountain Rehabilitation Center – Moravian Church continues its significant work in Palestine. Currently, the center provides education, training, and rehabilitation for around 100 persons with intellectual disabilities whose ages range from three months to 40 years. A highly qualified ecumenical staff serves with outstanding commitment and pride to help secure a life of dignity for persons with intellectual disabilities. The vision of Star Mountain is that all persons with disabilities in Palestine shall have equal rights, the same as non-disabled persons, especially the right to education, social and economic integration, access to health care services, and protection from all kinds of abuse. The Moravian Church continues to feel privileged to serve there and share this vision. With this vision, Star Mountain continues to shine a bright light on the dream of a life of peace, justice, and equality for all people in the region.
On one of the early trips I led to the Holy Land in the late 1990s, our Moravian group was able to visit Star Mountain. During the visit, members of our group were sitting on the school floor, interacting with some of the young children who had welcomed us with Danish cookies and hot tea (it was a cold January day!). Some members of our group had brought the students small gifts, which were enjoyed with great excitement and joy. One young boy with a gift in hand turned to one of our group and asked him a question in Arabic. A Star Mountain teacher nearby smiled and translated. The teacher said the boy had asked, “Is this really for me?”
Is this really for me? I have thought many times about how profound and vital this question is. It is a question of faith, a question of grace, and a question of blessing. It is a question that continues to invite and inspire our witness to the gifts of Christ’s love, reconciliation, and healing work in the world, at places like Star Mountain and many more. Are these gifts for everyone? They certainly are! And as a Moravian, I am thankful that the light, dedication, and hard work of a small, faithful community on a beautiful, wooded hill north of Ramallah keeps that hope alive every day.
Gracious God, grant special measures of your grace and strength this day
to all those who serve the needs of people with intellectual disabilities.
Where there is darkness, may their faithfulness bring light;
where there is confusion, may their skills bring clarity and calm;
where there is fear, may their empathy and compassion bring trust;
and where there is exhaustion and desperation,
may their love bring new hope and sustaining joy.
We pray in the name of the One of Palestine who said,
“Let the little children come unto me,” even Christ Jesus our Lord.
Rev. Rick Sides formerly served as the representative for the Moravians to the Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) board. He was also the pastor of Home Moravian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. To find out more about the Moravian Church, visit their website.