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FOTONNA/TON December 2018 Newsletter

December 4, 2018

Dear Friends,

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and we move on to the coming of Christmas and the ringing in of a New Year 2019.  We have much to be thankful for, and among those gifts is the fact that the Tent of Nations still stands as a bright, shining star outside Bethlehem – a beacon of peace with faith, love and hope serving as their simple, basic pillars of belief.

Daoud tells the story about one Christmas when there was a very bad storm that knocked out the electricity in all of the settlements surrounding the farm.  In the middle of the night with a suddenly darkened landscape, the farm, lit up with electricity provided by their solar panel batteries, was the only source of light for miles around.  The family went around and turned on every light they had – shining beacon on a hill, indeed!

As it seems that more and more people are finding it difficult to relate to the “other,” the midterm elections here at home have shown that the face of America is finally being reflected in the broad-based swath of individuals who will be sworn into office in January 2019.  Who would have dreamed of a Palestinian-American woman entering into the halls of the House even a year ago?  We hope that the message from Daoud Nassar, which has been heard by hundreds and hundreds of people across the States, may have had some impact in opening hearts and minds to the possibilities of change – welcoming the new faces of America into our homes and on our television sets and Facebook pages and, yes, even by way of our tweets!  I love the way my own heart has been opened up by our ongoing relationship with the Nassar family.  Over time, I have learned to see the Palestinian people through a very different lens because of our work with this incredible family.  I thank them for this gift, and I have a feeling that each of you might feel much the same.

Christmas in Bethlehem:

You can share the joy of Christmas with Christians in the Holy Land who will be attending services at the Nassar family church. Thanks to the internet, congregations in DC and in Bethlehem pray, sing and worship together in one of the most moving experiences you will have in celebrating Christmas; the two congregations alternate in leading prayers and hymns.  The service is to be held on December 15, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. EST.  If you live in the DC Metro area, come to the National Cathedral and share the service with the Nassars and others in Bethlehem, or you can join online at www.cathedral.org.  (You might even catch a glimpse of some of the Nassar family members in attendance.)

Message from Daoud:

“You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:  14-16.

We live in a world that is full of conflicts, wars, darkness and hate.  We are all burdened with bad news almost on a daily basis.  Where are we today with all of what is happening around us?  What is our message at Christmas time and for the New Year?

We always like to talk about things, put together plans and even give solutions to any problem in this world, but the real challenge we face is how to put the word into practice.  Jesus said, “You are the Light of the World.”  It is not about the word, but about the action.  By being the light, we can make the change and not just by talking about it.  This is the witness that we always need to carry.

As this year comes to an end, we look back and are thankful for God.  HE always blesses us with enough strength to overcome the Negatives with Positives, Hatred with Love, and Darkness with Light with our simple message of Refusing to be an Enemy.

So far this year, we have had 9,804 visitors on the farm, including volunteers from all over.  All were inspired by our story, went back home inspired and encouraged to become change-makers in their own communities.

Thank you so much for your friendship, for your prayers, for your solidarity and for your support.

We wish you all and your families a Merry Christmas and a happy and blessed New Year 2019.  May God give you, and us, the power to continue to be change-makers.  Let us walk together in this coming New Year with Faith, with Love and with Hope.

Blessings and Salaam,

Daoud & Family

Fall 2018 Tour:

We are grateful for all the support offered by so many individuals during the Fall 2018 Tour in November.  It was a very satisfying week, thanks to Beth Moore, our FOTONNA Tour Coordinator, and her cohort of volunteers.  The hosts were wonderfully generous by opening up their homes and hearts and doing the hard work of organizing events in Richmond, Harrisonburg, Charlottesville and Williamsburg.  Thanks to all of you!

 

Daoud and George Nassar and the leader of the Arab American Association
of Central Virginia for Israel and Palestine (Photo by Bill Plitt)

Bill digs cisterns on the farm and Daoud rakes leaves on our land!
(No chance of a forest fire here!)

 

For a snapshot of Bill Plitt’s reflections on the tour and some other pictures taken along the way, please click on here:

Permission to Speak and the Power of Stories by: Bill Plitt

 

There is also a wonderful article written after the tour about the Tent of Nations and its relationship with the Eastern Mennonite University faculty and students.  It has some great photos to share.  Just click on here:

https://fotonna.org/emu-hosts-tent-of-nations-daoud-nassar-reciprocating-hospitality-after-years-of-visits-to-his-palestine-farm/

Daoud is pictured above with fall 2017 cross-cultural trip co-leader Bill Goldberg (left) during a reunion with undergraduate students who visited the farm.  (Photo by Macson McGuigan)

And, the gift keeps on giving.  This message is from our AC member, David Benedict, who hosted a large gathering of folks during our tour on November 14 at Williamsburg United Methodist Church.  It is about two people who attended the event that night.  It’s both inspiring and encouraging!

“Hi, Bill – I just got the Facebook posting from Charles Swadley who has led the VA Interfaith Center for Public Policy and is now a retired UMC minister.  See what he has to say about Daoud’s witness at Williamsburg UMC.”

It is time to “pause.”

For the Christian community, this Sunday (December 2) begins the season of Advent.  It holds a dual function for us – looking back to the holy night, affirming the greatest gift of God in the small vulnerable packaging of a child, and, beyond that, hoping into an uncertain future the fulfillment of this gift in the final reality of God’s promise.

While there is so much distrust and division among us, even in our congregations over such issues as sexuality, we must focus on a larger vision, beyond my seeing and our collective, meager, limited imagining – a possibility for human peace.  If there is a common thread instilled in our creation, this season of Advent calls out for us to patiently ponder and wait expectantly for fulfillment of the promises embedded in the child of peace.

Can we surrender or release our hardening anxieties, not relenting on vigilance, but releasing our walls of separation to find a newness, an inspiring direction?

I heard a very powerful story that embraced this vision.  A farmer outside of Bethlehem who is giving a living testimony of not allowing their family to become a settled “victim.”  The Nasser family dream of the Tent of Nations does not want enemies, but believes that Palestinians – Christian or Muslim – and Jews are human beings.  The dignity of a common DNA, as children of God, invites the possibility of mutual affirmation in their humanity.

This Advent invites the courage and the faith of reimagining a world that is ruled not by fear but spirited by hope.  Can we imagine the tearing down of walls, not building larger barriers, including all God’s children, not excluding within our sacred walls of worship?

“Also, last Sunday (November 25), our WUMC Associate Pastor preached and told the Nassar story again in beautiful and telling ways as a pre-Advent sermon.  Meghan Roth-Clayton, whom you met, has really carried the light of the Nahalin hilltop forward.  Praise God.  Advent Blessings to you and Kay.”  David Benedict

If anyone else has a personal story to share, please send it to:  kayplitt@comcast.net.  We would love to hear from you and place your story on our website.

 

Annual Advisory Council/Steering Committee Meeting:

Each year during Daoud’s fall trip, members of the FOTONNA AC and SC get together to share a “What’s up?” session.  On November 17, Nadia and Paul hosted at their home once again.  There was lively discussion and great food (even some leftover Halloween candy!) and some major issues addressed.  The SC is looking at the question of succession; we would like to see some fresh faces willing to come in, learn about what/how things are being done at this point, and bring in some new ideas and energy for the future of our work.  If interested in learning more about what we need and whether you might want to take on some of the work, please contact Bill Plitt (williamplitt@gmail.com) or Kay Plitt (kayplitt@comcast.net).

 

Advisory Council hard at work (and play) (Photo by Bill Plitt)

 

Funds:

In the last Newsletter, we made a modest appeal for funds to support the Women’s Education Center in Nahalin with the hope that they could eventually get a potter’s wheel, kiln and other supplies in order to make some lovely pottery to both use and sell.  We also asked for support for our volunteer scholarship funds. People have been very generous so far, and I think we will be able to get Jihan the funds she needs and provide some more scholarship support for 2019.  Thanks to all of you who responded to this modest request; we will keep you updated on the progress.

Volunteers:

Daoud is still in need of skilled volunteers in the following areas, especially those who can stay for at least a month or more:

  • Farm equipment maintenance (small engine repair, etc.)
  • Kitchen/café maintenance (including cooking)
  • Electrical wiring and maintenance
  • Housekeeping/Gift Shop maintenance
  • Carpentry/Construction/Metal work
  • Farming techniques specific to a dry climate

If you think you can provide support, please see the TON website – www.tentofnations.org – for more information on how to take advantage of this opportunity.  There is some limited scholarship support available for those who qualify.

2019:

In 2019, Daoud will be focusing on Land Management as a broad area of needed support.  He hopes to purchase a used tractor (safer than the one they have been using), a used cultivator and a variety of farming tools.  Many of the other projects are in fairly good shape, thanks to the support from all of you and other international visitors and groups.  He is narrowing his focus for the coming year out of concern that the roads may soon be made very difficult to navigate, and the equipment needs to reach the farm as soon as possible.  The noose around the area keeps getting tighter and tighter.  This request also covers cisterns, tree planting, harvesting, etc. – anything related to cultivation and management of the land.

Another well-deserved Award:

Human rights – Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law (November 21, 2018)

Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs and his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, announced the winners of the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and the Rule of Law on November 21.

On this occasion, the ministers stated, “As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights this year, France and Germany pay tribute to 15 figures who courageously defend human rights all over the world.  Through them, our two countries honor all human rights advocates whose work is all too often ignored or obstructed, and express their appreciation and gratitude to all those who work every day to ensure that this declaration does not remain an empty slogan.”

One of the prizes goes to Daoud Nassar and the Tent of Nations.  There will be a ceremony held in December 2018 where the award will be formally recognized and awarded to the Nassar family in Bethlehem.

In addition to the 2017 World Methodist Council Peace Award delivered to the Nassars on the farm on October 11, 2018 (see photos below), this Franco-German Prize is another amazing recognition of this simple message:  “We Refuse to be Enemies.

The Nassar Family receives the Award – Daoud Gives to his Mother, Milade (Photo by Bill Plitt)

 

Shadin, the Master of Ceremonies, listens to the message of Archbishop Chacour
(Photo by Bill Plitt)
Daoud and Bishops from the World Methodist Council plant
a lemon tree during a Communion Service before the celebration of the Award (Photo by Bill Plitt)

Getting Ready:

We wish you the time and energy to do all you need to do over the next month – and the time and energy to enjoy the quiet moments needed for reflection and rejuvenation during this upcoming season of faith, love and hope.  Then, let’s put our words into action!

Happy Holidays – in whatever tradition you find the most satisfying!  May 2019 be a year of giving and caring.

 

Kay Plitt – Director of Finance/Communications – FOTONNA Steering Committee

 

P.S.  Nadia Itraish, one of our Steering Committee Members, is a member of a small group hoping to support four farmers in the West Bank (including Daoud) with providing volunteers to work on their farms.  Their organization, Growing Palestine, is having a fundraiser on Sunday, December 16, 2018 from 6:00-10:00 p.m.  Tickets are $60.00.  You can go to their website at:  https://www.eventbrite.com/e/growing-palestine-holiday-hafla-tickets-52193518218 for more information and to purchase tickets, or you can visit their website at:  www.growing-Palestine.com.