Most tour groups whisk people in and out of Bethlehem. Half a day at the most. They visit the traditional site of the Shepherd’s Fields (either Latin or Orthodox), then the Church of the Nativity and they’re gone. On the Ancient Stones, Living Stones tour, we spend four nights in Bethlehem. This gives us barely enough time to get a feel for the city and, most importantly, to meet some of the people who live there. It’s important to me that tour participants get a good sense of what life in Bethlehem is like. You might want to read the National Geographic article and watch their short video about Bethlehem today.
We will be staying at the Casa Nova Palace (OK, not a palace) right on “Manger Square.” Next door we’ll visit the Church of the Nativity, built by Emperor Justinian in the sixth century A.D. on foundations that go back to the fourth century. There are fine mosaic floors still visible from the 4th century structure. Of course any visit to that church raises the question, Where was Jesus born? Kenneth Bailey offers a helpful response to that question in an article titled “The Manger and the Inn.” To read a short version, click here, and for a more in depth article, click here.
I always enjoy meeting the people in Bethlehem. During our days in Bethlehem we’ll take a tour of the Deheisheh Refugee Camp, we’ll visit with Zoughbi Zoughbi of the Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution Center, and we’ll worship with Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem on Sunday. I plan to set up a conversation with Mitri Raheb, Pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church. If you are able, you may want to read his book, I am a Palestinian Christian (Fortress Press, 2005).
I hope this whets your appetite for an engaging and eye-opening experience in Bethlehem, home town of King David, birthplace of Jesus.