A few years back, we were in Israel on a fifteen day educational journey. We had been eighteen years earlier, but this was a long yearned for return. It felt selfish to pray for it, but being given the opportunity with two professors, one from a US college and one from Hebrew University, was way beyond my dreams. The result of touring Israel from the educational vantage point … having a professor, from Jerusalem, open doors we couldn’t have dreamed up: we didn’t know they existed!
One such happening afforded us the pleasure of meeting the most adorable 5-year-old.
The Place of Children
We met her on the steps, where immediately she hid behind the “Sister’s” legs: shy and guarded about the strangers invading her house. Her eyes peeked out. Sister spoke to her, in her native tongue, which lead to a side step into the open and a capturing grin. My heart swelled with love and etched her memory in my brain.
Who can forget a shy, hesitant smile, offered from an angelic face, fortified by trust in her caregiver? Not I!
We were in the town of Bethlehem, the place Jesus was born. It is the place of children, for many of us; especially One child. The Christmas story, heard over and over by Christians, leaves us equating the word “Bethlehem” with “child”.
This nameless child, in a Catholic orphanage, in Bethlehem, captured my heart and attention. (We’ll name her “Talia” for this telling.)
Our Jerusalem professor, has a relationship with this orphanage. When groups come over, she asks, ahead of time, their needs and welcomes anyone to bring supplies: this trip newborn supplies were requested. We took what we could fit in our luggage. During “free time”, we were invited to visit the orphanage with our professor. They greeted us as honored guests: hugs, hot tea, huge smiles, and many “thank you’s” from the Sisters.
We all sat down with the Sisters, no children present, as they explained to us the history of this haven. Both Sisters asked us to pray for Christians in Bethlehem. It is under Arab control and there is a dwindling Christian population. But, it is also difficult for Christians there. (Persecution is real in the borders of Bethlehem.) There was one emphatic message: there are no denomination lines in Bethlehem! If you are a Christian, you are my brother/sister and we need each other. Their mission is also clear: love the orphan children of Bethlehem, Christian and Arab alike!
One Nun running this Orphanage was in her early 70s, the other in her 80s! These admirable women were not planning for retirement. They were whole-heartedly committed to the children God called them too! Their unpretentious sermon, lived for us to see, was convicting, humbling, and unforgettable! Their faithfulness and self-sacrifice was one of the unexpected lessons learned during our journey.
Goodness … in comparison, my life is embarrassingly selfish.
Sister Raphaela communicated this story about “Talia”:
Each morning before school, the girls gather in a small sparse room designated “The Chapel.” Here, they learn to pray morning prayers. Along with praying, the girls learn to make the sign of the cross, following Catholic tradition. “Talia” was diligently trying to learn. But, she was showing lots of frustration at executing the sign of the cross. She tried many days mixing up the actions. Finally, when her precocious personality had reached its pinnacle of patience, she blurted out waving her hands with passionate frustration,
“Can’t I just say, I love you Jesus?!?”
Sister said, she snickered and replied,
“Ok, Talia, just say, I Love Jesus!”
“After all,” Sister Raphaela said, “that’s what’s most important, to love Jesus!”
I cannot tell you how often those words have warmed my heart and centered my thoughts. Spoken at such a tender age, not knowing completely how to communicate her feelings to God. Yet, she knew what love was… living in an orphanage! And, she knew who Jesus was. And she learned of His love for her and loved Him in return! How lovely and Biblical is that truth; spoken by a five-year-old!
Given all of her life surroundings, this proclamation held so much significance, far beyond her years and education. The innocence and honesty of a child laying their heart open, gives us the privilege of understanding the truths she believed. This is a fortune akin to finding a treasure chest. The raw unfiltered revelation of innocence boils life down to essentials: jolting me with perspective and priorities.
Thank you, “Talia” for vividly reminding me to “just love Jesus!” Thank you Sister, for simplifying my faith and challenging my humility and selfishness.
Next time life overwhelms you, expectations seem too great, or, you have an inability to communicate all you are going through, take this lesson from “Talia”,…. “Just say, I love you, Jesus!”… it is more than enough!
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”
Next time, you feel like God is asking too much or concerned about a cushy retirement, vacation, etc. … think of Sister Raphaela!
When you think of it, pray for the Sisters and children in a small orphanage in Bethlehem. Jesus knows where they live and who they are!!
Thankful for experiencing Jesus’ presence in Bethlehem,
Feel free to share with a friend(s).
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