To the Holy Land and Beyond: "Take Care of My Sheep"
A glance out across a rural landscape of Palestine would guarantee the presence of sheep being tended to by a local shepherd. At times, one need not look very far, as flocks are often herded across the streets of town even here in Bethlehem. This tradition of shepherding and caring for flocks has long been in the DNA of this region. It would come as no surprise, then, that due to the importance of this vocation within this society, that the charitable branch of Bethlehem Bible College would take up the name “Shepherd Society” to in turn care for the members of its own community.
“Again Jesus said, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’
He answered, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’
Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’
The Shepherd Society exists to serve those in need within our society. In the mid-1990s several Palestinian pastors and leaders were compelled to look more closely at the needs within their community. As followers of Christ, they saw no option but to extend the love of Jesus to those in need through practical ways of service and care. Formally established in 1996, the Shepherd Society took its newly found name as a commission to care for, tend to and serve their community with joy and fortitude. With a focus on Palestine, the Shepherd Society also retains a broader sense of service as well. With partnerships and visitors from outside Palestine, the global church has come alongside the Shepherd Society to help make this service possible. The encouragement and financial assistance acquired has allowed for several projects to continue serving the local population.
When speaking with Sari Zeidan, who has served with the Shepherd Society since June 2015, he stated:
“I work here because I believe in what we do. The work that the Shepherd Society does makes me feel happy because we are helping people who are in need. What we do is very important because there are a lot of people in our society who need help in several ways, and we provide them this help. For example, when we give a sick man, woman or child medicine that they cannot receive due to financial restraints or because they don’t qualify with the government, it is the same as saving lives.”
Providing medical assistance or bill repayment, distributing food parcels, visiting the elderly and those that are in the hospital, and starting a micro-finance program are all integral parts of what makes the Shepherd Society so important within Palestine. Zeidan followed up his statement with:
“My favorite project is the micro-finance initiative. We give a small loan to a person who has the ability, the will and the heart to work in something, but lacks the money to purchase the machines, equipment, etc. We help them start his project or business by giving them these resources so that they can begin to live safely in this society.”
The Shepherd Society continues to be active in Bethlehem and other towns and villages within Palestine. The call to care for Jesus’ sheep, however, doesn’t stop at city limits or state borders. As the refugee crisis both in the Middle East and around the world has increased, the Shepherd Society jumped in and began serving. Taking several trips each year, the Shepherd Society comes alongside the Syrian and Iraqi refugees now residing in Jordan. Distributing fans in the summer, and blankets, heaters and food in the winter are small, yet significant gifts to these families who have left everything behind. They then spend time with these people as well as minister to them. The aim is to meet basic needs in the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual ways as they spend time together.
Additionally, noting the increasing rate of refugees fleeing Myanmar in the past several months, the Shepherd Society began an initiative at BethBC to aid children affected by the violence and displacement. The Rohingya people of Myanmar have been subjected to brutal violence and have fled their homes to nearby Bangladesh. As a people with a long history of a refugee crisis, Palestinians within the Shepherd Society empathize with this kind of loss. It is this compelling force of love and compassion given by Jesus that draws them into working out this kind of service toward those that are unable to provide for themselves. Donations have been taken at the 4th Annual Global Leadership Summit hosted by BethBC, around the BethBC campus from staff, faculty and students, and even from internationals passing through. This money will go toward funding food parcels that will feed a child three meals a day for a month.
The call to care for their society comes at no light expense. A life modeled after Jesus requires exactly that: one’s life. Continuing the ongoing service and presence here in Palestine remains the central focus of the Shepherd Society, but not to the exclusion of those that reside outside. As resources, personnel and vision continue to grow, we can expect to see amazing things from this faithful establishment!