As Methodist Liaison to Israel-Palestine, Rev. Kristen Brown walks in Jesus’ footsteps every day.
The United Methodist missionary, who has served in Israel and Palestine since 2011 and is the United Methodist representative in the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem, lives in the Christian community of Beit Jala overlooking Bethlehem. On a clear day, Brown can look out into the Moab hills of Jordan in the distance.
|The Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem partners with local farmers. Rev. Kristen Brown is shown here filling a bucket of almonds during a recent harvest.|
“Biblical sites are everywhere, and so are reminders of the ‘occupation and separation’ that has characterized life in the Holy Land since the late 1940s,” she said.
“Day-to-day life is more complex here,” she added.
“Living here means that I cross checkpoints almost daily,” Brown said, “but I have the luxury of being able to choose which checkpoints I use. Local Palestinians do not have that luxury. Checkpoint 300, the main checkpoint into Bethlehem, is the hardest to pass through. Every person must show their passport or permit to pass. Sometimes it takes more than an hour to traverse the five miles between Bethlehem and Jerusalem.”
“Christians from Bethlehem in the West Bank cannot freely go to East Jerusalem to worship unless they have a permit. Generally, they may receive a permit during Christmas and Easter, but not everyone in the family receives one. Many have not traveled to Jerusalem for 10 or more years.”
Brown first came to Israel-Palestine in 1996 as a member of a United Methodist Volunteers in Ministry (UMVIM) team. It was then she first felt God calling her to the region. Now she works with UMVIM teams from around the world as they help with projects that support Global Ministries and other partners in Israel-Palestine.
According to Brown, projects emphasize education, health, agriculture and theology. She and her colleagues in the liaison office assist Methodist visitors attending Holy sites, meeting with leaders on Palestinian and Israeli issues and with helping in the church’s volunteer efforts in the area on a long- or short-term basis.
Brown is frequently invited to speak to Methodist and ecumenical visitors and to help them arrange a “mission” experience in the Holy Land.
Brown said the Methodist Church has had a presence in Palestine and Israel since the 1880s. “It has not built local Methodist churches in the area,” she said, “because that was never the intent of our denomination. Instead, we focus on missional projects that can impact the quality of life and prepare Christian leaders to serve churches and society in the Holy Land.”
A complete list of United Methodist projects in the Holy Land is on the General Board of Global Ministries’ “Advance” website: http://www.umcmission.org/Explore-Our-Work/Middle-East/Israel-Palestine?retain=true&PagingModule=7227&Pg=2.
|Participants in a recent Palestinian marathon are taking a moment away from the race. The event, which currently draws more than 5,000 walkers and runners, begins and ends at Manger Square.|
One of the purposes of the liaison office, Brown said, is to increase international awareness and involvement of the Methodist community in the issues of Israel-Palestine. The office is a combined venture of The United Methodist Church, The Methodist Church of Great Britain and the World Methodist Council.
Brown is accustomed to wearing many hats. “I could be preaching on Sunday, helping with a seasonal harvest on Friday, visiting our partners, leading a Bible study or prayer group or listening to people tell their stories at various times during the week.”
A graduate of Duke Divinity School, Brown is an elder in the Oklahoma Conference where she served several churches and one campus ministry. She was born in New York City and has lived in North America, Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Prolific in languages, she majored in French in college and minored in German and Chinese.
Influenced by her parents, Brown described them as teachers with “missionary spirits.”
“Together with a few families, they started a ‘home church’ while living in West Africa,” she said. “(They) always had an ‘open door’ for anyone in need.”
Brown attends and helps officiate at St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland in Jerusalem. Services are in English, and the church accepts clergywomen.
She preaches every six to eight weeks and assists in worship two or three times a month. The congregation includes Palestinian Christians, Messianic Jews and international worshipers. Brown bakes communion bread and drives a group of “faithful, strong women” to services and fellowship.
Since arriving in the Holy Land, Brown has worn a clerical collar, and she once encountered a taxi driver who apparently had never seen a woman wearing vestments. “He addressed me as ‘father-mother,’” she said, “and followed me while I was walking to my destination to greet me again.”
|Rev. Kristen Brown is enjoying the sights while completing her fourth 10K power walk. Brown is standing alongside the Security-Separation wall that divides Israel from Palestine.|
Brown is passionate about letting people know the reality of living in an occupied territory.
“It saddens me to see fewer and fewer Christians residing in the land where their religion was born,” she said. “Every year, Christians leave the area because of challenges caused by the Israeli occupation of Palestine, including lack of jobs, water, electricity and the ability to freely move around.”
“Five years ago, the ‘Right to Movement’ campaign introduced Bethlehem’s first marathon,” Brown said. “It includes a full marathon, half-marathon and a 10K, and has grown to attract more than 5,000 local and international participants.”
Brown has participated by power walking the 10K for the past four years.
“This marathon is unique in many aspects,” she said. “It begins and ends at Manger Square; it passes near Check Point 300, moves alongside the ‘Security-Separation’ wall, through two refugee camps and Solomon’s pools. Participants come from the West Bank, Gaza, Israel and many international countries. Runners include Christians, Muslims, Jews and others. This year, we had a small Methodist team. One person completed the full marathon, and three others finished the 10K.”
Brown says it is “phenomenal” to be in the Holy Land during the Advent and Lenten seasons. She attends a multilingual Maundy Thursday service at the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem where sermons are in Arabic, German and English, and prayers are spoken in Norwegian, Swedish and Danish. Near the end of the service, the international congregation walks from the Old City to the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, where the worship service concludes with a candlelight vigil.
During Lent and Advent, the liaison office provides daily devotionals from the Holy Land to churches all over the world. This year, they will also include an Advent candlelight liturgy in their worship. Downloadable materials will be available in November at the liaison office website, http://methodist-liaison.org.
Florida Conference Bishop Ken Carter noted that The United Methodist Church has 311 missionaries in 60 countries, including the U.S., deserving our support. To help Rev. Kristen Brown, or any one of our missionaries spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, go to flumc-missions.org and click on the “missionaries” tab or contact the Office of Missional Engagement at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Brown is supported by Advance Special #3021280 on the General Board of Global Ministries’ website, http://www.umcmission.org/Explore-Our-Work/Missionaries-in-Service/Missionary-Profiles/Brown-Kristen.
--Suzanne McGovern is a freelance journalist based in Orlando.