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Building Houses in the Holy Land

Maria C. Khoury

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Eleven year old Katie has been to my house many times to play with my little niece. The many bedrooms, the extra bathrooms and all the choices for living rooms somehow always impressed her because she had to share two bedrooms with her seven sisters and brother since her birth. There is a big gap in the Holy Land between the "have" and "have not" and since the severe Israeli closure rooted in the September 28, 2000 Uprising, the families that "have not" are becoming more and more. Furthermore, if they can get permission to leave the country and work in America, Canada or Australia, they do not have to think twice with the current 60% unemployment and collapsed economy.

At last maybe Katie can finally have her own bedroom in the new house that is being built for her by St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Taybeh because as the baby of the family she has seen most of her sisters marry and move out of the house. However, most young couples do not move into their own dream house as they do in other parts of the world since lack of money forces many to live with the bridegroom's family. That means cooking with your mother-in-law daily or even cooking for your mother-in-law in some situations.

Thirty families were on the list to save about $100 each month (if they could) to be part of a housing cooperative that would help them obtain land to use for free from the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem. A committee would fundraise to help assist these needy families whom none had $50,000 up front to build their home. Nine years later and finally with the help of the Metropolis of Boston, the Virginia Farah Foundation as the largest donor, and many churches and individuals across the world the first $90,000 was raised to start building these homes. Frustrated with lack of funds since 1997, half of the members of the housing project dropped out and withdrew their personal savings since the church did not have enough money to start the project. The twelve families that continued the hope were ideally supposed to contribute $12,000 each from their savings to match funds raised although a few are still short and cannot come up with this amount.

The first Church to contribute to the Holy Land Housing Project was St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Bethesda, Maryland where in the summer of 2001 following a book singing of Christina Learns the Sacraments sponsored by the Philoptochos, the net profits of the book sales, only $124.00 were donated to this worthy cause to help maintain the Christian presence in the Holy Land by helping with housing. It is obvious that people need homes, jobs and education in order to survive under Israeli military occupation since l967. In the same summer a very well respect catholic priest managed to bring three million dollars and build fifty apartment units in the next village over. I was not discouraged with the figures at all. I just thought that the Orthodox community was sleeping while the Protestant and the Catholic denominations were given the most services to help maintain what they referred to as the living stones of the Holy Land, the indigenous population having deep Christian roots in Palestine since the first apostles.

The One Dollar Campaign was developed as a strategy to raise funds where the housing committee was requesting the solidarity of churches in America by having each Christian give one dollar for Holy Land housing to be collected at the local church until it could become $1,000 each church thereby meaning maybe a Christmas and Pascha collection. The idea was that each metropolis had the potential to raise enough funds for one home at $50,000. This was easier said than done since living in the wilderness I had forgotten all about the one dollar collected each Sunday for Philoptochos, GOYA, Boy Scouts, Metropolis Camps, St. Basil's Home, Philoxenia House, Hellenic College, IOCC, Missions, etc. With God's help, however, all is possible.

August 1, 2005, the ground breaking day for the housing project, was the day I had prayed for many years and people across the world had prayed with me and this is the major reason I have been able to maintain inner peace and continue to serve the church although we embarked on years of daily bloodshed and violence all around us with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with the Muslims and the Israelis slaughtering each other while the Christians are stuck in-between.

The most frequently asked question is why I stay in the Holy Land with such violence when I can afford to return financially and professionally any time to the United States. I think my gut reaction to this question is that I am doing my best to understand God's will in my life and follow it because I often think that if I was following my will, I would be drinking my "kafedaki" coffee and taking nature walks in Tripoli where I was born. The fondest memory of Tripoli as a six year old child is during the Resurrection Service at Prophet Elias Church when my late father, Constantine, handed me a candle and said "Christos Anesti." Thus if Christ is truly Risen we must also rise with Him in a new life with God seeking to save our soul and to follow one of the most important commandments, "Love your neighbor as yourself."

On August 1, 2005 the land allocated by the late Patriarch Diodoros was leveled for six duplex buildings that would help house twelve families as my late father-in-law, Canaan David Khoury had planned as the founder of the project. In order to maximize job creation, six different contractors built the units and all workers that specialized in this labor had temporary work from August 2005 until April 2006 when finally the skeleton structure of twelve homes was completed. Now the families are responsible to finish their homes from the inside because we have tried every humanitarian organization in the book and none exist to help with building private homes. I personally feel if it took me that many years just to raise what my catholic colleagues can raise in a week then probably I need another life time to finish these homes especially since we are in a deficit of $48,000. However, I do believe in miracles and in great friends like Marilyn Rouvelas, author of A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America who helped me understand I must do a lot of ground work to help raise awareness about the Christian presence in the Holy Land and who trusted I could do this through books resulting in the publication of Christina Goes to the Holy Land for children. A colorful book that walks the footsteps of Jesus with the message that Christians need help to stay in the Holy Land.

There are too many people to thank and their names do not fit on one page. What I can say to all who helped us build homes in the Holy Land and furthermore to all who purchase Christina Books, since my books help cover the running costs of the project, may you receive many crowns in God's heavenly kingdom where it counts more than the thank you cards I have failed to send. In addition, may all the work that we do on earth, give glory to Christ our True God. Truly the Lord is Risen! Come and walk the footsteps of the Lord and see the housing project. On behalf of St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Taybeh in the land of Christ's Holy Resurrection, I send our greatest appreciation to all.

Dr. Khoury is the chairperson of the Taybeh Orthodox Housing Project which has started to build twelve homes for Orthodox Christian families in Taybeh-Ramallah to help maintain the Christian presence in the Holy Land with the help of the Boston Greek Orthodox Metropolis.

She was born in the US, but moved to Taybeh (biblical Ephraim) after marrying David Khoury, an Orthodox Christian Palestinian.

Maria Khoury is author of Witness in the Holy Land and the new children's book, "Christina's True Heroes" about seven women saints.

Posted: 24-May-06



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