April 20, 2003
Easter Greetings to those of you who celebrating this morning.
Today is Palm Sunday here in Zababdeh, as the three families of the church
– Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant – celebrate the major feasts together.
In the past, busses would leave from the village for Jerusalem to take
part in the grand procession following Christ's footsteps from the Mount
of Olives into the Old City. For the last three years, the closures
and travel restrictions have made that tradition impossible. So the
ecumenical precession around the village would have to represent the walk
Zababdeh Children on Palm Sunday
The scouts took the lead, with drums and bugles, closely followed by
the children in their best outfits carrying elaborately-decorated palms,
some taller than their bearers. The rest of us followed behind, singing
hymns and reading Scripture as we stopped at each of the churches, at which
the congregations parted ways and continued their worship inside.
It was particularly wonderful for us to be here this year, since it
will be our last Easter Season in Zababdeh. This was also true because
we weren't sure if we'd be able to share in it at all.
On the night of March 19th, with war on Iraq an imminent reality, our superiors
sent instructions for us to leave. With heavy hearts, we packed our
bags and made our plans for our - hopefully - temporary departure to Cyprus.
The next morning, we went to the school assembly to say our farewells.
Elizabeth promised not to cry, because it would upset the children too
much. Marthame said a few words about why we were leaving, while
Elizabeth told each of her classes individually how much she would miss
them. It was Marthame who had to remember not to cry at that point.
We told everyone that we hoped our absence would be brief, and we'd see
them again very soon. Most were interpreting our departure as permanent,
however, assuming we were simply trying to soften the blow.
Palm Sunday Procession
After assembly, Elizabeth was mobbed by weeping and distressed seventh
and eighth graders, asking her to write a message in their autograph books,
trading emails, giving her farewell gifts (hastily purchased at nearby
shops). The whole thing was a whirlwind - it was moving, sweet, overwhelming.
We, too, hoped that this wasn't the final goodbye, and wondered how much
harder that one will be. After trying to get our schoolwork in order
, and saying farewell to teachers and staff, we went home to await our
While in Cyprus, we felt like teething babies. The gnawing pain
of our absence from Zababdeh was constant, numbing. We distracted
ourselves with the beautiful scenery, the fascinating history, the variety
of restaurants, all like bright shiny objects in front of our eyes.
It worked, but as soon as there was nothing to divert, our minds came back
here. Daily text messages and emails with the village allowed us
to encourage and be encouraged by our friends. This ZNN (Zababdeh
News Network) kept us updated. School was closed one day in anticipation
of war-related problems, the Jenin students' attendance was spotty from
day to day due to closures - all in all, things were "normal," except for
the dusting of snow. Two weeks after leaving, we received clearance
to return. We were elated.
Marthame and Fr. Firas, Melkite priest
Our welcome back was as warm as our departure. As we went around
to visit with friends, everyone we saw along the street greeted us with
the traditional greeting, "Thank God for your safety!" It was good
to be home. And as we processed through the streets of the village
today, singing hymns with all of Zababdeh's churches, we were grateful
to be back. Hosanna indeed!
Salaam al-Masiih (Peace of Christ),
Elizabeth and Marthame
PS If you are interested in seeing more of our Cyprus trip, please
visit our journal.