One more thing!

I promise that I won’t always post two things in one day, but I have a special little tidbit! Pictured below is the wall that is right next to my bed in my cozy room here in Beit Hanina. It has pictures of many of my loved ones from home on it and I would really love to see it grow! So here’s how you can help! I would absolutely love to receive and letter and maybe a picture from YOU to put on my wall! It can be a photograph, a drawing, a picture from a coloring book, I love them all! And I promise that I will write back! You can write to me at:

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer
Sarah Funkhouser
P.O. Box 14076
Muristan Road – Old City
91140 Jerusalem via Israel

I hope to hear from you soon! Ma-issalame! (Goodbye!)



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It has been a little while since I have blogged last and a ton of things have happened in that time. As many of you might know, I love lists, so what better way to catch up with my blog, than a list of a few of the highlights of my time getting settled here? I’ll try not to make it too long, but there is so much! On the plus side, this time there are pictures included! Yay!

1. A couple weeks ago, our group of volunteers and our friends at the Lutheran World Federation had the privilege to visit Haram al-Sharif, home to The Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Haram al-Sharif, or the Temple Mount, is considered to be the third holiest place for Muslims in the world and traditionally believed to be the place where the Prophet Mohammed ascended into heaven. The Temple Mount is a place that is very significant to all three major monotheistic world religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. It is a highly contested place with a very interesting history that I unfortunately don’t have the space to write about! But on our tour, not only did we get to go up to the Temple Mount, we were allowed inside of The Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa, which is extremely rare for non-Muslims. It pretty much goes without saying that the religion nerd in me was busting at the seams with excitement, happiness, and awe for our entire tour. Here are a few pictures!

The outside of the Dome of the Rock, completely covered in stunning tile.

A stack of Qur’an’s covered in beautiful calligraphy.

The incredible artistry inside of the Dome.

2. This week concluded my first full week at my site placement and I am thoroughly exhausted! For the year, I am serving at the Helen Keller School for the Visually Impaired and I cannot even begin to explain how welcoming this community has been to me. Although the school used to be exclusively for the visually impaired, its doors are now open to students with a variety of disabilities. I will be helping in the English classrooms, doing administrative work, and hopefully helping with some music! They have already kept me busy, and I totally empathize with all of my friends teaching in schools everywhere; there is no tired like teacher-tired. I have been there a total of six days now and it has already been a rewarding experience. I am joyfully anticipating the successes and the challenges that this year will bring.

3. Staying with the theme of Helen Keller, I want to give you just a few highlights of my first week in the school! For two of the days, I had the opportunity to follow and observe the school’s music teacher and help with the music lessons. During each lesson, I got to dance with the children, play a few listening games, and hear them sing. After each of the kids would sing, the teacher would have me sing a little something for the class. I chose to sing “You Are My Sunshine” (classic, I know) and it turns out that they know that one! A few of them sang with me and at the end of one of the classes, the students told me that I should go on Arab Idol! It was so sweet and it was fun to be able to share music with the kids. Although we have a hard time understanding one another because of our language barrier, music is something that universally connects us, and I am so grateful for that.

4. While I was following around the music teacher for a couple days, we went into one classroom where the focus was not music, but rather a language lesson. The music teacher additionally helps a few of the students in the school to learn Braille because she is an alum of the school and blind herself. While walking to the lesson, she asked me a question and because of our language barrier, I thought that she was asking me if I was interested in sitting in on the Braille lesson. Of course! When I got into the classroom, I was asked to help some of the other students while the music teacher sat one-on-one with a student. To my total surprise, by the end of the class period, she had typed up the entire alphabet, the numbers 1-10, and my name on the Braille machine. So in addition to learning Arabic during my time here, I have the chance to learn Braille! The people here continue to amaze me and I have so much to learn.

Isn’t this amazing?!

5. I just want to tell you two of the many things that were said to me this week to give you a picture of the open arms and hearts with which the staff and students of Helen Keller have welcomed me. As I mentioned above, I will be helping Helen Keller with some of their administrative work, doing newsletters, working on their website, and preparing presentations. At the beginning of the week I was speaking with the school’s administrative assistant about all of the questions that I have and how I have so much to learn and she looked at me and said, “You can ask me anything, ok? Think of me as a sister, I can already feel that we are sisters.” I can tell you right now that I could have cried. That simple statement of hospitality and her invitation to be family was more appreciated than I think she could ever understand. It is quite a powerful thing to experience that kind of generosity and reception from near strangers and it speaks to the warmth of the Palestinian people and the beauty of their culture of hospitality.

6. A few days later, after helping a severely visually impaired student read a story in English, she turned to her teacher and asked her a question in Arabic. The teacher turned to me and told me that she asked, “Why are all of the volunteers so lovable?” I was kind of overwhelmed. If I’m being honest, I hardly feel like I have helped much at all. I don’t have much classroom experience, I’ve never taught English, and I could keep going with the laundry list of reasons that right now I am feeling so unprepared for this experience. But that has to stop because it is evident that I am in the right place and that whatever I have done thus far has been appreciated. I am so thankful for the previous volunteers and the YAGM program for continuing to have a presence at Helen Keller so that we can accompany each other on the journey.

7. On a completely different note, in the past couple days, I have made a few new friends here in the flat. These friends are not of the human variety and I didn’t invite them, but they are friendly, nonetheless. In the past couple days, Abby (the other YAGM that I live with) and I have caught two small lizards in my room! I’m not sure why they like my room so much, but when talking with Antoinette, our host mom, she said, “They are small, like you!” Anyway, here are a couple of picture of my new friends!

Lizard number one! Any name suggestions?

Lizard number two!

Thanks for hanging in with my long post! Feel free to comment or email me if you have questions, I’d love to hear from you!!

God’s Peace

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“Shway Shway”

Marhaba! (Hello in Arabic)

If we’re being honest, that’s just about all the Arabic I can remember right now. We have had four Arabic lessons since arriving a little over two weeks ago and although it is a difficult language, it has been fun for me to begin to learn a language that people actually speak. In college, I studied Latin and Biblical Hebrew…I know, really useful. However, I will say that the Hebrew has helped me here more than it would anywhere else in the world because I can at least fake being able to read some of the road signs! I don’t know what most of them mean, but I can read them! Anyway, in addition to learning how to say basic things like, “Hello” and “Thank you”, one of the phrases that has been pretty useful in my time here has been the title of this blog post, “Shway shway”. This phrase, coincidentally means “Little by little”, more or less. How appropriate that one of the first phrases I learn here is the title I have given my blog and truly the way that I see this year’s journey unfolding. Here are some possible uses of the phrase “Shway shway”.

Example 1:
Q: “Do you speak Arabic?”
A: “Shway shway”
– This conversation actually happened today in the grocery store with a young girl and myself 🙂

Example 2:
When someone is speaking Arabic to you and is speaking too fast for you to understand, you can say “shway shway” as a way of asking him or her to slow down a bit! I will definitely be using this all year.

I do honestly feel like “Shway shway” will be a constant thread running through my year in the Holy Land. During our in-country orientation, we have studied the land, the history, the culture, the food, the people, and the conflict and simultaneously, little by little, things are clarifying and complicating themselves. Little by little, I am learning the bus routes, navigating the streets of the Old City, becoming a part of a new church family, and of course, practicing my Arabic 🙂 And even though it is a challenge for me everyday, “shway shway” I am learning to trust God and trust that I am right where I am supposed to be.

God’s Peace


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And so it begins.

We have arrived! I cannot believe that we are finally in Jerusalem and that this journey is really beginning. On Friday, we flew from Chicago to Rome, had a bit of a boarding pass mishap, but made it onto the flight to Tel Aviv. After going through security and customs, retrieving our bags, and getting extended visas at the airport, Jeff and Julie, our country coordinators, met us with smiling faces and open arms. It was so wonderful to be reunited with them, since the last time we saw them was at the Discernment, Interview, and Placement weekend in April. We gathered up our stuff and went straight to the Mount of Olives, where we had dinner and played volleyball with staff and interns of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). It is still amazing to me that places like the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Bethlehem are real places. It has already been an amazing experience putting actual places to the things that have only been pages in the Bible to me. From the top of the Mount of Olives, we watched the sunset and heard the Muslim call to prayer, and if I didn’t realize it before, I knew then that I am in a very special place.

With the incredible guidance of Jeff and Julie, the six Jerusalem/West Bank (J/WB) volunteers have been doing some intense orientation, getting to know the city, public transportation, culture, and a few words in Arabic (“Anna Sarah” = “My name is Sarah”)! We start Arabic lessons on Tuesday and I am so excited to start learning the beautiful language. We have been going over the history of the area, which really is a challenge to parse out and understand. It is a very complicated history that involves so many people and the realities of life in the Holy Land have already started to make an impact on me.

Today, we started out the morning by attending the Lutheran church in Beit Sahour, which will be the home congregation for two of the YAGM’s. The entire service was in Arabic, but used nearly the same liturgy, so although I didn’t understand a bit of it, it was actually pretty easy to know where we were at in the service. During the sermon, Ghassan, a gentlemen from the congregation, translated the whole thing into English for us. It was so impressive and unbelievably helpful. What a gracious gift for our group to be able to understand the sermon and to receive such a warm welcome. After the service, there is a coffee/tea hour, which in all reality lasted about 15 minutes. In the receiving line after the service though, instead of just shaking the pastor’s hand, the line loops back around so that you end up greeting the entire congregation, which was actually really neat. We were introduced to the congregation and got to talk with quite a few of the members. We met Abdullah, who will be one of the people helping us with our Arabic lessons and found out that his granddaughter’s name is Sarah, as well! He gave me a huge hug and asked me where I got my eyes 🙂 The hospitality we have already been the recipients of has been astounding and I am very grateful.

This afternoon, we walked around the Bethlehem/Beit Sahour/Beit Jala area with Elias, a student at the Beit Sahour Lutheran school. He showed us around and told us what we should know about the Bethlehem area. At lunch, he shared his experience as a Palestinian youth and his hopes for the upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Although he joked that he is the only hopeful Palestinian, it was remarkable to hear parts of his story and his desire for peace for all people living in the Holy Land.

Our conversation with Elias was made a reality later this afternoon when we stopped at the separation wall between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Although I have seen pictures of the wall, I was taken aback by the way I felt standing next to its high cement panels. The physical representation made by the wall of the divide that the people of this land experience everyday was both striking and heartbreaking. I don’t think that I quite have the words yet to express my feelings about the wall yet, but it is something that I will continue to experience during this year in the Holy Land.

Again, I still can’t quite believe that I am here and that I won’t be leaving for a year, but I am certainly grateful and feel immensely blessed to be a part of the J/WB YAGM community. I also promise that my next blog post won’t be so wordy, so thanks for hanging with me!

God’s Peace


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Little by littl…

Little by little, one travels far.
-J.R.R. Tolkien

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June 24, 2013 · 8:02 pm