The hospitality of the people in Bethlehem, the beautiful ancient but safely maintained of the manger where Jesus Christ was put, the gift from the three wise men and the shining star on the floor where he was born called me to visit Bethlehem for the second time.
Infectious smiles on the faces of Palestinian commercial drivers just over the check point, who are always ready to help tourists, visitors and holiday makers in the area will always make one to return for a visit.
So it was not surprise to me when after the check point on Saturday September 9, 2017, around mid day I crossed the border into Bethlehem from Jerusalem and several commercial drivers mobbed me asking me where I was going and how they could help me.
“Where are you going and how can I help you. Please come and let me take you to your destination. Do not worry I will treat you nice because you are in safe hands were the welcome messages” I received from these kind drivers.
Among the several drivers who came to my aid, Mohamad was the taxi driver who got the green light from his cousin to take me to Bethlehem Bible College BBC which I was destined to tour and was not far but close to the Church of Nativity where Jesus Christ was born in the cave.
Few minutes after we took off from the taxi ranch near the checkpoint in Bethlehem, Mohamad got me scared a bit by breaking the news of a massive strike which was ongoing in the whole city of Bethlehem.
The general strike was declared by the Palestinian officials in Bethlehem district of the occupied West Bank on Saturday to mourn 22 year old slain Palestinian Raed al-Salhi whose body was returned by Israel on Friday night after being withheld from his family in al-Duheisha refugee camp for six days.
As the strike was on, the busy streets of Bethlehem went dead silent, stores and shopping malls remain closed within the stipulated time from morning till 3:00 p.m.
But tourists, holiday makers and visitors were not bared from either visiting Jesus birth place as well as other equally important places.
A little bit shaken and scared as to whether I would be caught in the strike, I kept looking at my shoulder as I tried being more submissive in speaking to the residents as I needed direction to go to my destination, BBC.
Because the strike included schools, shops and malls, transport services, colleges and universities, I was caught standing at the main gate of the college for over 45 minutes before Mohamad, a Good Samaritan handed me his phone to call my host.
When I was not making any in road, the idea of aborting the visit and return to Jerusalem where I stayed also didn’t come to mind as I was urged to wait further for my host to be contacted and finally Dr. Salim J.Munayer a lecturer at the college appeared at the gate and took me in.
Bethlehem Bible College [BBC] which was solely founded in 1979 by Dr. Bishara Awad, a Palestinian, exists to train people to serve Christ in the world, advocate a Palestinian evangelical perspective and model Christ through community development in the city of Bethlehem, a Palestinian controlled territory.
The lord used Dr. Bishara Awad, to start the light for him with a gift of 20 dollars from a local pastor and the college have four buildings well equipped with 150 students being trained to become pastors, church leaders, Sunday school teachers and educators and the college is fully recognized by the Palestinian Authority, Ministry of Higher Education.
After a wonderful tour of the Bethlehem Bible College led by the founder Dr. Bishara Awad, who is now on retirement, it was time to visit the birth place of Jesus Christ of Nazareth which took place over two thousand years ago.
A lot has changed at the Church of Nativity as the whole place is currently undergoing a massive renovation but the power and joy at the spot where the saviour was born, the manger, in which baby Jesus was put and the gifts from the three wise men could still be felt.
Long queue was expected at the birth place but not this time where the city was dead silent because of a general strike.
But even with the strike in effect, the line up spilled over onto the streets with pilgrims, holiday makers and visitors, hopeful of being allowed to visit the holy place.
After having a fruitful discussion with my host and visited the birth place of Christ, I enjoyed lunch in Bethlehem and headed back to the check point to be let in to Jerusalem.
Whew, I heard myself blowing hot air out of my mouth with charred lips because it was really hot and sunny, that made everyone to sweat from the hot sun.
That was not a problem because I was born in a tropical country Ghana therefore it was not alien to experience a near heat stroke as it was the condition in Bethlehem on Saturday.
The problem was checking in from a Palestinian controlled area back into Jerusalem where a few Palestinians who were ahead of me in the queue were being double checked for their permit to enter Israel.
When it got to my turn, I flipped my Canadian passport open showing the Israeli soldier manning the border with the small chip issued me at the Ben Gurion Airport and the soldier flipped his finger to instruct me to go.
When all seemed over and I was calming down and pondering over the day’s experience in Bethlehem, a Palestinian controlled West Bank, we came to another Israeli check point five minutes drive after the check point.
The public bus driver pulled the brakes and two soldiers came on the bus checking for permit. I again showed him my permit and there was no problem.
But we had to wait for not less than fifteen minutes because the soldiers had to double check a Palestinian passenger’s permit.
After that the driver was allowed to go and we had a nice look of the beautiful scenery of Jerusalem, the giant fortified walls of the old city and many more.
It was really an experience having visited Bethlehem on September 09, 2017.