I wrote recently about my trip to Bethlehem and the rather intense experience I had. What I didn’t mention was that we had some extra time at the end of the day, so there was a special visit I made while in town.
Here’s the background for the visit: About 10 years ago I met a lady while in my favorite spa in Destin. Her name is Wafaa and she is from Egypt. At the time she had just begun working at the spa and was training to learn how to give facials (I don’t remember the exact term used). Over the years as I returned to the spa I would always request her for services and we’ve become friends. Wafaa is a Catholic Christian who is always praising God and encouraging me when we meet. We had a very interesting conversation several years ago.
Wafaa: I have three children.
Me: I have three children.
Wafaa: I have two daughters and a son in the middle.
Me: I have two daughters and a son in the middle.
Wafaa: My son is studying to be a priest!
Me: My son is studying to be a pastor!
Wafaa: My son’s name is Peter!
Me: My son’s name is Andrew!
How funny! My Egyptian friend and I seem to be leading parallel lives! As the years have passed we have kept up with each other and our children’s lives, though I’ve never had the opportunity to meet any of her family. She tells me how she misses her family so far away, but because of the political situation she is rarely able to go visit them. She also tells me how much she loves being here in the U.S. Last fall she told me that her son Peter had been assigned to Bethlehem University in Bethlehem. Bethlehem University was established in the 1970’s. It’s a Catholic University that works to provide quality higher education to the people of Palestine.
Since we found ourselves with some extra time while in Bethlehem, we decided to see if we could find Bethlehem University. The directions we simple – left at the light, take the first right and you’re there. Easy enough – we turn left at the light and make the first right. Now is when I remember reading that the University was at the highest point in Bethlehem. That first right led us about three blocks straight up hill! Well, you don’t go all the way to Bethlehem to give up easily, so up we went.
After dodging traffic and much huffing and puffing, we arrived at the back entrance to the University. We found what looks like any other college scene – young men playing basketball, co-eds walking around, loading cars with all sorts of belongings. We asked one of the students to show us to the main office – “Up the stairs to the top floor, go to the next building and then go to the second floor”. You’re kidding right? But off we go.
At some point, a member of the staff recognized that we obviously were visitors and stopped to ask if he could help us. I told him I was looking for Peter. “Oh Peter!” he says. He actually knew Peter! Then he spoke to some students in Arabic and told them who we were looking for. “Oh Peter!” they said. They actually know Peter too! Immediately they set off leading us too his office – actually backtracking because we had in fact passed him on our way up those many flights of stairs.
When we entered the office I could see a young man sitting at a desk in a glass office working with a female student. Oh no! I sure didn’t want to interrupt him. I hadn’t made an appointment because I didn’t know if I’d get a chance to stop by. But some of the students went right in and told him he had a visitor. Immediately this young priest gets up from his desk, comes out of his office and walks toward me. Oh no – I’ve taken him away from an important duty just so I can say Hi? What’s he going to think?
As he walks closer I hear him say, “I’ve been waiting for you! I’m so glad you’re here. My mom is waiting for me to send her a message that you came!” Well you can imagine my surprise! This wonderful, friendly young man has been waiting for me to visit so he can tell his mom. It was awesome! We hugged and talked and laughed. It was amazing! Before I had the chance he asked if we could take a picture to send to his mom.
He explained a little of his work there – how even though he is Egyptian, he is accepted by the Palestinian people. He said that they are the most generous people he’s met and he loves being there in Bethlehem. And he talked about how incredible it is for him to be able to have his morning prayers in “the grotto” (the cave under the Church of the Nativity where it is believed Jesus was born). I told him about my son Andrew studying to be a pastor, to which he responded “My brother!”
It was such an honor to meet Peter in person. It was a privilege to hug him like a mother hugs her son. And it was a pleasure to know that by seeing my friend’s son I had brought some small joy to her. Because when someone does something for your child they do something for you.