I first met Abuna Elias Chacour 20 years ago on what has turned out to be the first of several trips to Israel.
I was with a group of 33 pilgrims, most of whom were members of my church in Wheaton, Illinois, and one of whom knew of Abuna and suggested that all of us read his book, Blood Brothers, before making the trip. (I will always be grateful to the person who made the suggestion.)
That first meeting – at the school Abuna founded in the Galilean village of Ibillin – profoundly shaped me in a variety of ways, not the least of which is the way I understand my own ministry. I dedicated most of a chapter to him in my book, What Should I Do With My Life?
Since that first meeting, Abuna has become Archbishop of Galilee for the Melkite Catholic Church, and our relationship has deepened, with more visits to the school and with Abuna preaching for me at my churches in Wheaton and Ann Arbor.
I would call him a dear friend – and he is to me – but the truth is that Abuna has touched the lives of hundreds more just like mine.
As my loyal blog readers may have gathered, I’ve been away for a few days – and therefore not posting. I’m back in Israel, and on the first day of the trip my group met with Abuna for nearly two hours. He told us his story and the story of his school, as he has for countless groups who have passed through over the years. For me, even though I’ve heard the story many times, the two hours passed quickly.
I am grateful that the gospel is alive and well – and being lived so courageously – in the land Jesus called home.
(Photo: Jet lagged as I am, it’s hard to miss just how delighted I am to be with my friend Abuna.)