Anglican pilgrims witness transformative work at Diocese of Jerusalem rehabilitation centre

Alice Wu writes in Anglican Communion News Service on 24 July 2017

There are pilgrims who visit sacred places and imagine what they were like in Jesus's time -  and then there are pilgrims who get to really see what it means to follow the footsteps of Christ and be transformed by His ministry at work, today. 

 "Open my eyes, so that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." Psalm 119:18

During our recent Anglican pilgrimage to the Holy Land, we journeyed to the Mount of Olives to see first hand the Jerusalem Princess Basma Centre, one of the outstanding diocesan institutions serving children with disabilities. Our eyes were truly opened to Christ's ministry of healing, as true pilgrims following the footsteps of Christ.

The Centre has been serving Palestinians on the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem with diagnosing, investigating, and formulating comprehensive programmes for children with special needs up to age 15, as well as giving support and advice to their families. In addition, the Centre organises vocational training opportunities for the disabled adults of East Jerusalem.

It is hard to believe how many Palestinian families have benefited from the Centre's work over the last 50 years.  More than 400 children are referred to the Centre as in-patients annually.  Attentive to their needs, the Centre provides hospital beds for both patients and  parents.  Accompanying parents are also given training as part of the Centre's rehabilitation programmes – empowering them so they have the essential know-how to continue the rehabilitation at home.

As well as in-patients care, the Centre also provides day care services for children from the Jerusalem area, vocational training sheltered workshops for young adults with special needs enabling them to be active members of their communities, and a full-range of physiotherapy services for adult patients.  The Centre is home to a highly specialised unit providing treatment and education for children with autism and an impressive ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) programme.

In addition, the Centre also runs a school with more than 500 students, from preschool up to secondary age, where pupils with disabilities are fully integrated into mainstream education.

“Before all, and above all, attention shall be paid to the care of the sick, so that they shall be served as if they were Christ Himself.” — St Benedict

It is obvious that the Centre has devoted all its resources to the people it serves.  As we toured the facilities -- in-patients wards, classrooms, hydrotherapy pool, physiotherapy room, sensory therapy room, music therapy room, craft workshop -- we were amazed by how much the Centre does with its limited resources.  The Centre does not simply stretch to make ends meet, it does whatever it can to change lives and bring hope to countless families.

We were told a story of a young girl with autism overcoming her deafening silence after the Centre introduced her to music.  It is in that tiny room that she was introduced to her language of hope.  We were told how other therapies had failed to bring her out of her detached, silent and lonely world.  The Centre therapists kept trying with other forms of treatment.  Perseverance paid off and a spark was lit in her eyes the moment she was introduced to music therapy. She now composes songs and sings, to everyone's delight.   Her songs of hope, joy and triumph add to the many stories that keep everyone at the Centre hard at work, bringing hope, helping families and transforming communities. 

"A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." Ezekiel 36:26

During our tour, we met a toddler with Downs Syndrome and his mother as they were coming out of the ward.  He flashed us a beautiful smile and as our palms touched in our "high fives" we knew a deep connection had been made.  It was a connection that indeed could not be communicated with language alone.  It is that vitality of hope, of love, of simple human connection that transcended boundaries.

The work of the Centre goes beyond "therapies" -- its work is that of articulating hope in action, transforming lives reconciled to hope.  These stories truly call us into the discipleship of hope and healing.  Being a pilgrim is about more than checking holy sites off a list.  More importantly, pilgrims must ask themselves:  even if we have "been there" have we done what Jesus would have done?

After visiting the extraordinary Jerusalem Princess Basma Centre, we walked away with a newfound understanding of what it really means to be a pilgrim -- following Christ's steps,  transformed and healed by the touch of Christ.