Dear Framily (friends fused with family),
We’ve approached the 2 month mark here in Israel. Although Joy and I both worked close to full-time when we lived in Austin, we seem to be working even more than that now. And while the opportunities to do worship/ministry in Austin were about once a month, now we have to intensely manage our time and discern what we will say no to, as we are under a continuous barrage of opportunities. Personal time is at a premium. There are moments that I feel like Joy is my coworker more than my wife and whenever we sense that, we make space to reconnect. Thankfully, we work alongside people that understand Jerusalem’s spiritual dynamic and it’s capacity to drain you and fully respect taking care of yourself in the midst of life in Israel. I could joke about it being that “beautiful place to visit, but I would never want to live there,” but it wouldn’t be true. It is a remarkable privilege to serve here. It is hands down the most stimulating, demanding, complex and rewarding place I have ever lived in for any amount of time.
One of the ways we get our spiritual food is via downloaded sermons (thanks to FBC Austin for making them so accessible). It’s tremendous to be able to stay connected to the church family that sent us out and to be receiving the Word of God.
Our worship watches have been tremendous. We do 3-4 per week and they are always two hours in length. It allows us to use music as a spiritual meditation and gives us the time to explore the depths of this experience. There is an aspect of this that is transformational: as we further dwell on the knowledge of who God is (as contained in the great hymns and choruses) these songs take on life and become a vehicle of expression and connection that allow us to touch God and allow Him to touch us in a way that is special and unique. It is in a congregational setting made up mostly of pilgrims and almost always leads into prayers for the people of this land, both Arabs and Israelis. What a privilege we have to do this here, within view of the original Mt Zion. I’m also discovering that I may be the only steel guitar player in this entire land.
Through November we have taken on the additional responsibility of co-leading an internship program comprising 10 students from USA and Europe. They are here short term to participate in and experientially gain a deeper understanding of worship and prayer as they connect with the Land of the Messiah. We do community life together, sharing meals, bible study and prayer in the midst of excursions that deepen our sense of connection with the roots of our faith. Last week we took the interns to Nazareth to meet an Arab Christian woman who is strong leader in her community and teaches on the power of prayer. We also toured Nazareth Village, a recreation of Nazareth during the time of Jesus. This village, run by local Christian Arabs is a beautiful depiction of village life in the time of the Jesus, our tour guide brought the parables of Jesus alive to us by showing how relevant they were to the culture Jesus was raised in. It is supremely cool to be able to go from a story in the bible into the physical environment that it took place in. There is obviously life and substance in the “stories” themselves, but they cease to be in the abstract once you get the missing piece(s). This place is nothing but missing pieces.
Going to Graceland and Sun Studios in Memphis was a sort of light preparation for here. You have the King and then you have the King of Kings. I think that maybe they knew each other. Elvis’ hymns give that impression, although he was a troubled soul. I was struck with how strange it was that I was writing this to you when I ran across The Elvis Inn Jerusalem at Abu Gosh, so I had to include a picture.
On Friday, we had our bi-annual staff day in the Arab village of Abu Gosh at The Church of Notre Dame de l’Arche d’Alliance (Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant). Abu Gosh, which sits outside of Jerusalem, was first settled over 6,000 years ago. In biblical times, it was known as Kiryat Ye’arim, and was a ceremonial center where the Ark of the Covenant was placed. Today, Abu Ghosh is held up as a model of Israeli-Arab peaceful coexistence. Joy and I met a gracious Arab couple, Abdalla and Naamati who run a guest house in Abu Gosh called “The Peace House” (sounds familiar doesn’t it?). Their vision is to forge relationships over food, so as often as they can, they open their home, invite Jews, Arabs and Christians alike in for a feast. They hope that in the “breaking of bread” relationships would be formed and stereotypes would be left behind. Please pray that God would continue to bless and provide for this family and the work of peace that they do.
Recording Studio Update
Joy and I learned shortly after we arrived that the original studio plans had been delayed, (which Joy mentioned in our letter to you last month). Initially, Succat Hallel was looking at having free access to a studio located in the Judean Mountains 45 minutes outside of Jerusalem, this studio was located in the basement of a small apartment that was in use by local believers. In retrospect, we should have been more aware that a studio so far outside of Jerusalem can present multiple challenges. Also the home above the studio limited the use and hours that instruments can be played because of volume constraints. In light of these issues, and a few others, we felt we needed to reconsider using that particular studio. “So now what?” We all asked ourselves. Our planning team wasn’t sure what was next, but after some time in prayer and brainstorming we felt that we should attempt to build our own studio from the ground up right here in the center of Jerusalem. This would present a greater challenge for us, the money for this type of endeavor can make your head spin, but we felt that if this was truly something from God He would provide it for us. As of two weeks ago, the entire financial support needed for this project came in. We were all amazed and grateful for God’s quick provision and answer to prayer. I know many of you prayed with us and we want to thank you for your faithful prayers.
We are now in the process of finalizing our list of the basic equipment necessary to establish a professional studio and are actively looking for a commercial space for it. It is expensive and difficult acquiring gear that is very easy to come by in the States, but we are finding our way towards creative and prudent solutions for our studio needs. I’m working with a producer who has produced multiple albums in the worship genre and is well known for helping pioneer the 24 hour a day 7 day a week worship/prayer movement that started in Kansas City, Missouri. This last year he coordinated an international youth conference in Jerusalem called One Thing that was attended by both Arab and Jewish believers. It is very encouraging to be working alongside someone with his gifts and experience and he and his family have become our good friends.
By the time the internship is over in December, the studio is expected to be up and running. Pray that we find the right space for it, as Jerusalem is hard to get commercial space in. However, we trust God that He will guide us in finding the location for the studio, just as He so faithfully provided the funds it .
Also, please pray that Joy and I balance our spiritual output with spiritual input, and for continued health and safety. We send our love and sincerest thanks to each of you!
With much love,
Peter and Joy Kusek