UBC Community, Partners, and Alumni Publications

Disability-focused Christianity for Palestinians Vollrath, Kevin


This group includes the many Christian-based NGOs and parachurch ministries in Bethlehem that are providing services for people with disabilities. Most institutes employ Muslims as well as Christians but are Christian in name and practice. Most of the Christians, then, belong to recognized churches in addition to this group. I conducted 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork with two NGOs in Bethlehem providing services for people with (primarily intellectual) disabilities (May 2021- May 2022). Most of the data in this article is based on my primary methods of participant observation and semi-structured interviews. Over this time I visited 12 different organizations and interviewed their staff. While each NGO is organizationally separate, they are unified by friendships of varying closeness (and some familiar ties), a shared purpose in improving the lives of people with disabilities in the region, and in some cases, the same people receiving services (some simultaneously and others at different times). Some of the staff have rotated between the organizations as well. Another feature that unifies this group is the relatively marginal support they receive from local churches. Most individuals are connected with the major denominations, regularly attending a Catholic, Orthodox, or Lutheran church, but a lot of support (emotional, financial, staffing) comes from international churches or non-church Palestinian institutions, like local universities. Collegiate special education programs provide regular and reliable volunteers for several of these organizations as students complete their practical training. Something that distinguishes this group from other members of the same denominations is their understanding and practice of inter-faith dialogue. Along with other interfaith initiatives in the West Bank and Bethlehem in particular, these disability-related organizations demonstrate a high-level of collaboration, as will be detailed more in the qualitative notes of this entry. While small numerically, this group is important to consider because of the disproportional impact it has on its community. See the primary source, “Mapping of Christian Organizations in Palestine: Social and Economic Impact” (George Akroush). As Bethlehem has developed and urbanized, it has become a hub of services for Palestinians, medical and otherwise. There are significantly fewer resources available for people living in the villages surrounding Bethlehem, and some will even come from the villages of Hebron and Ramallah to receive services. While growing, the organizations as a whole still struggle to provide all of the services needed.

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