CHRISTINA GOES TO THE HOLY LAND
By Maria C. Khoury
31 pp, Jerusalem
CDK Publications, 2003
Book Review by Marilyn Rouvelas
Since 1992, Maria Khoury has given our families wonderful children's books written from an Orthodox perspective. Her latest book, Christiana Goes to the Holy Land (the sixth in her Christina series) is another invaluable contribution to our children's religious education. It is important for our children to know that the place where Christ lived can be visited today and that a living Christian community still exists there. The Holy Land is not a mythical place. Christians from all over the world have the privilege of making the pilgrimage of a lifetime and walking in the footsteps of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Christina Goes to the Holy Land tells the fictional story of Christina and her family seeing the sites Christian pilgrims have visited for centuries. Through the sites, Christina learns about the life of Christ. The sites are generally presented in chronological order of Christ's life: The Church of Annunciation in Nazareth , the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem , the Jordan River (Theophany/Epiphany), the Mount of Temptation near Jericho where Christ fasted, Cana where Christ performed the miracle of turning water into wine, and the Galilee area. In the Jerusalem vicinity the family visits the Tomb of Lazarus, Bethpage where Christ mounted the donkey for Palm Sunday, Mt. Zion the location of the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane , the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Christ's Crucifixion and Resurrection are commemorated and the Mt. of Olives where he ascended into heaven.
At each site, Maria explains its relevance to Christ's life. Thus the book is an excellent way to learn about Christ's life, and Bible quotations support the text. With the Church of the Nativity, for example, the Christmas story of Christ's birth is related along with such information as the word " Bethlehem " means "house of bread" because there were so many wheat fields around the town and that the church was built by two of the greatest Orthodox saints, Saints Constantine and Helen. This sentence could lead to a special spiritual conversation with the parent and child that Christ is our bread of life and God specifically had a plan for our salvation because He loves us. ! ! SPAN>
The colorful illustrations by Fotini Dedousi help the reader feel present at the sites. The original artist of the Christina character, Antonia Marshall, lives in the Boston area and was not able to travel to the Holy Land. Fotini Dedousi and Maria Khoury live in the Holy Land and have visited these sites. The appendix includes "Vocabulary," "Map," and "Chronology" for parents.
The last page of the story tells about Christina's family visiting the only remaining all-Christian village in the Holy Land , Taybeh (north of Jerusalem ). This is the village where Maria has lived with her family since 1995. In Christina's story, this understated sentence appears, "Many Christian people have left the Holy Land because of the terrible wars." Of course Maria does not want to frighten her young readers, but the facts about the Christian community living in the Holy Land today are frightening.
There are approximately 32,000 Christians left in the West Bank today that is less than two per cent of the entire Palestinian population. There is 60-70 per cent unemployment and life is extremely difficult because of the occupation, roadblocks, land confiscation and now the Apartheid Wall being built by Israel . This dire situation has been reported by Maria in email articles that have appeared in the Greek-American press. The chronicles written during the current Uprising since 2000 have been collected in her book, Witness in the Holy Land .
The need for housing for Orthodox Christians is tremendous, and Maria has started a fundraising campaign to build houses in the village of Taybeh . If each Christian in America would give $1, the houses could be built. The One Dollar Campaign will be in effect until Pascha 2006. If one million dollars in not raised through the fundraising efforts to build all thirty homes needed for St. George Greek Orthodox Church of Taybeh at least one home will be build with net profits from the Christina Book series. Furthermore, Maria is selling her rights to her new books! for a direct donation to the housing for publication in other languages to bring greater awareness of the Christian presence in the Holy Land . The new Christina Book has been translated to Greek, Spanish and French.
Christina Goes to the Holy Land is dedicated to her late father-in-law, Canaan David Khoury, who began the project, and I personally witnessed the pledge Maria made to him about completing the housing as he was dying in a hospital in Boston . Helping with Taybeh housing and raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the Holy Land has become Maria's life's work in addition to writing wonderful books for our children.
Donations to help Orthodox Christians build homes may be made to the "Metropolis of Boston Holy Land Housing," 162 Goddard Avenue , Brookline , MA 02445
Christina Goes to the Holy Land by Maria Khoury (for ages pres-school and up) may be purchased through Light and Life Publishing, 4808 Park Glen Road , Minneapolis MN 55416 , 952-925-3888 firstname.lastname@example.org or from the children's books directly from Palestine www.paltime.com
Marilyn Rouvelas is the author of A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America