Holy Land — Occupation teaches value of just and free life

| October 12, 2011 | 0 Comments

Christian Brother Robert Smith was born in St. Paul and attended Holy Spirit grade school and Cretin High School in St. Paul and St. Mary’s University in Winona, where he taught for many years and served with St. Mary’s Press. He served four years in Kenya before beginning his ministry about five years ago at Bethlehem University in the West Bank, where he is vice president for academic affairs.

Tell us about who or what inspired you to start doing missionary work?

For some years, I had been interested in international service as a way to challenge myself by living in a cross-cultural and now inter-religious context. Of course, I wanted to be open to responding to the needs of our Lasallian ministries worldwide and be open to a call/request to say “yes” to move to a part of the world where some of my skills might be helpful.

Tell a story about how a person in your mission experience has made a difference in your faith journey.

Several of the brothers here at Bethlehem University have served at the university for 20 to 30 years. While working here is an extraordinarily rich and graced opportunity, there are also challenges on all sides — political, religious, cultural, social, financial, educational. Their fidelity in working in such a challenging and sometimes very difficult context all rooted in their own faith commitment is both humbling and moving to me.

What have you learned from the people you work with or serve? What do you believe they have learned from you?

The people of Palestine, both Christian and Muslim, have lived under occupation for decades. Their steadfastness, their character, their hospitality of the stranger (me), and their faith in the one God are all an inspiration to me. I think we have learned from each other that we are all God’s children, created in — and with — equal and unqualified dignity, and with inherent rights for a just and free life.


Elsa Hazboun is from Bethlehem and a 1978 graduate with an English degree from Bethlehem University (1978). After obtaining a master’s in library sciences, she became head of the Arabic technical services in 1981 and was appointed library director in 1996. She set up the university’s personnel management office in 1999, which she continues to serve.

Tell us about someone at the mission who has helped you and how you were helped. Or, if you work with a missionary, what work do you do together and how has trust impacted your ideas about solidarity and mission?

The first time I met Brother Robert was when he was appointed vice president for academic affairs at BU in August 2007. We both serve on the executive council and it is through this council and our weekly meetings that I came to know Brother Robert more closely. He was another Lasallian Brother added to the list of many others I have met. In my opinion, Brother Robert exemplified well the Lasallian model and the Lasallian tradition. Some time after his appointment, he had to take on added responsibility as interim vice chancellor, and this is where he displayed his leadership ability to wear two hats and yet maintain his sense of humor. Trust was an important factor that helped our working relationship go smoothly.

Tell us about how you have helped a missionary serving in your country.

I feel grateful to the Christian Brothers who leave their families and country to come all the way to help and support people in a foreign country in fulfillment of their educational mission. Their solidarity with the Palestinians is very much appreciated. Thus, I make a special effort to be of assistance to them especially when they first arrive. I help them understand the culture, the places and the people so they get integrated in the new society. They accept the realities of the new culture and respect them. In this context, I like Brother Robert’s humorous comment, “Never a dull moment” or “Welcome to Palestine.”

How is your life different today because of your relationship with the missionaries?

My life is continuously enriched by every new brother who comes to serve at Bethlehem University. Each one is unique in himself and thus each one has something special that is appreciated. Brother Robert makes a good colleague and friend, and a firm yet friendly supervisor.

Category: World Mission Sunday