By RENEE FITE
Bethlehem, the place Jesus was born, has been a point of pilgrimage for many Christians throughout history, and today a woman from Tahlequah who works there calls it home.
Rev. Kristen L. Brown, elder for the United Methodist Church, is now serving through the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, as Methodist liaison to Palestine and Israel.
“The whole world comes here on pilgrimage, seeking what is already alive and working in our hearts,” she said. “Living here, I am called to walk with the people and experience life as they experience daily life. It is not always easy, but it is what I have been called to do at this time in my life.”
It is a blessing to be in Bethlehem for Christmas, Brown said.
“I do miss my family and would love to be home with them. It is an honor and a privilege to be here,” she said. “On Christmas Eve, I will join some friends at the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem for a service in the early evening, led in several languages, including Arabic, English, German, Norwegian, and Swedish.”
The group will then go to Jerusalem and help lead the midnight service at St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland.
“We will gather again on Christmas morning at St. Andrew’s Church. It will be a time for much singing. After worship, we will have Christmas dinner with church family friends,” she said.
Kristen is the daughter of Dudley J. and Sara N. Brown, and sister of Sara H. Dunlap of Fort Gibson and Jesse C. Brown of Jacksonville, Fla. She called Tahlequah home during her teenage years, and liked that it was a place she could be part of the multicultural community and the school band.
“We were in the high school band, so that meant we marched in every parade Tahlequah had. I remember when the town purchased a new fire truck, we had a parade,” Brown said.
Brown, a 1986 THS graduate, said people in ministry influenced her – like Beth Whitworth, her typing teacher.
“She was more than that: She was a member of our church, and I always looked forward to seeing her. Over the years, I have greatly appreciated that I know the proper way to type – a skill I use almost every day, but her faith in God was evident in her relationships with others,” said Brown.
Her parents influenced her decision to serve.
“My parents always told us we could do and become whomever we wanted, and they allowed us to be whom God has called us to be,” she said. “From a young age, I knew somehow I would become a missionary, though I did not know then that I would be a clergy-person/missionary.”
Brown earned a Bachelor of Arts in French from Oklahoma City University, class of 1991, with minors in German and Chinese; and a Master of Divinity from Duke University in 1996. Her path led her to be and ordained elder of the United Methodist Church in the Oklahoma Conference in 2000.
While she’s achieved many of the goals she set for herself, one was to become a missionary in Palestine, where she is now serving.
“I have been serving with the General Board of Global Ministries since February 2011 and living in Palestine and Israel since June of 2011,” she said.
She also lived one year in Beit Hanina, next to Jerusalem, and then moved to the West Bank, occupied territory of Palestine to the village of Beit Sahour, which is the shepherd’s town next to Bethlehem.
“Every day, I cross a checkpoint to go to my office, which is at Tantur Ecumenical Institute. The Methodist Liaison office is comprised of two rooms in the Library of Tantur,” Brown said. “Each week, we connect with our partners through local churches and organizations. Sometimes we visit them in the towns around the West Bank and in Israel.”
She has made friends with people along the way, listening to the joys and sorrows of the lives of the people.
There are some misconceptions about living in the communities where Brown serves, but people are people hoping for love and valuing their families and homes.
“The people here want the same things we want in Oklahoma: safe homes, schools, places to work, good water, etc.,” she said.
On Palm Sunday for the past two years, she has seen the world come together on a walk from the Mount of Olives to the Old City of Jerusalem.
“For the first time and the 50th time, Palestinians, Israelis, and Christians from around the world, young, and old, come, and walk, dance, sing, and pray,” Brown said.