Strategic Plan for Pilgrims of Ibillin, 2016-2020 (full plan)



adopted 10/14/2016

INTRODUCTION: The Board of Directors of Pilgrims of Ibillin, at their Board meeting in the spring of 2015 voted to develop a new strategic plan to guide the work of Pilgrims during the period of the fall of 2016 through 2020. The Board expressed appreciation for the Strategic Plan of 2011-2016 and suggested that the new plan build upon the foundations of its current plan. The Board asked Duncan Ferguson, the President of the Board and Joan Deming, the Executive Director of Pilgrims to begin the process and have a finished plan available for the fall Board meeting in October 2016.

THE APPROACH: Duncan suggested that the new plan be developed in four phases: (1) the gathering of information; (2) the initial development of mission priorities and implementation strategies; (3) the drafting and refinement of the planning document for approval; and (4) the implementation of the plan. Phase 1 began almost immediately and was continued for several months. Four primary questions were used in the gathering of information:

  1. What is going on now?
  2. Why is it going on?
  3. What ought to be going on?
  4. What could be done to reshape what is going on?

Several conversations were designed to gain answers to these questions, with one of them being at the spring, 2015 Board meeting and the other with clear assignments for the standing committees at the fall 2105 Board meeting. The results of these conversations and many others within the constituency of Pilgrims have been summarized and constitute the primary work of phase 2. We are now ready for the action called for in phase 3 and to begin work on phase 4.

THE FOUNDING AND DEVELOPMENT OF PILGRIMS OF IBILLIN: The new strategic plan, of course, builds upon what has gone before in the work of Pilgrims. Looking back on over two decades of its existence, it is possible to identify four phases of development. The first is the founding in 1992 and the initial work done by Bruce Rigdon and his colleagues in the context of Grosse Point Memorial Church. In 1995, Pilgrims received tax-exempt status as a “supporting organization” within the ministry of the Grosse Point Church. The inspiration for the new organization grew out of the visit of Abuna Chacour to the Grosse Point Church as an “Ecumenical Visitor.” It was assumed in this phase that the primary emphasis would be focused on the development of Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI), and much of the work was carried out by volunteers.

The second phase emerged as this new organization realized that the mission had grown, that there were costs, and needed staff. At a meeting in Atlanta in the spring of 2002, the members of the Board moved to appoint staff and begin a serious effort to raise money. Don Griggs was appointed Executive Director, and with great vision and energy, he helped Pilgrims become a mature mission agency. In December of 2007, Pilgrims became a stand-alone non-profit organization. Don’s outstanding leadership, and the support of Bruce Rigdon and members of the Board, helped Pilgrims achieve many of its goals.

The third phase of the Pilgrims’ development came when Don retired from his position in 2007, and the Pilgrims Board hired Bob Sawyer as Executive Director and Joan Deming as Director of Fundraising. During these years, Pilgrims continued its effective ministry to MEEI and developed several other peace initiatives in the Israel and Palestine. When Bob Sawyer retired in 2012, Joan Deming was appointed Executive Director and she has continued the excellent mission that she and Bob had begun. Given her dedicated leadership, Pilgrims has continued to function as an effective mission agency; there is a well developed a well-organized program of fundraising; it has began several peace-building initiatives in addition to its mission with MEEI; it has built strong partnerships with churches and affinity organizations; and it has continued and refined the Pilgrimages and added student visitation programs.

We are now approaching phase four in the evolution of Pilgrims of Ibillin. There is the anticipated retirement of the Executive Director at the end of 2017, and some new officers for the Board of Directors will need to be elected at the same time. The strategic plan that follows is designed to help those who guide Pilgrims of Ibillin in phase four.

THE CORE VALUES OF PILGRIMS OF IBILLIN: The core values guiding the work of Pilgrims of Ibillin have not fundamentally changed, although their meaning has deepened and become more nuanced with experience.

  1. Pilgrims of Ibillin engages in its work with the conviction that there is a profound need for compassion, justice, and peace in Israel and Palestine. These values are foundational in the work of Pilgrims, and Pilgrims will incarnate these values in its mission.
  2. Pilgrims of Ibillin, following the model of Jesus the radical prophet, is committed to working for a just peace and resolving conflicts in a non-violent way. It will mean going against the norms of the cultures in which it works, cultures that often turn to violence for conflict resolution.
  3. Pilgrims of Ibillin does its work with the conviction that the dignity of all the people of Israel and Palestine must be honored, and that it is inclusive, ecumenical, and interfaith in its strategies and programs.
  4. Pilgrims of Ibillin is persuaded that there are many strategies to use in the work for a just peace in Israel and Palestine, but for Pilgrims, it is education that is at the heart of its mission. Other strategies and programs may be used as well, but its core mission is to educate the people with whom it works about its conviction that all people are created in the image of God, have infinite value, and deserve to live in a setting that is secure and peaceful.
  5. Pilgrims of Ibillin, growing out of its support for the formal education of children and young people in Israel and Palestine, is also convinced that education about the political realities in Israel and Palestine must be integral to the education of young people in Israel and Palestine and for people in the United States and beyond.
  6. Pilgrims of Ibillin, keenly aware that Israel and Palestine are regions immersed in political complexity and that Israel is politically connected to the United States, believes it must engage in informed advocacy for a just peace in the region. Without this direct and honest advocacy, there will be no change.
  7. Pilgrims of Ibillin does it work with the conviction that empowering people to engage in work for the common good in the region, but stresses the need that the dignity of all people must be honored as the work for the common good is pursued.
  8. Pilgrims of Ibillin is committed to raising financial resources that will enable work for the common good to take place, and it desires to be generous in its support to those programs that seek the common good.
  9. The work of Pilgrims of Ibillin is based on relationships of empathy, trust, and collaboration. It believes that active on-site participation is fundamental to its work and there must be the expression of unlimited love for those who serve and are served through its programs.
  10. Pilgrims of Ibillin, while supporting all of the people of Israel and Palestine, is interfaith in its outlook, but has a special concern for the Christian community in Israel and Palestine and is committed to being in solidarity with them through its programs and influence.

 THE VISION: The vision of Pilgrims of Ibillin is to foster peace and justice in Israel and Palestine through education.

THE MISSION: The mission of Pilgrims of Ibillin is to support the Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI) and other mission partners that cultivate a just peace in Israel and Palestine. Pilgrims provides this support through financial resources, education, and peace-building projects.


  1. To promote initiatives that seek justice and peace, encourage open and honest dialogue, and support discourse honoring the dignity of all people living in the diverse cultural and religious groups in Israel and Palestine.
  2. To support the continuing existence of the threatened Christian communities in Israel and Palestine.
  3. To support educational efforts and institutions which accept a diverse population for enrollment and emphasize the values of mutual understanding and respect the dignity of every individual.
  4. To educate American citizens and as possible those from other countries regarding peacemaking and reconciliation of diverse peoples in Israel and Palestine. The goal is to build a constituency that is informed about the social and political realities of the region and who can use their influence to help secure a just peace in the region.

THE CONTEXT OF OUR WORK: There are several sub-contexts in the work of Pilgrims of Ibillin, and each of them is ever changing and complex. The subject of context demands a book length description; we can only point to the particular concerns of Pilgrims of Ibillin that plans its work in reference to these diverse environments.

  1. The Israel and Palestine Context: It is a troubled region, filled with conflict, hostility, and fear. The Israeli government has the clear edge of power and currently is engaged in a policy to control the Palestinian populations in both Israel proper and in Palestine, often referred to as the West Bank or the Occupied Territories. The region of Gaza has a unique challenge, given its poverty and isolation.

The peace initiatives of both governments and NGOs over the years have taken at least three broad directions. There has been an attempt to make the entire region known as Israel and Palestine a single unit, with equal rights and opportunities for all of its citizens. This effort has failed consistently; the cultures are vastly different and there is no trust between the parties.  The second initiative is to create two states: Israel and Palestine. While there was some hope for this initiative in past decades, it has not worked because neither side could accept the compromise of land distribution and the insecurity of living side by side. The third initiative, generally not spoken, is the effort of the Israeli government to make Israel a Jewish state and to pressure the Palestinian population to emigrate. This position currently prevails and the Palestinians live as second-class citizens in both Israel and Palestine (including Gaza).

This political and social situation has motivated Pilgrims of Ibillin to help the Palestinian people in both Israel and Palestine (Occupied Territories).

  1. The United States: Pilgrims of Ibillin is a US based organization and raises the vast majority of its money that supports its work and the mission partners within the US. The Board of Pilgrims has been encouraged by the support of a fine constituency of dedicated people. Its primary base of support has been the larger church community, but support has come from a variety of sources. There are challenges. One is that there is strong support of Israel and its policies in the US and especially in the federal government. Another is that there is a very strong Jewish lobby that influences American policies. A third is that there is a lingering point of view called Zionism that maintains that there is biblical support for the return of the Jewish people to the “Holy Land” and therefore we should support Israel and its policies. The fund-raising efforts of Pilgrims face these obstacles, and they become quite pronounced in that the primary support base for the work of Pilgrims is the church. Strategies must be developed by factoring in these several realities.
  2. Organizational Support in the United States: Pilgrims has been supported and guided by its informal partnerships with a wide range of mission agencies that have the comparable goal of fostering a just peace in Israel and Palestine. The primary strategy growing out of these partnerships has been to find that particular emphasis in mission that complements the work of other organizations. While there may be the minor concern of competition for philanthropic support, this concern has never been obstructive. Cooperation and collaboration have been present, making for an ecologically sound array of mission agencies. Pilgrims, in assessing its role in this larger grouping, has maintained that it can contribute the educational component to the mission. Other organizations certainly have an educational dimension, but may be designed more for advocacy and building collaboration among denominations.

This larger context invites Pilgrims to be wise in its mission, making education the key component as it works in Israel and Palestine and in the United States. It will continue to factor in the political realities of Israel and Palestine and collaborate with its affinity partners.

Building upon its foundational principles and its current context, the Pilgrims of Ibillin affirms the following recommendations for its work through 2016-2020.


 RECOMMENDATION ONE: In every appropriate and possible way, improve and expand the services offered to our mission partners, empowering them to fulfill their mission. 

 The Implementation: Action Steps

  1. Complete the consultation in strategic planning, 2016-2020, for MEEI.
  2. Expand the services of consultation in the formation of an office of Development and Alumni Relations for MEEI.
  3. Provide consultation for the formation of an office Human Resource Management for MEEI.
  4. Assist MEEI in its capital improvement plan by guiding them with consultation and the formation of a comprehensive facility maintenance plan.
  5. Provide consultation and services to the other mission partners, as needed and requested, such as fund-raising for Wi’am.
  6. Increase by 5% over a five-year period the amount of money Pilgrims is able to give to its mission partners.
  7. Provide through visits, the Pilgrimages, and regular communication, a support system based on intelligent caring, compassionate listening, and timely and active attention to the concerns of the mission partners.

The Rationale:  These actions steps fulfill our mission to offer consultation, financial resources, and a friendly and supportive presence for our partners.

The Timeline and Costs: $15,000

  1. Joan Deming and Duncan Ferguson should complete Action Step 1 in the fall of 2016 through their visits to MEEI.
  2. The goal of Action Step 2 should be completed in 2017, and the costs should be in the range of $5000. It will involve at least 2 visits to Ibillin by a consultant, and continuing assistance will be provided by the regular visits of the Executive Director, Joan Deming.
  3. The goal of Action Step 3 should be completed in 2018, and the costs should be in the range of $5000 with 2 visits by a consultant and the assistance of Pilgrims’ Executive Director.
  4. Begin immediately with the formation of the capital improvements plan and the comprehensive facility maintenance plan. Ask the Pilgrims volunteers, Bill and Beth Nelson, to assist in this domain.
  5. The goal of Action Step 5 should continue through the 5-year period of the strategic plan, and $5000 should be budgeted over the 5-year span, with $1000 per year to respond to the specific requests of our partners.
  6. Action Step 6 will be completed as a careful strategy for fund-raising is continued over the 5-year period of the planning process. See below on Recommendation Three.
  7. Action Step 7 should be continued with a clear intention, not just assumed, and be integral to our work with the partners over the 5-year span.

RECOMMENDATION TWO: Building on the strong foundation currently present, maintain the efficient infrastructure and consider a new staff design in order to implement the mission of Pilgrims of Ibillin.

The Implementation: Action Steps

  1. Study the current design and make a judgment about whether there should be a staff increase and how the division of responsibilities might be distributed.
  2. Maintain the efficient administrative methods currently in place and consider expanding the staffing level of Pilgrims by hiring one half-time person to assume responsibilities that will assist and complement the work of the Executive Director.
  3. Study the current configuration of the Board with its officers and committee structure, and make recommendations about any possible change. Consider whether a Director Emeritus plan might be beneficial to the work of Pilgrims and honor those who have served faithfully in support of the mission.
  4. Work with a new Executive Director in regard to any changes in policies and procedures for the office of Pilgrims of Ibillin.

The Rationale: The current system, due in large part to Joan Deming’s competence and efficient ways has worked well. But it has become clear that Pilgrims is asking too much of a single person to guide and implement the mission of Pilgrims. The current Board design seems to be working efficiently as well, but a careful study might give information that could improve the Board’s work. If there is an additional staff person assisting the Executive Director, it will be important to design a way to insure that the office will work with efficiency and that the professional fulfillment of the staff is given a high priority.

Timeline and Costs: $110,000

  1. Action Steps 1 & 2: Increase the staff of Pilgrims to two part-time employees, one serving as Executive Director (3/4 time) and one serving as Director of Administration (or other title) (1/2 time). Prepare for this change in the fall of 2017 and make the change at the beginning of 2018. The part time staff person will cost at least $20,000 per year ($100,000 for five years) and student interns might cost $2000 per year ($10,000 for five years)
  2. Action Step 3: Study the ways that we are currently functioning, and see if there are ways that modest changes might increase the efficiency of the implementation of our mission. Plan to make this study across 2017, and invite Joan Deming to make recommendations and suggest any changes for 2018.
  3. Action Step 4: Write position descriptions for these two positions during the fall of 2016 and begin the hiring process, especially for the Executive Director early 2017 with the goal of having an orientation period in the fall of 2017. The new Executive Director should be central in the appointment of the second person on the staff.
  4. Direct the Executive Committee of the Board to assess the whether any changes might improve the current design and responsibilities of the Board.

RECOMMEDATION THREE: Seek ways to raise sufficient funds to support the work of Pilgrims’ mission partners that will assist them to sustain a level of excellence in the implementation of their stated missions.

The Implementation: Action Steps

  1. Increase the base of support for the mission partners by 5% over the five- year period of the planning process (2016-2020).
  2. Provide consultation to our mission partners that will increase their capacity to raise funds to sustain and improve their respective missions.
  3. Engage, with the assistance of an external firm, in writing grants for capital improvements and major projects. In particular, prepared the ASHA grant for capital improvement for MEEI.

Rationale: We are continuing to do quite well in raising modest amounts of money each year to sustain the mission of Pilgrims. The modest increase at approximately 1% per year is achievable and will assist our mission partners to continue their important work. Our primary mission partner, MEEI is in great need of capital improvements, and we should give a high priority to the preparation of the ASHA grant proposal.

Timeline and Costs:  $50,000

  1. Action Step 1: The addition of a part-time person and the continuing support of the Board should enable Pilgrims to increase its revenue at 1% per year. See above for the costs of the additional staff person. This person should be on board for 2018.
  2. Action Step 2: Use members of the Board of Directors and their contacts in order to provide the consultation for assisting the mission partners in developing fund-raising strategies. This will be integral to the strategic plan for MEEI, but could easily be offered to the other mission partners as well. It can begin in 2017.
  3. The major grant preparations will require outsourcing and we estimate the costs at $50,000. The work for this grant and others should begin in the fall of 2016.

RECOMMENDATION FOUR: Offer outstanding programs to educate a substantial number of US citizens, including those with substantial influence and those from other countries in order to create a base of support and advocacy for a just peace in Israel and Palestine.

Implementation: Action Steps

  1. Continue to offer Pilgrimages that enable members of the Pilgrims constituency and others with concerns about a just peace in Israel and Palestine the opportunity to see first hand the situation that exists in this region and the ways that Pilgrims is contributing to the peace process. In addition, continue to explore the wisdom of offering study seminars on the biblical and theological foundations of a just peace, using the facilities and resources of MEEI. Target “key influencers” in this endeavor.
  2. Continue to arrange settings for the staff and Board members for Pilgrims to make presentations on the work of Pilgrims and the way it works for a just peace in Israel and Palestine.
  3. Continue to use the publications of Pilgrims (electronic and print) such as the newsletters, the brochure, and any special mailings to inform readers of the current situation in Israel and Palestine and how Pilgrims works with several partners in helping to create a more secure, just, and humane setting for residents of the region. Continue to modify and improve the website as there are newsworthy items from our mission partners and changes in the work of Pilgrims are made. Create an online streaming video that will effectively tell the story of MEEI and the other peace projects of Pilgrims.
  4. Arrange for the mission partners to travel to the US to make presentations on their work. In recent years, Abuna Chacour has been very effective in articulating the mission of MEEI, and we should continue to have representatives from the school: administrators, teachers, and students. In addition, we may want to invite those with responsibility for the peace projects to travel and present their work to the Pilgrims constituency.
  5. Make a special effort to reach students, enabling theme to visit the region and learn about the current realities in Israel and Palestine.

Rationale: Social change will be facilitated by an informed and articulate constituency of people who care deeply about and are working toward a just peace in Israel and Palestine. These people need guidance on how they might speak about the issues and use their influence with those in power. The mission is guided by the prophetic challenge to “speak truth to power.”

Timeline and Costs: $45,000 (this sum will need to be increased if there is the creation of a new online content for MEEI or the larger mission of Pilgrims.)

  1. Action Step 1: As possible offer 2 pilgrimages per year, fall and spring, as is our current design. One possible change would be the addition of an informative seminar on the biblical and theological foundations of a just peace, using the facilities of MEEI and the biblical sites in the region of the Galilee. The goal of such an endeavor would be to inform key influencers who could be spokespersons for the mission of a just peace in Israel and Palestine. These offerings are intended to be self-supporting, although a modest budget of approximately $1000 per event may be wise. Costs over the five-year period would then be approximately $10,000.
  2. Action Step 2: There will be some travel costs over and above the travel budget for the Executive Director as Board members and others have opportunities to make presentations. A modest budget of $2000 per year for special events would make such a program possible with a cost of $10,000 for the five years of the strategic plan.
  3. Action Step 3: The current budget should reflect the costs for this action step.
  4. Action Step 4: There will be costs for the representatives from our mission sites to travel to the US. A budget of $5000 per year or $25,000 over the five years will be necessary if this program continues to be implemented.
  5. Action Step 5: Plan for a travel seminar for a target constituency (students in seminary and university; or “key influencers”) to travel to Israel and Palestine and work in a tangible way in peace and justice projects. As far as possible, make these endeavors self-supporting and an integral part of the pilgrimages or study seminars. Plan for a student program in 2018 taking into account the academic year.

RECOMMENDATION FIVE: Cultivate a range of cooperative and collaborative affinity partners in order to maintain a healthy combination of organizations that are engaged in seeking a just peace in Israel and Palestine.

Implementation: Action Steps

  1. As possible, arrange for the staff of Pilgrims and Board members to attend the conferences of affinity organizations.
  2. On a regular basis, invite representatives of affinity organizations to attend the Board meetings of Pilgrims to inform the Board of the purpose and approach of their mission. In these meetings, arrange to discuss possible ways of collaborating and sharing the distinctive features of the mission of Pilgrims.
  3. At critical moments in the calendar, when advocacy is advisable, build teams from several organizations and present a united front.

Timeline and Costs $5000

  1. Action Step 1:This is to some extent a continuation of a current practice, but there is a need to be more intentional about it. A most budget of $1000 per year or $5000 over the five years strategic plan would take care of the costs. The effort should begin immediately.
  2. Action Step 2: Again, this action is a continuation of current practice, but there is wisdom in being intentional and strategic in making the invitations. The costs should be minimal and be integral to the budget line for Board meetings.
  3. Action Step 3: This practice has also been present in our work, but given the urgency of our mission and that of our affinity partners, we need to be quite intentional about making this practice integral to our work. The costs for this endeavor can be managed by our yearly budget.


  1. Ask the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors to be the coordinating committee for the implementation of the strategic plan, with guidance from the Executive Director.
  2. Develop a means of measuring progress on the action items and make reports to each full Board meeting on the progress and suggested changes in objectives and strategy.
  3. Develop a 5-year timeline for implementation of the strategic plan, placing the suggested action items, both the starting time and the proposed finishing time, within the objectives for a given year.
  4. Design the Annual Operating Plan each year in reference to the strategic plan.
  5. Integrate the costs for the recommended actions of the strategic plan into the annual budget.
  6. As it is appropriate, report on the adoption of the strategic plan and the progress in implementing the plan to the supporting constituency of Pilgrims, and to Pilgrims’ mission partners.


  1. The current members and officers of the Board of Directors
  2. As necessary, add any legal documents such as Articles of Incorporation or By-Laws
  3. Project approximate costs for both the projects and the implementation.
  4. Provide information about the plan in publications and the website.

Contact Us

Executive Director:

The Rev. Laurie Lyter Bright
phone 224-577-8291

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     Pilgrims of Ibillin c/o Jitasa
     1750 W Front St, Suite 200
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