Who We Are / Board of Directors
Board of Directors
Jim Hooker, Chair
Jim Hooker has been involved in issues related to Palestine, the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land for almost ten years. In 2005, he and his wife, Susan, chaired a fund raising project to build housing for Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem.
It was during this first trip that they learned of Bright Stars of Bethlehem and Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb. Most recently, Jim and Susan worked with Bright Stars of Bethlehem staff in Palestine for several weeks, exploring ways of measuring and improving productivity and the marketing of their programs to a variety of constituents.
“Participating in the work of Bright Stars of Bethlehem has a board member is a continuation of my commitment to the growth and development of that region and the many ministries happening there,” says Jim.
Jim’s career prior to retirement involved owning and operating a group of radio stations serving all of the suburban communities of Chicagoland. Jim and Susan have been married for 48 years. They have three children and four grandchildren.
Rana Khoury, Vice Chair
Rana Khoury has been involved with Bright Stars of Bethlehem since its inception in 2004 and has served on the Board of Directors since 2006.
She says, “I am drawn to this work because of the powerful mission and the dedication and commitment of the people who support, work and provide leadership to Bright Stars.”
When asked about the ministry of Bright Stars, Rana says, “The people, young, old, women, girls, etc., who live in Bethlehem that Bright Stars helps to nurture, grow and thrive…the impact is immeasurable. This work is ‘hope in action’ and I am fortunate to witness it first hand as I live and work in Bethlehem.”
Rana was born raised in Bethlehem. She earned both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Currently, Rana serves as the Vice President for Development and Outreach for the Diyar Consortium in Bethlehem.
Richard Bimler, Co-Founder
Richard Bimler is one of the co-founders of Bright Stars of Bethlehem and previously served as the Secretary for the Board of Directors. It was during his time as President of Wheat Ridge Ministries that he began to learn about the potential and opportunity of ministry in Palestine. What began as funding for the inaugural Wellness Center program in 2003 has grown to include so much more.
“Hope is a gift of Christ. Hope is knowing that even when there is no hope… there is hope in Christ. Hope is living out the Gospel!” exclaims Rich.
In addition to his work with Bright Stars of Bethlehem, Rich provides leadership to Millneck Foundation, Lutheran Music Program, KINDLE, Ammerman Center for Creative Aging, Engebrecht Board and EncourageNet of LEA.
He has been married to Hazel for more than 50 years. They are the parents of three children and grandparents to seven.
Jeanette Cool, Secretary
As a long-time activist around political issues with Palestine and as a supporter of Arab culture, Jeanette was eventually introduced to the amazing work in Bethlehem. She believes in the vision and strategy of Rev. Mitri Raheb and the work of Bright Stars of Bethlehem that makes real change in the lives of Palestinians living under occupation.
“Hope, while important, is not always ‘active.’ When we say ‘Hope is what we do,’ it is commitment to action and can incite people of conscience to bring their concerns for humanity to a place of involvement and activism. Creating hope through action especially behind the walls of occupation is valiant work, indeed,” shares Jeanette.
Ms. Cool serves as Executive Director and President of the board of the Sam Mazza Foundation and for three years was Secretary for the Board of the San Francisco Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.
With graduate degrees in music, she notes, “My life has been deeply embedded in the arts—as a musician, as a supporter of the arts, as an avid audience member and as one who believes that life cannot survive well without the arts intimately interwoven into the very fabric of BEING.”
Georges Lammam, Jeanette’s husband, is a Palestinian musician and an emissary for Arab culture. Having survived the rigors of refugee life and living in diaspora, he brings music that is experientially expressive and speaks volumes to cross-cultural audiences. Jeanette adds, “This is the power of art—as personal expression, as an arm of political vision, and especially as a heart to heart connection from culture to culture—a definite universal language to inspire understanding.”
Ed Cunnington is retired President and COO of Tescom Corporation, now a division of Emerson Electric. Ed lives in a suburb of Minneapolis, with his wife, Karayn.
Ed is an Elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis and first met Mitri Raheb, in 2010, when a group from Westminster traveled to Palestine. The trip in 2010 was the first of four trips Ed has made. The time in Bethlehem led to a partnership and a signed covenant with Christmas Lutheran, Dar al Kalima and Westminster.
Ed worked with Mitri in arranging an investment fund, through the Presbyterian Foundation, to provide funds for Dar al Kalima. This led to additional funding for investments in Jericho and Ramallah.
Ed is the moderator for Living Waters for the World in Cuba. Volunteers for Living Waters install clean water systems throughout the Island.
Ed graduated from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science in Business and a Master’s degree in business. Ed serves on the Advisory Board for the Dean of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota.
John Eckrich, Treasurer
Dr. Eckrich was first introduced to Bright Stars of Bethlehem when he was invited to be a medical consultant to assess the health care needs of the West Bank and Bethlehem. He formally joined the Board of Directors in 2008.
During John’s first trip, his expertise as a physician was used to help strategically plan a health center at the school. Following his first trip, John became involved in facilitating visits to Bethlehem for the leadership of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Presidents of the various Concordia Universities, as well as other parish nursing and medical personnel.
John describes the ministry of Bright Stars of Bethlehem as “a balm to heal all the wounds and wounded of this sacred and holy ground.” He believes that the wide range of ministry is a pathway to peace. “Improved health access and care for the people of the Bethlehem region, continued offering of high quality elementary and secondary education and master’s level education for the people of the West Bank, preservation and celebration of Palestinian culture and history, and thriving of Christianity for all people of the Holy Land are all ingredients necessary for healing and peace,” said John.
Dr. Eckrich is retired from Grace Place Lutheran Wellness Ministries, which he founded and where he was the Executive Director. He has also been involved in the International Parish Nurse Ministries Board.
John’s wife, Kathy, is a registered nurse and a frequent visitor with him to Bethlehem. They have three children. Their son Christopher owns an internet travel company in Aspen, Colorado, and has visited and loves Bethlehem. Their other children, Molly and Michael, would love to visit the Holy Land and lend their skills in business management and culinary arts.
Suzanne Watts Henderson
An ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Suzanne Watts Henderson holds degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Duke University, where she received a Ph.D. in New Testament. She currently serves as Associate Professor of Religion at Queens University of Charlotte, where she also directs the Honors Program and the Center for Ethics and Religion. Suzanne and her husband Bob (a Presbyterian minister) have been advocating for peace and justice in the Holy Land since 2005, when they spent sabbatical time at Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem and had three children attend a Diyar day camp. Besides her contributions to the field of New Testament study, including two books and numerous articles, Suzanne has helped to launch an initiative at Queens devoted to interfaith dialogue and cooperation.
Carl Miller is the retired CFO of TRW, Inc. where he worked for nearly 15 years after spending 17 years at General Dynamics Corporation. He has served on the Board of Directors for the Curtiss-Wright Corporation, John Carroll University, and the Cleveland Institute of Art. Currently he is on the Finance Committee of Colleton River Plantation Club. Outside of work, Carl enjoys golf, spectator sports, reading and travel.
Peter Nagle has been involved with Bright Stars of Bethlehem for more than a decade and has served on the Board of Directors for two years.
He first became involved in the ministry in Palestine thirteen years ago through his faith community, Benedictine Grange, Redding, CT. Since that time, he as traveled to the Holy Land 15 times, frequently leading groups to experience the ministry first-hand.
“Together, we are actually building a new Palestine. Through Bright Stars of Bethlehem we accomplish a GREAT deal. Many organizations will talk and theorize, but we actually DO,” shares Peter.
Peter adds, “I believe that our work of connecting people here with people in Palestine will create a success story that will impact world peace.”
Peter is an investment manager, owning his own company for more than 30 years. He holds his Masters in Religion from Yale Divinity School. He and his wife, Joy, have four daughters and two grandchildren.
Andrew Watts is a Managing Director at Oaktree Capital Management, a global investment firm headquartered in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and children. As an investment manager, his interest in geopolitics and their implications for the investment world led him more than 20 years ago to an understanding of and concern for the issues surrounding Palestine and her people. In 2014, he traveled as a mentor with a group of college students to Israel and the West Bank, where they visited extensively with Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb. He joins the board in 2016 and looks forward to contributing his time and energy to supporting of the hopeful work and message of Mitri Raheb, his colleagues, students and their community, and also hopes to help broaden awareness of them all in this country.
Gregg Smith, Co-Founder, Board Member Emeritus
Gregg Smith is one of the co-founders and is Chair, Emeritus of Bright Stars of Bethlehem. Through his personal experiences traveling in Palestine and throughout the Holy Land as well as seeing first-hand the ministry at work in the West Bank, Gregg Smith lives the mission of Bright Stars.
He feels the Holy Spirit has drawn him to this important ministry. “It is vital to me that we help provide continuity of the Christian presence in the Holy Land.”
Gregg has a successful business career serving as founder, president, chief executive officer and chair for more than 20 companies. He has been blessed by more than 52 years of marriage, three children and eight grandchildren.