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 fundraising 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 changed to “In 2013”, 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 changed as 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.
Andrew Watts, Vice-Chair
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. Inspired by that visit, he joined the board in 2016 with a mission of contributing his time and energy to supporting the hopeful work and message of Mitri Raheb, his colleagues, students and their community, and broadening awareness of them all in this country.
Richard Bimler, Board Member Emeritus, 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.
As a member of Grace Lutheran Church, LaGrange, IL, Linda has been blessed with a native Palestinian pastor, born in Nazareth. He took her on her first trip to the Holy Land, where she heard his personal story and spent time with the Palestinian people. This included a visit to Dar al-Kalima. Having a daughter who is an artist, Linda understood the power of art as a means of coping, healing, and sharing a story. She immediately felt God working through her to become more involved in the lives of the Palestinian people, specifically with Bright Stars of Bethlehem.
Linda is a founding and active member of Peace in Palestine, a community group in the Chicago area committed to a just Peace for all people of the Holy Land. She assists in planning speakers, educational events, and opportunities for interfaith dialogue.
Linda is a speech pathologist at Erikson Institute in Chicago, specializing in evaluating and supporting children with significant challenges. As an expert clinician, tutor and trainer of Profectum Academy, Linda has mentored and taught online courses to clinicians internationally. Recognizing the importance of social emotional components within relationships helps her better understand the needs of the Palestinian people.
Linda lives in Chicago with her husband. She has a son who lives in Chicago and a daughter who lives in the Czech Republic. “It is truly an honor and privilege to serve Bright Stars of Bethlehem, and the people of Palestine”, she says. Her commitment is to support their right to hope, to dream, and to thrive.
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.
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.