The story of the Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund by Julia Fisher
It all started with an article about the plight of Arab Christians in Bethlehem “Remember Bethlehem – a place of birth and sacrifice”, (Sword magazine Jan/Feb 2007) – in particular those belonging to the evangelical community there. For those of you who are passionate about supporting Israel, this article posed a challenge; can we feed first and talk theology afterwards? As I wrote then, “I am not saying that theology does not matter. Of course it does. Those who disagree with Replacement theology (as I most certainly do) will never change the situation in Bethlehem by taking a stand-offish attitude.
We have to go there, whether in prayer or in person, and get our hands dirty and help the people – otherwise there will soon be no Christian Arabs left in Bethlehem.” The article went on to describe the heart ache experienced by one evangelical pastor in particular, and the sacrificial way in which he helped the people there, both Christians and Muslims. Your response to that article was to give generously – and every penny of that money was passed to the pastor in Bethlehem for him to give to those in need.
It demonstrated that Christians in the UK, who love Israel and the Jewish people, also love and support the Arab Christians and recognise the work of reconciliation that is going on between Arab Christians and Messianic Jewish believers in the Holy Land today.In “Thanks to you …” (Sword Sept/Oct 2007) I wrote about Labib Madanat, the team leader of Bible Society ministry in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories. From a Jordanian family, he works with both Arab and Jewish believers as they take the gospel to both religious and secular Jews, as well as to Muslim Palestinians. I wrote then, “Labib knows from years of experience that true love and concern is primarily practical. ‘Muslim Arabs have to taste Jesus’, he told me, ‘Jewish people have to see Him.’” In that article I shared with you a couple of projects, ways in which Christians in the nations can support Labib Madanat and his teams, including those working in Gaza. And once again, you gave generously. So when news broke about the murder of Rami Ayyad (‘Rami Ayyad – martyred for his faith in Gaza’, Sword Jan/Feb 2008), your hearts were open and the plight of his young widow, Pauline (who was expecting their third child), and their two young children prompted another flush of generosity. Rami was the manager of the Bible Society book shop in Gaza city. He was snatched one Saturday afternoon in October 2008 as he was closing the shop. Concerned he was late home, Pauline described how she had called him on his mobile phone. Rami replied he had been ‘delayed’ and may be late. Pauline realised something was wrong and called Rami’s brother who also called Rami on his cell phone.
Rami replied and managed to tell his brother that he was being held by a group and would be ‘away for a long time’. After that the phone was switched off. Rami’s body was found the next morning. He had been tortured before being murdered and his body dumped. The response to Rami’s death, especially by Messianic Jewish believers living in Israel has been unprecedented. A special fund has been established to support Pauline and her three children (she gave birth to a baby daughter shortly after Rami’s death). You gave generously to this. The pain remains. Rami did not die in vain. But the need is ongoing.
A few months later Ami Ortiz, the 15 year old son of Messianic pastors David and Leah Ortiz was cruelly injured when he opened what looked like a gift of food kindly left on the doorstep of the family’s apartment in Ariel, Samaria. But it wasn’t a gift, it was a bomb that blew up in Ami’s face and almost killed him. Ami’s recovery has been slow and painful. His medical bills have been huge. You responded again, generously (“Supporting persecuted believers in Israel”. Sword May/June 2008). And today Ami is making a good recovery.
In July/Aug 2008 I wrote about the plight of Sudanese refugees in Israel (“As one born among you”) and how one Messianic Jewish believer, Rita Tsukahira, found herself providing a refuge for these beleaguered people. Today, the question of helping the large numbers of African refugees pouring into Israel has become a national issue. As Rita said, “They have escaped from the devastation of the twenty year war perpetrated on the southern Sudanese people by the radical Islamic government in Khartoum, and the current genocide taking place in Darfur. Most had sought refuge in Egypt but found persecution and danger there as well. So, risking everything and paying hundreds of dollars to Bedouin guides, they were taken to the border with Israel and left to cross over into the desert in the dark of night. After walking for hours, Israeli soldiers would find the refugees and bring them to the base.
As Sudan is an ‘enemy nation’, they were considered a security risk and taken to prison. The army and the immigration police had no facility to care for the women and children. When I received the call, it was as if the Lord spoke a clear word to me, ‘This is going to be big.’ I had no idea that for more than a year, we would be the only place to take in Sudanese women and children. Both Muslim and Christian women from a number of different tribes in Sudan were sent to us. Many were traumatized by the events they had witnessed previously – the destruction of their village, the killing of family members, rape, imprisonment. Through persistent prayer and consistent application of God’s principles, we began seeing genuine spiritual transformation in the lives of women from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds.” And once again, readers of Sword magazine responded to this story generously.
More recently I have written about the “House of Victory”(Beit Nitzachon in Hebrew) in Haifa; a rehab centre for alcoholics and drug addicts; Jews and Arabs. Founded by David and Karen Davis their vision for this ministry has always been the ‘one new man’ in Messiah (Ephesians 2:14-16) I’ve visited faith based rehabilitation centres in the UK and abroad where the aim is purely on breaking the power of addiction. But at Beit Nitzachon they are fighting on two fronts – addiction and racial hatred – because to achieve the ‘one new man in Messiah’ in Israel today involves demolishing the ancient wall of enmity between Jew and Arab. In today’s political climate I wonder which is the greater breakthrough. David Davis told me, “One of my greatest joys as a pastor is to witness once lost and addicted Jewish and Arabic ‘sons’ take their place in the body of Messiah in Israel. Graduates of House of Victory include our youth pastor, a home group leader, and media ministry leader, as well as workers at House of Victory and Beit Yedidia, our community centre. One Arab graduate is a fearless preacher of the gospel to Muslims in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Jericho. Only Jesus can reconcile Jews and Arabs, and He is doing it.” And once again, you realised the need and gave generously.
And so the story of the Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund is unfolding. Prompted by your generosity, the OTRF is now a registered charity which aims to build bridges of understanding and support in a spirit of reconciliation between believers (both Jewish and Arab) in the Holy Land (Israel and the Palestinian Areas) and Christians worldwide.
All the projects listed above are ongoing. The OTRF is committed to supporting the people already mentioned – and others – long term. Will you join us? As news about the OTRF is spreading, understandably we are receiving more requests for help. My role is to research these requests thoroughly so that you can be sure you are giving to genuine people. Recently I received an email from Walter Gubler. He wrote, ‘Together with my wife Christine I am leading the Community of Reconciliation in Jerusalem. From what Marcel Rebiai mentioned to me, I understand that you are administering funds to support projects in Israel. Thus my request whether it would be appropriate to utilize these funds for the support of one of our projects in Jerusalem. As you know, we are conducting many parties for our Jewish and Arabic friends at our COR community centre in Jerusalem. The centre is equally a meeting place for Messianic leaders, as well as for the Messianic congregation who we have started to get involved with recently. The number of people attending our meetings has increased steadily. Therefore we need to enlarge our meeting facility in the garden and thus gain room to seat 30 additional guests. Likewise we need more chairs, dishes and cutlery. At the same time we needed to replace the cushion covers and two carpets in the meeting hall.” Can we help? Of course we can. I know Marcel Rebiai well. You can read his story in two books I have written, “Israel: the Mystery of Peace”, published by Authentic Media, and more recently, “Israel’s New Disciples”, published by Monarch.
The work of the Community of Reconciliation is outstanding. It is also costly, not just financially. When Christians in the nations support the believers in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the land, this is an encouragement to them as they seek to introduce people to the one who is the source of true peace. If you would like more information about the work of the OTRF please email me at enquiries(at)olivetreefund.org or write to me at the address below. If you would like to donate using PayPal click here or you can send a cheque made out to The Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund and send it to me, Julia Fisher at PO Box 850, Horsham, RH12 9GA and if you would like your gift to go towards one particular project please specify this. Thank you for your generosity and interest so far. I look forward to keeping you informed of other people in Israel and PA who need our support during the coming year in order to build bridges between us – bridges of reconciliation between Jew and Gentile. Julia Fisher Director of OTRF