Whilst millions read, hear and watch secular news reports, unlike other journalists I feel challenged to report on what God is doing in Israel and the Palestinian Areas and get the stories of the people I meet to as wide an audience as possible, because, frankly, they defy the politics of the region. Jews and Arabs worshipping God together, reconciled as brothers understanding they are equally loved by God. How can this be?
I have recently returned from a brief six day trip to Israel and the West Bank. I was there with Jane Urquhart, one of the trustees of the Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund – a charity that supports Jewish and Arab believers who are in need (more information at the end of this article). We were there to visit some of the people and projects supported by the OTRF and to visit some potential new ones.
We arrived at Ben Gurion airport late afternoon and caught the train up to Haifa to meet Joseph and Ibittsim Haddad (Joseph was born in Haifa to Lebanese parents) who pastor a largely Lebanese congregation that meets in Nahariya in the north west corner of Israel (you can read their story in my book, “Future for Israel?”, published by Authentic). The original plan was they would take us to meet their people that evening. But at the last minute the plan changed as Joseph had been asked to translate for a preacher who would be speaking to a gathering of Arab Christians in a village between Nazareth and Tiberias.
We drove for over an hour before turning off the main road and parked in the main street of the village. As we approached the building where the meeting was being held we heard people singing; the meeting had already started. On entering, I was amazed to see how crowded it was. The worship was enthusiastic and the prayer was fervent. There, in the middle of a predominantly Muslim Arab village in northern Israel were well over a hundred people praising God!
One of the musicians, was playing an instrument that resembled a lute. Later that night he told me how he became a Christian when his baby daughter was dying in hospital from an incurable cancer. He cried out to the Lord to heal her and promised that if God healed her he would spend the rest of his life serving Him. And He did! His name is Jihad! A professional musician and well known in northern Israel, his testimony’s had a profound effect in his community.
The preacher got up to speak. “People are hungry for God” he said, and the people responded enthusiastically. A young boy playing the drums was healed last week from a problem affecting his eyes. He had come to the meeting the previous week wearing glasses. His parents had asked for prayer for him. “We agreed with God’s Word that where one or two agree the prayer is answered. He went back to see the doctor who confirmed his eyes are getting better. The Word of God is sure; He will honour our faith. There’s more power in the name of Jesus than we realise! God wants to encourage you tonight.”
And so the meeting continued. The people were hanging on every word the preacher said. “Are you willing to ask God to break the bondage that is over your life or family or village or town or country? Even if you live in Gaza or the deepest place in the West Bank, God wants to use you and bring revival to your community. We don’t need to worry about the (security) wall or anything else. God is greater than the wall and He wants to use you to bring revival to this country.” And the people applauded. We were witnessing a group of Arab Christians living in a Muslim village in the north of Israel who were praying for the revival of Israel!
The meeting ended and many people who were sick came forward for prayer. I was moved to hear the serious problems these people were living with … cancer, deafness, and many other disabilities. Healthcare is expensive in Israel, and if you are poor, you cannot afford it. These people were putting all their trust in the Lord to help them.
We eventually arrived at our hotel in Haifa in the early hours of the morning. Thankfully somebody had told us that we were staying close to a zoo. I was glad to know that because the lions were roaring during the night and they sounded very close!
The next morning we went to visit Yousef Dakwar (again, his full story is told in “Future for Israel?”) An Arab pastor in down town Haifa, Yousef has recently had the challenge of finding a larger building where his congregation can meet because numbers have been growing so fast. Yousef and his wife Christine are also part of Kehilat HaCarmel where he plays in the music group alongside Messianic believers every Shabbat. His heart is to see Jews and Arabs reconciled via the Cross. It’s happened to him.
Yousef and Christine took us to see their new church on the first floor of a building which includes shops and offices. We climbed the stairs and Joseph unlocked the double metal doors to reveal a spacious reception area from which a number of doors opened to rooms that had clearly been recently decorated. “These are for the children’s work,” Yousef explained. “Follow me.” And he led us to another door which as it opened revealed a very large room. “This is our new church,” Joseph said emotionally. “We have seen miracle after miracle. The Lord has provided this.” Yousef and Christine told us with tears in their eyes how they would never have contemplated taking on such a large space because of the expense. But the Lord had reminded them of the story of Samuel; how, every year, his mother Hannah made him a new coat. To begin with the coat was too big for Samuel, but during the year he grew into it. Encouraged by that story they went ahead and their numbers are growing. They are seeing many Palestinians becoming Christians – and Jewish people too. I knew we were standing with a couple who are living entirely by faith, who feel the responsibility to bring the Gospel to as many people as they can (both Jew and Arab) and who are believing that God will meet all their needs.
Our journey then took us south to Beersheva where we stayed overnight with Howard and Randi Bass, who pastor a Messianic congregation. Later than night, as we were having dinner, they told us about their eldest son who had recently returned from serving with the Israeli army in Gaza; of their anguish at not knowing whether he would come out alive; of their struggles in Beersheva with some Orthodox Jews who are making life very difficult for the believers there; and of their concern for Arab Christians living in the West Bank for whom Howard is a leading advocate.
He told us the story of how Labib Madanat, Director of Bible Society work in Israel and the PA, (again his story is in “Future for Israel?”) had called him after the war in Gaza was over, asking Howard to take him to the nearby hospital where injured Israeli soldiers were being treated. A Palestinian Christian from East Jerusalem, he wanted to visit them to show he cared. Howard described how they went first of all to the florist’s shop to buy flowers. The first soldier they met had severe head injuries and although he couldn’t understand what Labib was saying, eight of his fellow soldiers who were there visiting him understood. “I’m a Palestinian from East Jerusalem; a Christian who loves the God of Israel and the Jewish people. I’ve come to say how very sorry I am that you have been injured and I’m praying for your recovery.” The soldiers were amazed. Their initial nervousness at having a Palestinian at such close quarters soon melted as they realised Labib was no ordinary Palestinian but a man with a unique heart prepared to step across the bridge and extend the hand of friendship in the name of Christ. Howard told us how he followed Labib’s words with words of his own. “I told them Labib was a friend of mine. That I too believed in Yeshua – the Messiah. And how my son had also fought in Gaza. We all ended up crying. And this was repeated in every room we went into.”
Space does not permit me on this occasion to tell you about the remaining four days of this short trip. But I hope I have told you enough to help you realise that God is on the move in Israel and the PA and people are responding to Him in ways that defy the politics of the region and rather demonstrate the words of Paul in his letter to the Ephesians, “His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.”
However, I must also appeal to you because these Arab and Jewish believers, and many others like them are struggling to survive; poverty is rife in Israel. Most pastors have to work to support themselves because their congregations cannot afford to support them. If you would like to hear more about what God is doing in Israel and the PA, and be a part of this unfolding story, then please get in touch. Thankyou.
Julia Fisher is a writer and broadcaster and Director of the Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund. For more information visit www.olivetreefund.org
If you would like to send a donation then please make out your cheque to the Olive Tree Reconciliation Fund and send it to me, Julia Fisher at PO Box 850, Horsham, West Sussex, RH12 9GA.
There will be an OTRF tour to Israel from 5-15th September, 2009 – details are on the web site. If you would like more information or would like to join this important tour, please email enquiries (at) olivetreefund.org