Dear Brothers and Sisters,
It has been a long time since I reported from Jerusalem. It has been very busy here in many aspects. First we had the Mission Trip in the month of July. Then, Israel went through the disengagement, which has put the country at the forefront of world news. However, the best news to bring to you is that tonight we baptized Manal from Bethlehem!
Manal is the first married woman to be baptized in Bethlehem. There have been many married women who studied the Bible in the last year in Bethlehem, but none of them were baptized because their husbands threatened to divorce them. Manal is the first to walk all the way through the challenge of being baptized while being married and having two daughters. Keep her in your payers, please.
Last month was very challenging for the country. The disengagement has caused much tension. Two terror attacks were carried out by Jewish settlers against Palestinians, which resulted in the deaths of seven people. In response to the killings, Muslims have threatened to seek revenge. Yesterday I was interviewed on Israel's national TV. It was a half-hour interview with five other Israelis. I spoke about how people in Israel/Palestine refuse to see the enemy as a human being. They are so caught up in being nationalist that they believe the enemy is just evil. I tried to challenge that mindset on the show. One of the girls angrily commented "Good Jews don't drive fellow Jews from their homes!" I tried to demonstrate the discrimination in this comment, and responded, "Is it then acceptable for good Jews to drive other humans from their homes?" By the end of the show, one of the settler girls who had been removed from her home in Gaza reformed her idea of Palestinians. Whereas before she had proclaimed "All Palestinians are murderers," by the end of the discussion she admitted "There are good Palestinians such as Aziz, with whom we can talk."
I have realized that even disciples get caught up with nationalism, and forget that our kingdom is not of this world, and we are all human beings, created in the image of God. God loves us all, and Jesus died for the worst among us. We are called to love our enemies, even those who we call "terrorists." It is very easy to preach the philosophy of "love your enemy," but the real test comes when we have a real, physical enemy. When Jesus preached his Sermon on the Mount, His country was occupied by the Romans. They were the enemies of the Jews, having conquered their land and subjugated their people. When Jesus talked about loving our enemies, He was talking about the Romans as well. It is a good reminder to ask ourselves, which is more important for us, our nationalism or our Lord? Are we slandering our "enemies"? Do we justify our hate by doubting their humanity, or do we wish evil upon them?
Every day that I pass through the checkpoint, I face these questions, because an Israeli soldier killed my brother 15 years ago. A soldier with the same uniform beat my brother to death while interrogating him on the suspicion of throwing stones. I have made my decision to not give in to my feelings, my anger, or my desire for revenge, but to forgive even the soldier who killed my brother. This is a daily decision that I must make every time I meet an Israeli soldier.
As you see I am going backward in time: the Mission Trip turned out to be great. Fifty-four people participated from about thirteen countries. We had great time studying the Bible, as we held two conferences (a short conference and a long conference). We shared our faith in the streets, studied with many new people, visited archaeological sites, and made new friendships. Most importantly however, we worshiped God together in the Spirit. Of those who came, three new dating couples started. We are planning on making this a regular program. Starting next summer, we will be forming 2-3 trips a year to meet a variety of needs. Each trip will be not only for those who want to tour, but also for those who want to help strengthen the Churches here.
A few people who came on the trip are considering moving to Israel to live and support the mission here. We are so grateful for the hearts of these people, and welcome anyone who wants to come. Our goal is to have as many disciples visit as possible. In about a month or so we will be launching a website that will have pictures, stories, videos, sermons, teaching materials from the conference, and updates about our future plans pictures of the trip.
Here are a few comments from disciples who attended the trip. "I was sad having to leave... I can't begin to thank everyone in the churches there. I saw and experienced what life to the full was." - Christian (Madison, WI)
"I felt so much welcome, and so much in a family, based on grace and on everyone's giving heart. Being around with you showed me again that the Christian life is a loving family life, and that it works... you definitely destroyed my last doubts and lack of faith." - Christian (France)
"We received great training. We learned much about Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Brothers who were former Jews or Muslims shared with us about Judaism and Islam... Other brothers taught deeply of scripture, the Bible, and science. There were stimulating discussions that were very useful. Every time as we went visiting biblical sights, our leaders shared powerfully from the word, involving us personally to the experiences we were living, and didn't allow us to just be tourists. There was and is a spiritual message, to transform our lives, and to win the world over in each one of those locations." - Juan (Mexico)
"Your primary goal may have been to evangelize Jerusalem, but God has used you to be the spark to fan evangalizing the world into a flame again." - Malissa (Tennessee)