Pro-Israel, anti-Arab evangelical Christians often don’t realize that some of our own spiritual family consists of Arab and Palestinian believers. They are perhaps the most forgotten Christians on earth, who are sometimes tempted to think that Western Christians care more about Jews who have rejected Christ than they do about their own brothers and sisters who are in Christ.
Those are the sentiments expressed by one Palestinian pastor by the name of __________, with whom I spent time during my trip last month to Israel. He ministers in Bethlehem, the city where Jesus was born. His congregation consists of believing Arabs and Palestinians. Their church building has been fire-bombed fourteen times. Pastor ________ has been shot at three times, and on the third occasion a bullet ripped through his shoulder. All of this persecution has come because pastor _________ and his congregation love Jesus, Jews, Christians and Muslims. They believe that Jesus is the only hope for peace in the Middle East.
A Palestinian of Greek descent, pastor _________ comes from a lineage of eleven successive generations of Greek Orthodox priests, the last being his grandfather. Needless to say, when he was born again 38 years ago, his Greek Orthodox family was not elated. But through his persistent prayers and faithful witness over many years, his parents and nine siblings all eventually came to the Lord. The last to surrender his life to Jesus—eight years ago—was his oldest brother. He was living on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem at the time, and when he began joyfully witnessing to his neighbors about Jesus they told him that he should move out. When he didn’t, they murdered him with axes and knives.
Not only do Arab and Palestinian Christians in the West Bank feel forgotten, they also feel cut off, often being unable to make any contact with the tens of thousands of Western Christians who visit Israel each year. Getting in and out of Bethlehem, just four miles from Jerusalem, is like getting in and out of a maximum-security prison. Bethlehem is within the West Bank territory and is separated from Jerusalem by a 25-foot high concrete security wall. Although pastor _________ can pass through the wall because of his Israeli citizenship (he was born in Jerusalem), most of his congregation cannot. Fewer Christian tourists come to Bethlehem to visit biblical sites as in the past, and as a result, Bethlehem’s economy has taken a plunge. Unemployment runs at about 85%. Among the believers in pastor ________’s church, unemployment is closer to 95% due to the fact that they are followers of Jesus. This has left people in general and especially, believers, in great hardship and struggle to meet their daily needs.
This portion of our monthly Ministry Update has been removed due to the sensitive nature of our work in that country.
To Israel, Wisconsin, Tennessee & British Columbia
Due to circumstances beyond our control, our intended July pastors’ conference in Tanzania (where we have just printed 2,000 copies of the Swahili version of The Disciple-Making Minister) had to be rescheduled. So instead of going to Tanzania this month, I’m heading back to Israel to teach verse-by-verse through the Sermon on the Mount, a portion of Scripture that I’ve been teaching at small conferences all across North America this year. We’ll be video recording all the teaching at locations across Galilee. Our local Christian TV station, CTVN, which has been supporting Heaven’s Family and also broadcasting our 2-minute video trip reports, has granted us a periodic half-hour slot, so we’re not going to allow this opportunity to pass us by. I’ve watched CTVN in Nicaragua and Tanzania, as its programs are often picked up by certain satellites and rebroadcast around the world. So our July efforts may produce fruit in Tanzania after all. We also intend to make those teachings available on DVD.
Thanks so very much to you, our friends, who make the ministry of Heaven’s Family possible. May the Lord bless you more so that you can continue to lay up treasure in heaven.