This past October, the annual gathering of congregations from the Galilee, both Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking, was held in the Lavi forest. It is difficult to compare this recent gathering, meticulously planned and widely attended, to the first meetings that initiated this tradition about thirty years ago. Indeed, perhaps very few know how it all began.
In 1985, the members of Peniel Congregation in Tiberias endured harsh persecution by some who opposed the Good News of the Messiah. After their regular meeting place was burned down and other possible venues feared to host them, the members of Peniel found themselves meeting in various places out in nature. “We held services on the same mountains upon which Yeshua stood two thousand years ago, teaching the crowds, healing the sick, blessing the children, and feeding the hungry,” tells the pastor of Peniel Congregation, Daniel Yahav.
And although this may sound quite idyllic, these services were not a picnic, but rather refinement by fire. Aside from the danger of persecution, there were the inconveniences of holding services in nature, for even the weather at times opposed them.
Then, one winter, the members of Peniel were invited by Pastor Sohail Ramadan to use his congregation’s facilities. They obliged and held several services there. Out of this special relationship arose the idea of having an annual gathering of the congregations of the Galilee, both Hebrew- and Arabic-speaking. Sohail Ramadan invited the Arabic-speaking congregations while Daniel Yahav invited the Hebrew-speaking ones. From then on, blossomed the yearly meeting of hundreds of believers from the two groups.
In recent years there have been up to 1,000 participants at these gatherings, which are organized by a wide panel of Arab and Jewish congregational leaders. At the last gathering more than 600 people attended, joining together in praise, studying the Word of the Lord, and partaking in a communal picnic.
At a time in which again the security situation within Israel is stormy, and terrorist attacks exacerbate the hostility and hatred between our two peoples, it was an awesome and virtually unreal sight to see Arabs and Jews spending time together. No doubt that such an image shined the light of the Messiah, who said, “In this shall they know that you are my disciples: your love for each other” (John 14:25).
It was regarding precisely these words of Yeshua that brother Samar Boutros shared the Word of God with those in attendance. He discussed the importance of unity between Jews and Arabs in the Messiah: it is a tool of enormous power for the task entrusted to us—to share the Good News. According to Samar, it is this unfathomable love between Jew and Arab that shocks both peoples (especially the Muslim population) and can create a change in their thoughts about faith in Yeshua.
One of the participants shared about her experiences that day. She said, “Brother Samar’s words encouraged me to simply love with the love of the Messiah. Perhaps it’s not “simple” to love; even Samar noted that it’s difficult for Jews and Arabs in our country to love one another. But if we’ll seek unity and love through the Holy Spirit, we’ll be a living, powerful testimony!”
Samar, too, suggested a practical means of growing in love and unity. His advice was that every congregation embrace another from the other side, and that the two hold joint monthly services and maintain their connection. “Especially now, in the end of days, our unity in the Holy Spirit is more important than ever,” Samar said, and he challenged those listening to take action.
The praise music, too, strongly reflected the profound interweaving of the peoples and their consideration one for the other. Congregation Beit Eliyahu of Haifa led the main time of worship, and it was quite special to hear Israelis singing in Hebrew and Arabic. They were particular to choose familiar international songs so as to be sure that everyone could participate and praise God in his own language. There was also translation to Russian and English in addition to Hebrew and Arabic.
Beyond the awesome privilege of meeting brothers in the Lord, studying the Word of God together, and praising His name together, everyone enjoyed the communal meal in which they shared the food they brought with them, again demonstrating love and care. One sister brought large pots of food and distributed a special Arab dish. “It was very beautiful and touched my heart,” told one woman.
Participants were also able to learn about different Messianic groups that offer a range of services. Through these stands set up on site they could find out about Messianic albums, newly published books, and other events in the Body of the Messiah.
Undoubtedly these conferences, which bring together a great diversity of believers to fellowship in unity and provide so much edifying content, are a huge blessing and the fruit of the love for our Lord, Yeshua the Messiah!