Some 5,782 Syrian men, women and children received medical treatment through an unlikely initiative to help victims of the Syrian Civil War, Operation Good Neighbor.
The project is “unlikely” for its combination of Jewish Israeli doctors alongside Christian missionary doctors who provided medical treatment on the Israeli-Syrian border during the fighting in Syria. It was also unlikely as an alliance between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Frontier Alliance International (FAI) — a Christian organization that seeks to “exalt the worth of Jesus Christ among the unreached and unengaged at the end of the age” in the Middle East and around the world.
Although Operation Good Neighbor ended in 2018, organizers of Maranatha believe its fruit remains. Maranatha, sponsored in part by FAI, is a global summit that gathers an international fellowship of churches, disciple-making movements, leaders, organizations, ministries, denominations and networks to chart new paths forward amid historic disruption and the rapidly changing landscape of global missions.
In the middle of January 2020, more than 400 people from at least a dozen different countries gathered in the Golan for the second annual Maranatha Alliance Conference. The organizers saw a direct connection between the ability to meet in the Golan and the hard work, trust, cooperation and courage of those within the IDF who brought Operation Good Neighbor into reality.
Unity out of diversity
Considering the diversity of nationalities, languages and ethnicities of men and women who attended the conference, Maranatha was nearly as unlikely as Operation Good Neighbor itself. But the diversity only highlighted its unity inherent in the simple message Maranatha, which means “Jesus came, and he will come again;” and in the call of the Body of Christ to stand with Israel because our Lord does, and He is coming back for her.
Consider the diversity of some of the speakers. One was an Iranian who prayed in Farsi not only for the peace of Jerusalem, but for Israel and its inhabitants to be blessed. I could feel the loving, powerful spirit of God breaking down walls that exist in our hearts and in the spiritual fabric of the world in which we live as this Iranian believer in Jesus prayed. He shared stories of the underground church in Iran, which is multiplying and is unashamedly pro-Israel as a result of reading God’s word. A Messianic Jewish believer, in turn, prayed for him, his community and the people of Iran. A young woman from South America shared her experiences as a doctor in Operation Good Neighbor. She now serves Kurdish patients in violent parts of northern Iraq. IDF soldiers had watched her enter Syria repeatedly to treat wounded Syrians in the midst of fighting. They were amazed, and asked how and why could she have the strength to keeping doing it, facing such dangers for strangers. The beauty of her answer was in its simplicity: the Lord Jesus.
An IDF officer shared his thanks for the cooperation of the Church and his perspective of what it means to him to stand by Israel: Our IDF needs friends and settlements in the Golan support.
A man from Germany, and another from Bulgaria, labor in their neighborhoods, against sex trafficking rings in Europe. They don’t meet within church walls, but instead around a table. Sitting, eating, laughing and crying together they share the love and compassion of Jesus with those who have been injured, and have caused injury in their local neighborhoods.
Prayers were lifted up in Kurdish, Swahili, Spanish, German, Bulgarian, Farsi, Hebrew and English, with people crying Maranatha—Lord, come!
The final call of Maranatha
One of the organizers summed up in five points the reason for such beautiful unity out of such diversity and why he believes that the cry Maranatha should come forth from the Golan:
- The modern State of Israel is the providential act of God.
- Trouble is coming now that the Jewish people possess the land.
- As the Body of Christ, we are called to stand with Israel, even unto death. We die for Jesus. Jesus stands with her, and therefore, so must we.
- We are called to show mercy to Israel’s enemies, even unto death, even as they level the city that we love. And we will show them the good news of Jesus. The Body of Christ will be crucified with a heart of forgiveness.
- We believe Jesus came, and He is coming again. Maranatha!
A young man’s take away
The messages shared at the conference sometimes were very clear, sometimes less so. Sometimes provocative, sometimes agreeable, sometimes controversial. Nevertheless, the striking aspect of the conference was the insistence of contemplating the point with which everyone agrees — the spirit of unity that flows from it: Maranatha!
Perhaps Maranatha 2020 was summed up best by a few young men from the United States who wrote this:
“None of us really knew what to expect coming to this “Maranatha” conference.
“I was humbled and deeply grateful because of God’s amazing love story with the Jewish people he chose from the beginning of time, and how he hasn’t abandoned them. And we as a church haven’t replaced them. I’m a gentile who, by the grace of God, has been born and now lives in the era of gentiles being brought into the kingdom. I’m so grateful to God for his grace in my life. How often I forget this and fail to see his faithfulness in the grand scheme of redemption. I’m guilty of making so many conclusions about life and drawing everything back to me, me, me. I so often see the small failures of the body and get disheartened, and fail to have a heavenly perspective on God’s work. I was sobered and humbled again. I now have a deeper conviction for, and understanding of, how central Israel truly is. Hearing for the first time the idea that God has a marriage covenant with Israel, and will remain faithful to her was a beautiful picture of God’s faithfulness. I leave with a deeper knowledge of God’s story, what He’s doing, and what He will do.”
“I realized that the global body is more vast, more loving, more diverse than I can ever imagine. I felt nothing but privilege to be in the family of God. Like never before. No ego. No pride. No comparison. Just privilege to be involved in what God is doing. In a word, I wanted to cry out Maranatha.”