Almost four thousand kilometers separate Carlisle in Northern England, where Paul Calvert was born, and Bethlehem here in Israel where Paul—a self-described Bible-believing evangelical Christian and journalist—now lives and pursues a unique ministry. But in many ways the distance between the British Isles and the Middle East may be the shortest leap Paul has taken in coming to live and work here. In a recent interview for KNI, Paul explained his motivation…
“I want to be here and love both peoples,” he said as we chatted near Davidka Square in Jerusalem, a spot Paul chose because he often speaks at the Anglican International School on Ha-Nevi’im Street, paces away.
I am neither pro-Palestinian nor pro-Israeli. I’m pro-people.
“I’ve got three schools in Jerusalem and three in Bethlehem and [every week] I tell stories from the Bible. Yesterday I spoke to a teenage audience about the young man, Chris Mears, who was a diver in England. He ruptured his spleen… and they told him he had a 5% chance of living and would never dive again… Then he just won gold at the Olympics. That was my story yesterday at the school… It was my first day back at school [and I asked them], “What’s your vision?”
Which prompted me to ask Paul to share with us his vision as an Evangelical Christian living in Bethlehem, a predominantly Muslim town.
KNI: What brought you to a ministry in Israel?
Paul: My parents set a Biblical standard… I admired my pastor in England and I was in my local church when Dr. Tony Stone, an evangelist, came as a guest speaker and invited me to join his team and that’s sort of how I got to Israel, through him…
I got invited to be a children’s pastor in Canada. So I went to live in Canada for two years, was doing the children’s work, and while there another pastor…sort of offered me a job. So, I needed to pray about this. I came here [to Israel] and… on top of St. Paul’s Church on the steps there I was just praying, God, where do you want me to be? And I really felt God said, “Come build the walls of Jerusalem.”
I’m not the sort of person who says God told me every five minutes but I really felt deep in my heart that I heard the voice from the Lord. I think afterwards you always have your doubts, was that really God? Can I confirm it? I had a friend with me… I think it was his first time here in the country so I said, “Let’s go to a museum.”
If I remember right, we changed our mind and decided to go to a different museum because I wanted to go to somewhere I had never been before. So we went to the King David Museum in Jaffa Gate and as we were walking through the museum…there was a sign on the wall that said Come build the walls of Jerusalem so I knew that God was calling me.
Paul was diagnosed with an illness in 2001 and, after receiving treatment in England, he returned to Israel in 2002…
“…right at the height of the Intifada. I remember one time, sitting in my room when I could hear the bombs going off in Bethlehem when they bombed Arafat’s compound… There was one day about three bombs went off in Israel, I don’t know whether it was in Jerusalem… and I am a news junkie, when things like this happen I want to know. So listening at 11 o’clock at night, Something’s happened, I want to know what’s happened, so I came at a very, very difficult time for the country.”
Perhaps the biggest part of Paul’s ministry, or at least the most time consuming, is Radio Hayah, an online radio station with its studio located in Bethlehem.
Paul: We feature Contemporary Christian music, news and interviews in English and Arabic. We started doing a music show [a while back] and I met the boss from a prominent radio station from the UK and I shared my heart at wanting to start a radio station here. So they helped me with that and we started doing a one-hour show every week on an FM signal. We just finished that show after six or seven years. [Now, on Radio Hayah,] we have a show called Make a Difference and this is to tell Palestinians…
Don’t complain about your situation but get out and make a difference in your community.
Predominantly we interview Christian ministries but it’s not exclusive. We’ve probably done about twenty-eight Make a Difference shows and about 500 English broadcasts that have gone out to the west in English, interviewing Palestinians, interviewing Israelis, mainly from the Christian point of view.
KNI: Living now in what has become a predominantly Muslim city, and given the increasing tensions you have witnessed during your twelve years in Jerusalem and the last three in Bethlehem, have you had any doubts or second thoughts about moving east of the green line?
Paul: No, my personality is such that I like the excitement. So if there’s trouble I will go to it rather than keep away. There’s been times when I’ve run down to Damascus Gate and I’ve had my video on and just stood there for five minutes to see what’s happening… With the video on and ready to go, particularly when you get to stabbing season.
KNI: Do you ever feel threatened?
Paul: (Calm, thoughtful, serious) No.
KNI: You are comfortable, then, living in Bethlehem?
Paul: Yeah… Everybody knows me. Palestinians in particular are very respectful of Westerners. I think they want a tourist city and they want to share their story, so they want you to know how they feel and how things are happening for them. So they’re very welcoming.
KNI: When we began this interview, you described the amazing inspirational story of the Olympic champion, Chris Mears, and how you challenged the school children to whom you told his story by asking, What is your vision? After hearing God’s voice and coming to live and work in Israel, how would you now describe your mission? Why is Paul Calvert living and working in Bethlehem?
Paul: To help people understand the land. I’ve noticed people are either too pro-Israel or too pro-Palestinian. And they’ve got to understand both sides of the divide… There’s some things you’ll hear now on my show I don’t actually agree with but we put it out there for people to look at, to listen to and see what this is. [To ask] is this correct? This gives me a heart of understanding of what the Israeli has to go through and also what the Palestinian has to go through…
Palestinians today complain about the wall. Ah, the wall, we can’t get past the wall. Well, in one sense you can look at it and say it’s bad because you can’t get through but I lived here in 2002. And I believe the wall was devised after that bombing in Netanya, the Passover massacre… As soon as that happened it seemed like [everyone was saying] We need to build a wall… So I understand that and I can think things through and I can chat with people about them.
We do another project. I’m on the board of King’s Kids. I’ve worked with King’s Kids for many years… We bring [believing] Palestinians and Israelis together.
KNI: Are most of your Palestinian friends, Christian?
Paul: Yes, most of them are although I have one or two Muslim friends.
You can get a bit of mean rhetoric from the [Arab] Christians, even in my church in Bethlehem.
We’ve got permission to go to Jerusalem but [our youth leader] doesn’t want to go because we might get stabbed… We might get shot. He thinks Israel is actually shooting people… They’re down there laying knives by their bodies. So he firmly believes that and I’m like, don’t be so stupid…but he really believes it.
Paul tells of a conversation with a friend who wanted to buy a bus for his ministry. He wanted to bring one from England. When Paul suggested that he look at buses available in Israel, his friend rejected the notion out of hand. “So I asked him, isn’t that apartheid? …I’ve heard Mahmoud Abbas say, If we get a Palestinian State, no Jew will be allowed to live here. Isn’t that apartheid?” Chase the hatred away and get to know.
KNI: What do you think of the Koran?
Paul: If you read the Koran and do what the Koran says, you’ll become a Jihadist.
KNI: Is your ministry focused toward Palestinians primarily, or Jews?
Paul: I don’t have a particular criterion for that. Because I know more Palestinians and more Palestinians seem to be needy, we do [seem to help them more]. I prefer in some ways to help the Christian community but I am not against helping the Muslim community. We tell the Palestinians, “You’ve got to stay here in the land as Christians…”
They struggle. They feel the Muslims are the enemy, the Jews are the enemy… They feel some of the…Orthodox Christians are the enemy.
The environment, it’s poverty. I have a friend who works in a radio station, he gets 65 shekels a day. How can you survive on 65 shekels a day?
If you want him to stay in the land and be the Christian witness, you’ve got to help him as well.
KNI: Are you married?
KNI: Looking to get married?
Paul: Not Particularly. (laughing) I’m too tired. (And he goes on to explain about a sometimes debilitating thyroid condition he has contended with for years.)
KNI: Brothers and sisters?
Paul: I’ve got three brothers and one of them is a twin.
KNI: Any of them live or work in Israel?
Paul: No. They’ve been to visit.
KNI: Do they think you are crazy for your involvement in Israel?
Paul: Probably a little bit. We’ve never discussed it because they’re not Christians. So I think they see my work as…maybe a little bit silly stupid? I don’t know. I don’t particularly think they know what I do; we’re not particularly close. My mum and dad, they loved the work that I do because they were both believers. My mum just died last year…and she was a support, and she loved coming to Israel and seeing the work. My dad does as well.
KNI: Finally, what would you most like to convey about yourself and your ministry to the people who may read this interview?
Paul: I think to love both peoples and remember there’s a heart on both sides of the story… It’s not a problem to be pro-Israel but remember that there are Palestinians that are hurting, and there are Palestinians who lost land. They didn’t lose a state but they lost land.
And you can say, Ah well, God gave us this land, but they still lost a house…
And you’ve got to remember that Israelis have lost stuff as well… You’ve got to understand the truth. There are people who live in Bethlehem who call themselves Palestinians but they’re not. One fellow I know, a Syrian Christian, came here and converted to Islam. He’s not a Palestinian but he’ll say he is. I’ve got another friend, Armenian, who would say his family are Palestinians… Check the history…understand the truth and understand the history from both sides. Understand the hurt and the pain from the history and what the truth really is, because the truth is out there but it doesn’t mean we are being told the truth.
Further information: Radio Hayah is linked here, as well as above, and Paul maintains a YouTube channel, paulbcalvert101, which includes over 70 videos illuminating his ministry. Radio Hayah appeals to volunteers to help carry on the station’s work, here. Several interviews Paul has conducted are listed here.