The world realizes that Israel’s inhabitants include both Jewish and Arab peoples usually in the worst of circumstances. When the rockets covered the sky above southern Israel last month, many lamented over the dire situation of both Israelis and Palestinians. Can these two people groups ever find peace?
It is easy to get discouraged. But we are people of hope! The believers in the land are doing their utmost to bless and pray for each other. We followed up with a few of FIRM Members to see how they were doing and how they were affected by the recent events.
The responses we received almost brought us to tears.
Jewish and Arab Believers Seek Reconciliation
Pastor Saleem Shalash is the leader of an Arabic-speaking church called Home of Jesus the King in Nazareth. A minister to Arab believers and a good friend to his Jewish neighbors, pastor Shalash did not sit idly when the sirens went off.
The relationships between Jews and Arabs were badly damaged by the recent clashes throughout Israel. But instead of turning to bitterness or resentment, pastor Shalash and his partners chose compassion. As he shared with his supporters, it was time to start reconstructing the bridges that they were working on for so many years.
At the threshold of Pentecost (the Jewish holiday of Shavuot), the Lord gave pastor Shalash and his partners instructions to start the reconstruction.
“The Lord spoke to me about collaborating with my Jewish friend, Pastor Sergey from Nof HaGalil, and to be a blessing to Jews and Arabs in the Galilee,” Pastor Shalash shared. “The two of us are working together as Jew and Arab, united in Jesus. We want this to be a beautiful picture of the One New Man that the Bible speaks about in Ephesians 2:14-16.”
An Outreach Like No Other
Home of Jesus the King Church decided to do something completely unexpected. At a time when the Jewish and Arab people would look at each other with suspicion, the believers of both backgrounds organized a humanitarian outreach.
Members of the Church in Nazareth prepared dozens of food packages and delivered them to Holocaust Survivors and new Jewish immigrants in a neighboring town. Concurrently, with a befriended Messianic congregation they delivered food packages to Muslim families in need around Nazareth.
“We wanted to show the Jewish and Muslim people the love of Jesus through acts of kindness and mercy,” pastor Shalash continued. “We needed them to see how a Jew and an Arab can stand together in love and forgiveness; working together for the greater good of Israel in the name of Jesus Christ.”
The people they visited were stunned. Many asked why they were doing this. This gave the bold Christians an opportunity to share that Jesus is the reason! The whole initiative touched the hearts of both the Jews and the Muslims in their surroundings. Once again, love proved to be stronger than hate.
Congregations Come Together
A few weeks after the disturbing clashes, pastor Shalash was invited to speak at a Messianic congregation in Ashdod. This coastal city is only several miles from Gaza and experienced serious rocket fire. But in spite of that, the Beit Hallel congregation invited Shalash – an Arab pastor – to preach.
“It was very special to share our love for Jesus with each other,” pastor Israel Pochtar of Beit Hallel recalled. “We don’t have practically any Arabs in our city, so it was special for our congregation to meet Saleem. They were so blessed, because his message of hope was genuine, anointed and full of love.”
There have been a lot of negative voices around the country, but the believers chose to focus on what God was saying, not people. As the two pastors say, the only weapon they have is the Word of God. They share the love of Jesus, and they both agree that it’s enough.
“We need to resist the feeling that each one of us is alone,” added pastor Shalash. “We are not – you are not! God is always with you, and there is a community of believers that needs encouragement and wants to encourage you.”
Messianic and Christian, Jewish and Arab leaders meet to pray
In response to the troubling situation in the country, Messianic and Christian leaders met in Kfar Saba to pray, as reported by ALL ISRAEL NEWS. The gathering in mid-June was initiated by Sitting At Yeshua’s Feet (SAYF), a national committee of both Hebrew and Arabic speaking pastors.
“Statements of unity and cooperation are not enough,” said Eitan Shishkoff, founder of Tents of Mercy Congregation to ALL ISRAEL NEWS. “It’s time to demonstrate repentance instead of resentment, healing instead of hatred, brotherhood instead of bloodshed.”
The call to prayer was sent to leaders around the country and as many as 50 responded with great support. They represented Hebrew-speaking, Arabic, Russian and Ethiopian congregations all around Israel.
The leaders met in Kfar Saba to pray for unity among Jewish and Arab believers, against violence, hatred and racism. And, most importantly, to lead by example for the younger generation of believers and to Israelis in general, reported ALL ISRAEL NEWS.
Hebrew and Arabic Voices for Peace
The riots that happened in various cities in Israel are not a true reflection of her people; both pastor Shalash and pastor Pochtar emphasize it. Although it is a lot of work, they know that rebuilding bridges is possible and will be worth it.
When Nehemiah wanted to build the walls of Jerusalem, he was challenged by many. He received threats and complaints from different sides. So, everything seemed to be working against him. However, he chose to obey God above all else. He took the responsibility for the task and acted according to God’s instructions.
Pastor Shalash shared one more important lesson on that:
“Building something will always costs us. It is an investment. Sometimes people will not agree with what you are doing for God. They may even resist you. But we have to make the decision to please God and not people. God sends out His word and it always achieves its purpose.”
This article originally appeared on FIRM, July 3, 2021, and reposted with permission.