Jerusalem conference witnesses profound gesture of peace
by Charles Gardner
A profound gesture of peace between Israel and Iran has been made at a conference in Jerusalem aimed at strengthening bonds of reconciliation between the sons of Abraham.
Arab Christian delegates from all over the Middle East have been invited to At the Crossroads being held at Christ Church, in the heart of the Old City, to share fellowship with Jewish followers of Jesus.
Among those present is an Iranian pastor based in the UK. But when a conference organiser reminded his audience that Iran had not always been a sworn enemy of Israel vowing to destroy them – in fact they used to be allies – he took the opportunity to pray a blessing over that country, asking God to re-open the gates between them so they would once more be friends.
The pastor, Youhana Darvishi*, then returned the favour by praying a blessing over Israel.
Another conference spokesman said many had paid a high price for attending; indeed it was at risk to their lives in some cases as Christians are undergoing tremendous persecution in a number of Muslim-background countries.
The previous – and inaugural – Crossroads event in 2012 has already borne much fruit as those who attended began to help each other in various ways. One Israeli believer put his life on the line no less than 30 times in order to bring aid to suffering Christians in Syria.
Reuven Berger, pastor of a Hebrew congregation meeting at Christ Church on Saturdays, reminded his hearers that “Abraham loved Ishmael very much” and that God promised a blessing to Ishmael as well as Isaac, from whom the Jews are descended. Reuven’s parents, respectively German and Austrian, managed to flee the Nazis in 1938 but his grandparents were sadly trapped in Europe and murdered.
He said: “We are seeing more and more people from a Muslim background receiving the faith of Jesus, the Messiah. God is bringing Isaac and Ishmael together…”
Another delegate reported on rapid church growth in Algeria which had started in the late 1990s with many people having visions of Jesus. Whole villages are being converted in some cases and it was like walking through the pages of the Book of Acts with healings and other miraculous manifestations taking place. And the believers there were now reaching out to other countries.
For me, a chance meeting over lunch summed up what the conference is all about. David, 54, a Jewish Israeli originally from Finchley in north London, is in charge of the technical side of the event, and recently married Annie, a 30-year-old Armenian Arab.
As a couple they felt called to be a role model of Middle East reconciliation. “We see this as our life-calling – God enabling us to live out the life of Christ, who breaks down every barrier,” David explained. And they have now had an addition to the family – Amie, just six months old.
Another work of compassion crossing the political and cultural divide which has also been featured at the conference involves a Christian ministry called Shevet Achim.
They rescue children with life-threatening heart conditions from surrounding Arab countries and provide them with the best possible treatment at top Israeli hospitals.
Spokesman Jonathan Miles said: “So many people are ready to receive the message of reconciliation with Israel.”
Christ Church, built in the 1840s, is the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East. Opening the conference, rector David Pileggi said: “It was always the vision that this church should actually be a refuge for the people of Israel and a place where the nations find healing.”
*not his real name as requested for security reasons
Charles Gardner is a Cape Town-born journalist who has worked in the newspaper industry for 40 years. Part-Jewish, he grew up in South Africa and became a fully committed Christian as a young man living in London before moving to Yorkshire more than 33 years ago. He is the author of “Israel the Chosen: Why the Jews are special” and is currently working on plans to launch a new UK national newspaper reporting and interpreting the news from a biblical perspective.