By Botrus Mansour
Israel attracts attention and interest all around the world, especially among Christians. As a country with 7 million people in a tiny spot of land equalling only 21,000 square kilometers, the interest it attracts is phenomenal.
This is due to the fact that the land of Israel has significance to the main world religions as it is the geographical location of the Bible stories (both Old and New Testaments and thus important for Christians and Jews), as well as the scene for end-time scenarios, especially according to Pre-Millennial and Dispensationalist Eschatology. Jerusalem as a city is also highly significant to Muslims.
On the political side, it is the location of the only Jewish country in the world and great focus is put on it due, of course, to the violent ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict that has been on the world's agenda for decades.
This interest is reflected among Christians around the world by prayer for Israel and even political and financial support, as well as by multitudes of pilgrimages to visit the historical Christian sites. These pilgrims visit these sites that are composed of dead stones that lay as a witness for the Incarnated-God who was born, lived, died, and rose from the dead in this special spot of land.
However, an untold story that comes from the spiritual realm is that of the Living Stones persevering in Israel today. It is the exciting story of God’s work among the faithful in the land. These are the Arab and Jewish believers of Jesus in Israel. In recent years, the Lord is blessing the community of faithful in the Holy Land. New churches and meetings are being opened, and a new fresh spirit of cooperation between the churches and assemblies (Arab and Jewish) is evident. Still, with blessing usually comes hardships. For years, extremists from Jewish Orthodox and (to a lesser extent) Muslims groups have attacked Christians and Messianic Jews, disrupting baptisms or church services, causing vandalism, public slander, and even violence. The observer cannot help but notice that a higher level of actions against the faithful is being witnessed in the last year.
Last October, a Bible Society Christian worker was kidnapped and then murdered by an Islamic extremist group in Gaza. Before the community of faithful in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza could come to grips with this, the Narkis Street Baptist Church in Jerusalem was burned by a Jewish extremist group.
Last March, a son of a missionary Messianic Jew was hurt badly by explosives that had been put at the door of their home in Ariel. Despite these attacks though, the community of faithful have remained united and focused on their mission.
In addition to being an easy target for extremists, the community of faithful suffers from marginalization from the majority groups. Arab Evangelicals and Messianic Jews are not part of the Jewish establishment. Neither are they part of the dominant Muslim majority among the Arabs. Even the liturgical churches that compose the majority among Christians marginalize the Evangelical churches.
The Baptists in Israel play an important role among this remnant. Baptists compose only of around 3,000 people in Israel, but they are a vibrant church and join with other Evangelicals and Messianic Jews to serve the Lord and lift His banner high in His own land.
There are 20 Baptist churches in Israel, and they are organized into the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel. They are scattered from Ramle and Jerusalem in the south to Ramah and Acre in the north. Most of these churches consist of Arabic speaking believers, but in a smaller portion of churches, services are conducted in Hebrew, Pilipino and Russian.
Faithful to their tradition and based on the great commandment, Baptist churches are keen on evangelism and have planted churches in several other villages and towns. The Association of Baptist Churches in Israel is led by Mr. Monther Naum, a Food Engineer.
In a country hurting from hatred and struggle, the Baptists are also a source of reconciliation between Arabs and Jews .They are engaged heavily in the reconciliation ministry and strive to form “the one new man in Christ”.
The Baptist community is known around the country mostly for the Nazareth Baptist School (NBS) - a KG-12 grade school with around 1000 students. For decades, NBS has been listed among the top schools in Israel for its scholastic achievements. It has continued to produce high caliber graduates who fill key positions, both in ministry and in the secular work market. I am honored to serve as the General Director of NBS, and Dr. Ousama Moalem is the Principal.
A new and exciting Evangelical venture that is being led by the Baptist church is that of the Nazareth Center for Christian Studies (NETS) .This center provides a vigorous theology degree for those called to ministry, in partnership with EBTS and Spurgeon's College in London. It is led by Rev. Dr. Bryson Arthur.
The Baptist community in Israel also provides opportunities for Baptists around the world to join in mission trips for students, for sabbaticals for lecturers and teachers and joint Evangelistic ventures, etc.
This tiny minority of Baptists is struggling to make a difference for Christ in the midst of a complicated political situation involving hatred, violence and despair. By joining forces with the Baptist community, you will be bringing great advancement for the Kingdom of God and will help make the Living Stones shine more brightly to reflect the Sun of Righteousness and the Light of the World.