How to Love the Middle East with 'Light Force'
- Janet Chismar Senior Editor, News & Culture
- 2004 11 Nov
Long before the death of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, Open Doors founder and “Light Force” author Brother Andrew began to provide training and support to churches in that region. The man who gave Arafat a Bible for his daughter's first birthday says that love is the solution to the Middle East conflict.
Get BETTER quote “My mission has been to strengthen the Church where it struggles for its survival,” writes Andrew. “I’m not interested in simply physical survival—that is a defeatist attitude. Instead, I want to help Christians escape their victim mentality. I want to see them trained, ready to advance and get on with the job of winning people to Jesus.”
Coauthored with Al Janseen, Light Force Light Force: A Stirring Account of the Church Caught in the Middle East Crossfire details Andrew’s embrace of persecuted Christians in the Middle East and further shares his accounts of approaching Arafat, Hamas and other feared organizations as an ambassador for the Church.
Brother Andrew and Janssen make it clear that the Church will be an essential element to achieving true peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Furthermore, Andrew has often stated that the best way to help Israel is to win her enemies to Christ.
Interview with Al Jansen
JC: Could you give a little overview of the Christianity that exists in Palestine and Gaza?
AJ: Well let me give you a little historical perspective. Christianity has been in the Holy Land, what we know as the Holy Land, for 2000 years. Since Jesus. When Israel became a nation in 1948 about 15% of the Arab population was Christian. The Christians tended to be the business leaders. The entrapneurs, they had perhaps more resources than many of the people there, so when times got difficult many of them fled. In fact there’s a lot of them in Europe and in the United States. The Christian population dwindled and today the Christian population among the Palestinians is less than 2%. Most of it’s Muslim obviously.
Now add to that the fact that you don’t have very many Christians among the Jewish side either. You have a small messianic Jewish congregation and as near as I can tell many 7000 believers. Among the Palestinian side maybe 70,000 believers. Now that may be a surprise to most Christians in the west who maybe haven’t thought the fact that there is a significant population of Palestinian Christians.
But on both sides they are obviously a mere minority and so they’re caught in the midst of the conflict that is going on there and the purpose of this book was to raise the awareness of the church in the west so that we can be praying for our brothers and sisters. The body needs to know what this other part of the body is going through and how it’s hurting and suffering so that we can help them.
JC: What can the church in the west do to help?
AJ: Let me make a couple practical suggestions. First of all whenever you see news from there ask the question is there a church? I open the book with the story of a young Christian girl who was at the site of a suicide bombing. Often when we see the news of some horrific attack or a terrorist attack we don’t stop to think are any of my brothers and sisters caught in that? And they have been. And also on the Palestinian side when Israel does an attack on Gaza are any of my brothers and sisters caught in that? So I would say that’s the first thing. Just think about that, be aware of that.
Second then is to pray for the church and there’s a lot going on. There’s the Palestinian Bible Society, there’s the Bible Society of Israel. Those two groups are having tremendous ministry. We need to pray that the word of God will get out into more hands and that these ministries will be effective because the only hope for peace is that the Christian, what we call the Light Force, shines the light in the midst of that darkness.
And then some people may feel the desire to go and I’ve no problem with tourism, going and seeing the sites in the Holy Land but let me just suggest that while you’re there go and visit one of the congregations. Visit the messianic congregation in Natania (?) or you know there’s probably a hundred messianic congregations in the country.
Why not visit one of them on a Saturday evening or if you want to be bold go into Bethlehem and worship in one of the churches in Bethlehem and in that sense you’re not just visiting dead stone, you know historic sites but you’re also visiting the living stones and it’s tremendous encouragment to our brothers and sisters when you are there in person to be with them. Because now you have a personal relationship with some of those people and you care about what happens to them and you want to pray for them.
JC: Can you comment on how the through the love of Christ we can reach anyone, even Hamas?
AJ: I think you’re touching on a very important point. I sometimes wonder if we as Christians really believe it in fact you know I think we say God loves the whole world, everyone needs to hear the Gospel but then we hear news of a terrorist group doing some atrocity and what’s our reaction? Let’s kill them, let’s wipe them out. I mean I’m not saying everybody thinks that way but our tendency is to think of them without putting a face on those – they’re just a nameless enemy rather than a human being who may be desperately searching for answers.
and this point I’m gonna talk personally because that was the biggest eye opener for me on my first trip to Israel when Brother Andrew was trying to make that contact with Islamic Jihad we met this man who was kind of the gatekeeper to the head of Islamic Jihad and after he had kind of checked us out and set up the appointment he said, “I want to ask you guys some questions.” And what was so surprising to me is here’s a man first of all saying, “I’ve spent 15 years in prison and while I was in prison I read the Koran and I read the Bible and that’s when I decided to become a committed Muslim.”
And that was kind of shock to me and then he says, “Now let me ask you some questions about the Bible.” And he particularly had some very pointed questions from the Old Testament. He says, “Now in the book of Zechariah it talks about the destruction of the Jews,” and he’s asking these questions about prophecy and I’m thinking I can’t believe it – I’m sitting with a member of Jihad having a Bible study on the book of Zechariah and probably half the Christians I know haven’t even read the book of Zechariah.
That opened my eye to say my goodness, God is doing something in this man’s life. By the end of that meeting Brother Andrew gave him a copy of God Smuggler in Arabic. The next day when he picked us up for the meeting he’d read half of it. He said, “What other books do you have in Arabic? I want anything you can get me.” It took us 18 months to get back to him but we brought him some more Christian books. All I’m saying is we have no idea what God may be doing in these people’s lives. So if someone doesn’t go to them, how are they gonna hear? How does this man I mean I can’t make a decision for him, I don’t know what God’s doing in his life. I just know that there was an intense interest in our message and someone had to go and get that to him.
To the bigger question you asked, a reaching out to Hamas, I think Brother Andrew, his ministry has always been one of a pioneer, going where no one else has thought to go and certainly in the 1950’s that was the Communist world. No one was going there. Brother Andrew was the first of what are now many ministries in Eastern Europe, Russia. Well his idea is that if I can do it, a Dutchman who never even got a full college degree, if I can go and have a ministry than anyone can do it. And God opened up a door for him in 1992 when 415 members of Hamas were deported from Israel and it was an international incident and they were left on the side of a mountain in southern Lebanon and Andrew just felt compelled to go and visit them.
And today he refers to Matthew 25 where Jesus says I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was lonely and you visited me. He went to those men as human beings to see what their conditions were. As a result of that he went and visited many of their families. Then he went back and took pictures to these men. A relationship developed and guess what? He had the opportunity to share the Gospel with hundreds of Hamas over a period of a couple of years, including probably the only evangelical person to ever speak on Christianity at Islamic University in Gaza at the invitation of the current leader of Hamas.
Now the point I hope is clear here, Andrew didn’t do anything special except reach out to these men at their point of need and look at the doors that God opened. And now we can’t be responsible for what these men do with the message but the fact is they’ve had the opportunity to hear and we may probably never know until the heaven what the results of that effort have been but I hope this has been – and it’s a big part of the book. It’s an incredible story and I hope people will read the full story cuz I think it will be a tremendous encouragement and should show us that there is no people group in the world that is completely unreachable because God’s heart is to reach people.
JC: Is there anything else you would like to say about the book?
AJ: I want to reiterate the point that the purpose of this book and the purpose of the ministry of Brother Andrew and Open Doors is to strengthen the church where it’s struggling for survival and I believe with Brother Andrew that the church could die in Israel and Christians are still trying to leave. It’s a terrible situation to live in. Is your family there, unemployment in the Gaza area is 70%, not much better in the West Bank area. The future is not good, but if the church dies, what’s the hope? We believe that we must do anything that we can to strengthen the church so that it can be a stronger light in the midst of the darkness. I don’t believe there’s a political solution to the conflict there. We’ve tried for years. But have we really tried to share and shine the love of Jesus Christ in the midst of this and probably the heart of the book for me is the stories that we tell of Palestinian believers and messianic Jews coming together at the foot of the cross. That they agree on their differences and their theology and their politics, no. But they come to realize that we are citizens together of another kingdom and at that point we can reconcile and the world has to see that. And I think we in the west need to be praying for that and as God leads we need to support and encourage those kinds of efforts.