A committed Anabaptist under fire
A flock of birds flying around the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.
PHOTO BY THE AUTHOR
This article was written in mid-December 2023. Due to the constantly changing dynamics of the war between Israel and Hamas, some details may have changed since this issue was printed. If any updates need to be made to this story, they can be found on our website. EMM.ORG/MESSENGER
“What? Don’t tell me you’re praying for our enemies! After the October 7 atrocities that were committed by our enemies on women, children, and babies, how can you? And don’t we have the right to self-defense?” I felt under fire. Turning to the Scriptures, I received renewed conviction for my Anabaptist perspective and its ideals. I realized deep in my heart that to be a witness of incarnational love and to be a light and blessing to those around us in this land is not one-sided. Living within the Jewish community doesn’t mean I couldn’t equally sympathize with the innocent Palestinian civilians. I deeply grieve for all the suffering that they have undergone in the past and are now experiencing in the present.
On October 7, 2023, Hamas militants stormed the border with Israel and murdered about 1,200 people in the largest mass slaughter of Jews since World War II and the Holocaust. This attack was followed by a declaration of war by Israel — the nation retaliated with a massive response in Gaza in an attempt to displace Hamas. Accounts of suffering on both sides fill the news media. Both sides seek a military solution, but the path of continued violence only leads to more violence. Is there a way for Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs to coexist in the land? As members of the Kingdom of God, how do we pursue “the Jesus Way” during the heat of war? We need to seek to build the Kingdom of God. Pursuing Jesus’ Way involves going against the current. We are instructed to do the humanly impossible: love our enemies.
Over the years, we have joined other Jewish-background believers in Israel who have worked tirelessly to witness partitions removed between Jewish and Arab believers in Yeshua/Isa (Jesus). We have been encouraged to witness the ongoing reconciliation between these groups, who have historically been at enmity with each other! What a blessing it is to see these barriers taken down and the two sides united in one Body of Christ. Doors have opened to effective bridge-building reconciliation activities such as retreats together in the desert. Jewish and Arab believers are accepting their unity in Jesus the Messiah. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, they are serving Him together in the bond of peace. However, in the midst of the ongoing war, disagreements abounded from the political tensions.
The grief and sadness surrounding the conflict weigh heavily and bring out biased opinions. The relationships that took so long to develop were in trouble. We knew we needed to gather as many believers as possible and to seek the face of the Lord. We struggled with the thought that our bridge-building efforts up to this point would be for nothing. About 130 believers who were leaders of congregations — both Jewish and Arab — met together. We realized that we were involved in spiritual warfare. We didn’t recall any time beforehand when spiritual warfare was so intense. Everyone agreed that taking sides on political issues related to war was hopeless, for our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood. In times of the chaos of war, prayer is the breath of life. During that day-long meeting, the Lord led us to begin a campaign that would vigorously call for a revival of prayer that would sweep throughout the land. The leaders returned to their homes and quickly prioritized prayer. Believing leaders began arranging prayer meetings related to the war and its spiritual aspects. As a result, believers around the nation are meeting to pray before the start of the day. Some of the house congregations within the emerging Jesus movement of which we are a part are waking up as early as 4:30 a.m. to pray together online before work. Others are gathering several times a week for prayer in the evenings. As we are building new communities of faith in an Anabaptist persuasion, it is rewarding to see people grow in their love for their “enemies.” Believers across the land are in earnest intercession for new believers to emerge in Gaza after the war.
We welcome your prayers for believers from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the Middle East to send workers to share the good news with Palestinians in Gaza. Pray also for Israelis to experience authentic repentance and the recognition of God’s invitation to a living, eternal relationship. I felt privileged to join in the group that later organized a gathering of about 80 Arab and Jewish leaders. We prayed for the innocent civilians in Gaza, recognizing that both Muslims and Christians are suffering terribly. One Arab believer shared about how 21 of his relatives were killed in one of the bombings. The Hebrew-speaking leaders in the group expressed great sorrow and prayed with this brother who was experiencing this devastation. I sense God’s spirit moving when I experience the sensitivity that both Arab and Jewish believers are extending to one another. They are not only praying for their “enemies” but are genuinely recognizing the massive suffering throughout the region. These believers are praying for relief to be sent from around the world. We are praising God for all of these prayer groups that are popping up.
We’re thankful that no rockets have been fired into our city yet. More than 10,000 rockets have fallen all over the rest of the country. Pray with us that this war does not spiral out of control — we do not want to see death and destruction. May God help us to pray according to his will, pulling down the strongholds of the spiritual enemy: Satan. May God turn the war around so some good might come out of it. Thank God for the nationwide prayer revival that is occurring around the land. We pray that the words of Micah 4:3 become a reality:
He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
Then peace will reign under the Messiah’s worldwide rule.
This EMM worker and his wife serve in Israel, providing spiritual leadership for a growing network of house churches comprised of both Arab and Jewish believers in Jesus. His name and exact location have been withheld for security purposes.