While they’re hot off the press, I wanted to pass on some observations about church, conflict, and coincidence-that’s-not-coincidence that didn’t quite fit into any of my wobbly Facebook Live videos or Instagram posts I launched into the world from Ashdod or Jerusalem in Israel. Feel free to weigh in in the comments section if you have some thoughts on any of these particularly on numbers 1 and 3:
- The believers with whom we interacted while in Israel have been following the stories about disgraced American church leaders Bill Hybels and Paige Patterson. The internet carried the stories there, of course, but I was struck that people halfway around the world are talking about these events.
- I saw a number of pro-Trump posters plastered around Jerusalem, placed side by side with ubiquitous handbills proclaiming that the late Menachem Schneerson is the Messiah. Insert your own wry conclusion here.
- The Christ At The Checkpoint (CATC) conference took place during part of the time we were in Israel for board meetings for the Caspari Center. CATC is sponsored by Bethlehem Bible College, which says on its website is located in Bethlehem, Palestine, which gives you an idea of where they’re coming from. While the event, which launched in 2009 and is now held biannually, has always had a strong pro-Palestinian political orientation, it has gotten increasingly contentious toward those who support Israel. Chelsen Vicari’s summary of this year’s CATC captures the flavor of what my husband Bill and I experienced at the airport as we boarded a plane in Tel Aviv to return home yesterday. A number of people who’d attended the event were on our flight. The sanctimonious anger that sounded weirdly just like unvarnished anti-Semitism we heard from those all around us while we waited at the gate directed at Israel/all Jews was both painful and a little scary. It seemed especially off-putting that these folks from the U.S. and Canada were sitting IN ISRAEL while committing to work for Israel’s demise.
- Related to #3: Shortly before we left for Israel a little more than a week ago, I found myself contemplating the idea that my enemy is precisely the neighbor Jesus calls me to love. The entire Middle East is filled with people who know how to be one another’s enemies. Whether it is the most radical wings of ultra-Orthodox Jewish community threatening Jewish believers in Jesus, Muslim-on-Muslim war and violence, or a relatively (in comparison) mild bit of verbal vitriol at an airport gate, I am convicted about how easy it is to hate, how impossible in the flesh it is to love a neighbor-enemy, and how remarkable Jesus’ life and ministry is – especially in light of the fact that it took place in an ancient version of this culture.
- Twenty years ago, the Caspari Center surveyed the Messianic Jewish community in the State of Israel. This study is in the midst of being redone as the movement has grown significantly during that time. The update will give a current sense of how many Jewish believers and congregations exist in Israel, as well as providing data about the scope of practice, theology, demographics, and more. Though there is much to discover and analyze in the information currently being gathered, one thing is certain: there are more Jewish believers in Israel today than at any time since the first century.
- Many people were praying for our trip – for productive and meaningful meeting times for the Caspari board, for physical requirements (stamina, health, safety), and that we could be a blessing to those with whom we interacted. He more than provided for the first two prayer requests, and even though we had a couple of awkward social/cultural stumbles during the week, I am grateful we’ve had the opportunity to learn with each step of the journey.
- The trip was bookended by two unexpected encounters, both in Toronto’s Pearson airport. On our way to Israel, we were walking through the airport to our next gate when we heard a man call, “Michelle Van Loon!” I couldn’t place him at first, and he introduced himself to me. It was Michael Rydelnik, a Moody Bible Institute professor of Jewish Studies who’d been kind enough to endorse my book but had never actually met in real life. (He recognized me from my Facebook picture.) On the way home yesterday we were sitting at our gate after the 11-hour flight from Tel Aviv when Bill recognized a face from our church in Wisconsin. We hadn’t talked with this couple since we left the state in 2004, but had an interesting time catching up with them for a couple of hours. Turns out, they were on the way back to O’Hare on the same flight as us after a Grecian vacation with two of their children.
- Finally, while we were in Israel, I learned that Born To Wander received a wonderful pre-release review from Publishers Weekly. (PW is the Bible of the publishing industry; a positive review from them is a big deal.) Click here to check it out.
Cover photo: Robert Indiana’s Ahava (Love) Sculpture, Israel Museum, Jerusalem.