By Charles Gardner, Special to ASSIST News Service
MANCHESTER, UK (ANS – June 26, 2015) — With the Middle East engulfed in flames, a story of peace and reconciliation was unfolding recently in Manchester, England, where delegates from all over the Arab world came together for a unique conference.
And as Iran continues its aggressive stance against Israel, threatening to wipe the Jewish state off the map, Iranian refugees and asylum seekers now living in Britain embraced their Jewish ‘brothers’, some of whom had travelled from Jerusalem to meet with them.
Also present was a sizeable contingent of Egyptians along with representatives from Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon and Algeria. Others wanting to join them had been unable to get visas.
As part of the great untold story of the Middle East, the three-day conference was hosted by the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people (CMJ), a 200-year-old Anglican society specifically dedicated to spiritual revival in Israel.
Although working mainly among Jews since its founding in 1809 by slave trade abolitionist William Wilberforce and others, CMJ has also consistently reached out to Arabs over the years and, in 2012, held their first At the Crossroads conference at their Jerusalem headquarters to enable Jew and Gentile to express their oneness in Christ and work together to spread the gospel on the basis of a prophecy from Isaiah (chapter 19) of a “highway” of peace and reconciliation from Egypt to Assyria (which includes much of the modern-day Arab world) via Israel.
For the second of what is now a bi-annual event, in 2014, a number of UK-based Iranians, as well as a group of Egyptians, were turned back at the border and thus missed out on a chance to meet up with other Muslim-background converts from all over the region at a conference hosted by Jewish believers in Jesus, generally known as Messianic Jews.
And so UK at the Crossroads was arranged to encourage and inspire those who would struggle – mainly due to visa issues – to enter Israel.
David Friedman, a Messianic rabbi from Jerusalem, was delighted that so many Iranians had turned up for the conference – they have established thriving churches throughout England – and implored them to join him in praying for barriers to be broken between their two countries.
“We need to get together and pray for our two nations,” he said. And before he had finished speaking, they came forward to pray for him, and for Israel! It was an awesome moment, something akin to an earthquake in reverse as a shattered and broken world is put back together again, with all the pieces mended.
Sessions were interspersed with times of worship in Arabic, Farsi (the language spoken in Iran), Hebrew and English creating a beautiful atmosphere of shared love and identity. Communication may have been a challenge at times, but you only had to look in each other’s eyes to know you were one in Christ who, in the words of St Paul, destroys the dividing wall of hostility, creating “one new man” out of the two, thus making peace and reconciling both of them to God through the cross. (Ephesians 2.14-16)
One Egyptian musician was playing a lute, a modern version of the ancient instrument played 3,000 years ago by Israel’s King David. Prayer was also offered in various languages with translators on hand for some of the speakers.
Beirut-based Robert Sakr, one of the visionaries behind the conference, said: “There’s no such thing as a peace process apart from Jesus. In the 55 years I’ve lived in the Middle East, there has been no political solution.”
And it was ironic, in light of the current enmity between Iran and Israel, that when the 1967 Six-Day War broke out, his family fled to Iran for safety. But the Islamic Revolution of 1979 had changed all that.
Iranians pray for Jewish rabbi!
In light of the vicious enmity for Israel stirred up by the ayatollahs of the Iranian revolution, the earnest plea of a Jewish rabbi confirmed the reality of the peace and reconciliation that exists between true followers of Jesus.
David Friedman, who is descended from Kings David and Solomon, was addressing a Manchester conference held to build bridges between believers in the Middle East.
He urged Iranian delegates – most of whom were unable to attend a similar conference in Jerusalem last year due to visa problems – to pray passionately for the barriers between them to be broken down so their two nations could walk in their God-given destiny.
Reminding them of a time in ancient days when a Persian king opened the door for his people to come back home, he prayed that God would so pour out his Spirit that hatred of Israel (among the authorities) would be melted by love. The alternative was a nuclear conflagration that would destroy not only the Middle East, but possibly the entire world.
And the Iranians responded before he had finished speaking by coming forward to pray for their Jewish brother!
David’s father was a Nazi hunter much pained by witnessing the effects of the Holocaust, but his mother encouraged him to pray. Then his best friend became a believer in Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus).
“I saw that someone was giving him the courage to face his problems,” he recalls. “I asked God to reveal himself to me, and the next thing was that I knew… I just knew… that Yeshua was the Messiah.”
But he became troubled by the reality of living in a nation always at war with its neighbours – he and his wife personally experienced two terror attacks.
He was thus drawn by the promise of the road to reconciliation described by Isaiah (in chapter 19, verses 23-25) and became involved with others in seeking fellowship and mutual co-operation with Arab brothers, giving hope “in the great sea of hopelessness that engulfs every nation in the Middle East.”
Photo captions: 1) Golden Reunion: Charles Gardner (left) and Martin Weatherston, who went to the same boarding school in South Africa in the 1960s, meet up again in the UK (along with their wives Linda and Kim) at the annual conference of the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people, which hosted the Manchester event. 2) The garden at Christ Church, Jerusalem. 3) Charles Gardner with his wife, Linda.
About the writer: Charles Gardner is a veteran Cape Town-born British journalist working on plans to launch a new UK national newspaper reporting and interpreting the news from a biblical perspective. With his South African forebears having had close links with the legendary devotional writer Andrew Murray, Charles is similarly determined to make an impact for Christ with his pen and has worked in the newspaper industry for more than 41 years. Part-Jewish, he is married to Linda, who takes the Christian message around many schools in the Yorkshire town of Doncaster. Charles has four children and eight grandchildren. Charles can be reached by phone on +44 (0) 1302 832987, or by e-mail at email@example.com
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