You may be aware that it is not simple for an Israeli to travel freely in the Muslim countries that surround it, nor will citizens of those countries be given an easy ride on arrival to Israel… not to mention the difficulties caused on their return if such visits are made. Reconciliation is a journey with multiple hurdles and difficulties, including these very practical considerations. But there is a place of peace and safety where people can meet from all around the Middle East: Cyprus. There is a great history of such meetings on this island of peace, and the coming together of hearts and minds. Many reconciliation initiatives based on Isaiah 19 have been held here, as God builds his “Highway of Worship” across the Middle East.
Here are some great stories of the meeting of two Egyptians, three Israelis and a Jordanian…
One Middle East focused organisation decided to celebrate their 50 year anniversary in style. They invited believers, young and old, veterans in the faith and new-born believers, from Egypt, Jordan and Israel to join their celebrations. They enjoyed good food and fun together, starting and ending each day with prayer, and studying the Bible together. As well as hikes and feasts, there were planned activities to help everyone get to know one another on a deeper level. The bonds that were formed and the things that were shared encouraged and surprised everyone. They discussed their fears and hopes for the future, and their relationships with Yeshua. A sense of unity and family quickly formed.
Isaiah pronounces this vision of days to come:
“In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the Lord of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:23-25)
The founders of the group noted that this text “speaks of a future in which Israel and the Arab nations together serve God and the world will bless”. As a result, they are committed to the work of reconciliation through prayer and concrete service to both Jew and Arab.
They note that Isaiah 19 prophesies that one day they will all worship the LORD – יהוה – the God of Israel, and conclude that as Jew and Arab serve the God of Israel together, there we will find the way of peace.
Coming to the God of Israel is the key.
Avi from Israel would agree. He came to know the God of Israel personally five years ago, and not only has God transformed his life, but he has also now given him a heart of love for the Arab peoples around him. In Cyprus he met a Jordanian believer who had been imprisoned for his faith, and the two men got along like long-lost brothers – joking and laughing together, high-fiving and connecting on every level.
To Avi’s surprise, he learned that the two Egyptian sisters already came to Cyprus with an unusual love for Israel.
They explained how God changed their hearts towards the Jewish people, completely independently of one another:
About ten years ago, one of the Egyptian sisters had been at a Bible study with a believer in Holland and noticed that there were Israeli flags on display. She asked why, and was told that it was because they loved Israel. She thought they were crazy, but the Dutch woman explained about the Biblical mandate to bless Israel. The Egyptian sister was not convinced. However, she went back home and one day started to read Romans 11. She noticed that it said even though Jewish people may presently be enemies of the gospel, that they still remain God’s chosen people.
“I read it over and over again, chapters 9-11, and thought, either I follow everyone else, or I have to decide for myself. If the Bible really says this, I can’t take bits and pieces – either I must take it all or refuse it. I decided that’s what the Bible says, and I’m going to believe it. God has changed my heart to give me a love for that country.” She later told the Dutch lady that she now understood what she had been saying. “The word of God changes us – even if we grow up with certain ideas, God can change us”.
In a completely different place and time, the other young believer from Egypt was confounded by the same passage.
She was reading Romans 11:2 which says that God has not rejected his people, and later on in the same chapter, it explains about the Jewish roots of our faith.
“It was my first time focussing on Romans 11”, she explained. “It was talking about Israel, not the church. I was at home, by myself, just me and God. I kept praying and praying for Israel. All the [Egyptians] – sorry to say this – don’t like Israel, and think that they won’t be saved… that they didn’t want Jesus in the past, and that they don’t have another opportunity to be saved. But I kept reading Romans 11 for a week, praying for a week… it was from the Holy Spirit, because at the time I was praying for my problems but God let me choose Romans 11 and it changed my mindset.”
While there are many tensions and temptations to fear for many in the Middle East, these Jewish and Arab believers have placed their hope and trust in Yeshua, the Prince of Peace. They are part of the Highway of Worship that God is constructing in the Middle East, and their hearts are joined together as they gladly worship the God of Israel as one.