As the thrust of the jet engines launched our Boeing 767-300 down the Heathrow runway at full throttle, a surge of unprecedented excitement swept over me. No, it wasn't my first ever flight. I travelled alone (in the care of an air hostess) in an old four-prop Skymaster plane as a three-year-old way back in 1952.
What made it so special was my destination. And not only was I flying out to Israel on that nation's 66th birthday, but I was also engaged on a mission working towards the spiritual re-birth of the Jewish people.
As a volunteer for CMJ (the Church's Ministry among Jewish people), I will be covering a unique conference witnessing the reconciliation of Arab and Jewish pastors, who will be seeking ways of helping each other.
For example, many of the delegates are from Muslim-run countries where following Jesus is a costly and, in some cases, extremely dangerous pursuit. Syrian Christians have been suffering dreadfully during the current civil war, but believers in Israel have been offering financial and other support.
Called At the Crossroads, the conference is not about politics, but it is about a 'peace process' as those attending will be exploring the degree to which faith in Jesus, the Jew, can break down centuries-old hostility and bring about dramatic harmony, affecting changes politicians and other have found impossible to achieve.
Among the speakers is Canon Andrew White, known as the Vicar of Baghdad, who has been working tirelessly in the field of reconciliation for years despite suffering from debilitating Multiple Sclerosis. In fact he has just returned from the United States where he was honoured with the 2014 William Wilberforce Award, presented by the Chuck Colson Centre for Christian Worldview in recognition of his service to Christianity internationally and, in particular, the Middle East.
Andrew has a huge congregation in the heart of war-torn Iraq and has lost many of his men to kidnapping and execution as the dust kicked up by Saddam Hussein's removal refuses to settle. But he remains passionate about the gospel's ability to heal wounds through the forgiveness and acceptance won for all on the cross.
As we took off on El Al flight 318, I thought of how Israel had been re-born just a year before I came into the world on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town and pondered on the somewhat enigmatic passage of scripture in which Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) seemed to suggest that the generation who witnessed the re-birth of Israel would not pass away "until all these things were accomplished" presumably including the prophesied national recognition of Yeshua as Messiah. It proved to be one of those 'goose-bump' experiences.
The Church, founded almost entirely by Jews, is now starting to re-connect with her roots and is witnessing a resurgence of so-called Messianic Jews (who believe Jesus is their Messiah), with congregations springing up both in Israel and in the rest of the world.
Yes, Israel is just 66 years young, but it is also 5,774 years old. Jewish people have been connected to this land for a very long time but, shortly after Jesus' miraculous, world-changing ministry on earth some 2,000 years ago, the Romans destroyed the country (just as Jesus foretold) which had the affect of dispersing God's chosen people to every corner of the globe – persecuted and bewildered and without a home.
But the prophets of old, like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, promised that a time would come when they would be re-gathered to their ancient land – from the north, south, east and west.
It would be a twofold return, however, for once settled back in the land, they would also return to the Lord. Ezekiel writes about a "new heart" – a heart of flesh replacing a heart of stone. And Zechariah said there would come a time when "they would look on the one they have pierced" and mourn for him as for an only child.
At the Crossroads will witness something of this 'new heart' as Jews reach out to their Arab brothers in love, humility and concord. Here is a peace process that really is working!