The Middle East peace process has taken a new turn with the hosting in Manchester, England, of a conference aimed at building bridges between Arabs and Jews who have become followers of Jesus. Key figures behind the event, and the vision of the so-called ‘Isaiah 19 Highway’, are Robert Sakr and Michael Kerem, along with Rev David Pileggi, rector of Christ Church in Jerusalem, built in 1849 by CMJ (the Church’s Ministry among Jewish people).
The reconciliation for which they have such a passion is reflected in the marriages of both Robert and Michael. Robert was brought up in Tel Aviv and his wife, Miriam, was raised among the Arab people of Jordan. Their current focus is a fulfilment of a word they received from a Dutchwoman at a discipleship conference in Cyprus back in 1978 that, in representing the two countries, they would become a blessing to the surrounding nations. Michael, on the other hand, is a Jew who met his Armenian wife Alis in Turkey.
The Isaiah 19 Highway*, from Assyria to Egypt via Israel, represents the very path travelled by Abraham, father of the Jewish race, and so it’s perfectly appropriate that it is also the road to peace for Isaac and Ishmael, the sons of Abraham.
Rev Pileggi, meanwhile, comes from Italian background, and moved to Jerusalem from the United States 36 years ago. He said: “Understanding Jesus in his Jewish context has made all the difference for our faith. For Jesus, in most cases, reference to the kingdom of heaven was about the here and now, not the hereafter. And Isaiah 19 is a very practical way to extend God’s kingdom in a region that’s controlled by the devil.”
*See the book of Isaiah, chapter 19, verses 23-25.
Meanwhile Michael Kerem expressed his sorrow to the Iranians for the unforeseen problems that led to the deportation of most of their contingent travelling to last year’s conference in Jerusalem.
They were interrogated for a period of 48 hours at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport before being deported on the basis that they represented an element of risk despite holding British passports.
But the positive outcome of this is that the Israeli authorities apparently now understand how much Muslim-background believers in Jesus want to visit the country of his birth and ministry, where he died and was raised from the dead, and to which he is returning.
“They also want to come to Israel to meet their Jewish brothers, which could mean that God is going to use ‘Ishmael’ to open the eyes of ‘Isaac’ (referring to the mass recognition of Christ as their Messiah prophesied in the Scriptures)”, said Michael, adding: “Their mind is changing because of what happened.”
Turkish Christians apologise for Armenian genocide
The conference also heard how Turkish Christians recently met with a group of Armenians to apologise for the genocide that took place 100 years ago.
Admitting a mistake goes very much against the grain in the Middle East, but they embraced in the name of Jesus and a Turkish pastor, Ali Pektash, got down on his knees to wash the feet of an elderly Armenian, apologising for what his grandparents had done, whereupon the Armenian responded by washing the feet of his Turkish brother-in-Christ.
“Forgive me for what my people have done in killing, torturing and forcefully converting and expelling you from our land,” Ali told his hosts, asking them to pray that the curse he believed had come upon his nation as a result would be lifted.
The Armenians, along with a group of Yazidi Kurds, duly prayed for their visitors and forgave them. And when two pastors who had been at loggerheads with each other saw what happened, it melted their hearts and they were reconciled.
Call to focus on the wheat
Robert Sakr, one of the visionaries behind the conference, frankly admitted that he didn’t understand what was happening in the Middle East today with borders being wiped out and bloodshed on a horrific scale. “But I know that God is in control and that the harvest will come in an environment of both persecution and blessing.”
Referring to Jesus’ parable of the weeds (Matthew 13) in which he explains that the weeds, planted by an enemy, should be left to grow with the wheat until the harvest, Robert said that while organizations like CNN and the BBC were focused on covering news about the weeds, “we must take care of news about the wheat”.
“We’re the ‘good news’ people; our job is telling people what God is doing, not the enemy.”
He said Zionism and Arab aspirations are incompatible. “But God has the last word. For 67 years some of the smartest people in the world have tried to solve this problem. It’s a puzzle. But I’m focusing on the crop of wheat which is growing and expanding. Israel was a spiritual desert when I was growing up. Now there are so many believers. We need to focus on the wheat.”
Yes, unimaginable evil is being perpetrated in today’s world. “But what God is intending to do in our day is beyond our wildest imaginations.”