On a chilly morning in Jerusalem a few years back, I volunteered at a food packing facility as a part of a mission trip, ready to prepare food for Israel’s underprivileged. Despite the February cold and most Israelis buzzing around preparing for the Jewish Sabbath, Michael Seiler, Manager of Liaison Services with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship, or IFCJ), volunteered his Friday morning to brief my group of Christian Baptists, promising that this activity would warm everyone’s hearts.
Indeed, my heart was warmed during my group’s weeklong tour around Israel, especially during our acts of volunteering for those in need. Though only a few hours, our volunteering activity proved to be extremely meaningful. The Global Executive Vice President of IFCJ, Yael Eckstein, met our group, and we all immediately felt her kind enthusiasm. I have only good reviews of IFCJ, and since this experience, have become a loyal contributor as well.
As this was my first time in Israel, I had been looking forward to the opportunity for years to tour the land that I invoke daily in Bible passages, as well as the opportunity to walk where Jesus walked.
Through The Fellowship, our group was able to learn about the historic bonds between the Christian and Jewish people through visits to holy sites such as the Western Wall, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee, Masada, Caesarea, the Horn of Carmel and Meggido. We also made a special visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum – an important yet harrowing experience.
I felt blessed to have the opportunity to fulfill what I have been called to do by God – becoming a blessing to Israel through my support and continued advocacy that I took home to my church. It is my strong belief that many of our Christian communities and churches in the United States are passing up a lot of opportunities to be blessed. According to Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.” By the end of my visit, I certainly blessed Israel, and in turn, went home blessed and ready to help spread messages of partnership with Israel and the Jewish community.
In addition to the many Biblical imperatives to support Israel, I understood that the historical ties between African American Christians and Jews are many. Jews were there for us when African Americans fought for civil rights, and now, Jews need our solidarity. With the help of The Fellowship, we extended our solidarity by renewing our historical relationship from the 1960s, when Jews marched (two of them killed) in the Selma Civil Rights March with Martin Luther King Jr.
I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to strengthen my connection to the Israeli people and most importantly, to God. After this mission with The Fellowship, I did not go home and serve God in the same way. The Fellowship gave me additional educational material on Israel and the Jewish roots of Christianity, which I passed onto my fellow church members. I have also made it a tradition to host special prayer services on Israel’s Day of Independence and invite a Rabbi to my congregation for Holocaust Remembrance Day. But most importantly, I have successfully encouraged my friends to also go on tours of Israel to see the land for themselves, to see a perspective outside of the negative picture often portrayed in the media.
My husband and I chose to become ambassadors of goodwill by sponsoring vocational trainings and soup kitchens for under-privileged Israelis and meals for Holocaust survivors through IFCJ. Through each of these initiatives, we have learned that once you look beneath the surface, you realize that Jews and Christians have the same goals and objectives, and we can achieve these goals better as partners than as individual entities.
Indeed, the media has often swayed the Christian community’s support and understanding — or lack thereof — of the Jewish State. Every so often we hear of calls to ending U.S. aid to Israel, using “apartheid” language and calls to boycott, divest and sanction Israel. But, thanks to our mission, The Fellowship and our continued advocacy, it has become clear to me that the best way to lift Israel up is through becoming an ambassador – offering financial support, education about Israel to our communities and praying for its people.