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December 2014


Open Our Hands

By GARY ALLEY

A group of three families, which included seven children six years old and under, went to Jordan Nov 15-16 to visit with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  The three families were JCF’s Eva and Danny Kopp, my family, and the Nazarene Church’s Shahade and Annabelle Twal.  My wife, Sharon, had an impression that we should go as families, along with our young children, for two main reasons.  One purpose was so that we as families could connect with their families on the most basic level—as fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters.  Our second intention was for all of us, including our children, to become more aware of the refugees’ dire circumstances.  Ultimately, we went as followers of Jesus to let the families know that they had not been forgotten and there is hope.

Over the 36 hours that we were in Jordan, we visited with six families in Mafraq and Madaba.  Our visits were graciously led by local Jordanian ministers of the Nazarene Church.  It was exciting to experience different Christian ministries and denominations working together to face the enormous needs of the refugee crisis in Jordan.  We could sense a true spirit of unity and grace among the Jordanian believers.  Also encouraging was that every family that we visited readily agreed to pray with us.

After a quick lunch in Irbid, our first stop was Mafraq, a town close to the Syrian border and on the frontline of the refugee situation.  We wanted to visit one of the noted refugee camps, either Za’atari or Azraq, but the camps can now only be visited with prior special permission.  We quickly learned, though, that most of the Syrian refugees do not live in camps anyway but everywhere else in Jordan, whether in rented apartments or UN tents.  Officially, Jordan has 640,000 refugees but officials say the true figure is double.  That means that Jordan’s population has astoundingly increased by 20% in the last two years.  Without necessary infrastructure and a healthy economy, Jordanian society has been under enormous pressure. 

Due to high demand, rent prices have doubled and tripled.  The refugees are not legally able to work, but many try because they have little to live on.  At the least, the children beg.  Most refugees had to leave all of their possessions and assets behind.  Therefore, they are forced to try to subsist off of a monthly stipend from the United Nations.  Refugees that we visited told us that, previously, they received $56 a month per person from the UN, but that has recently been cut to $34.  Since our visit, the UN has recently suspended food stipends because of insufficient funds from donor nations.  Needless to say, Jordan is at a breaking point, and the refugees are falling into the cracks.

In Mafraq, we first visited a children’s center of the Nazarene Church.  On average, more than 70 Syrian children meet there weekly for a Bible lesson and fun.  The meeting had just finished when we arrived Saturday afternoon, but there were still more than twenty children waiting for a ride home.  We talked with them, took some pictures, and passed out some balloons.  Next, we visited three Syrian families from Aleppo and Homs.  Aleppo is an ancient and storied city, though with the Syrian Civil War it has become ground zero for battle and destruction.  Homs, is also a historic location, but it is more well-known now as the “capital of the Syrian revolution,” because of an initial 2011 sit-in protest where tens of thousands gathered in the city’s main square to protest the Assad regime.

When entering at every home we visited, we took off our shoes, as custom, and left them at the front door.  One family we visited was particularly poor.  They had nine children and the wife was pregnant.  The Nazarene Church had recently helped provide them with cushions for sitting on the floor.  They had two sons with disabilities, as well as two daughters who had been injured and burned in Syria from the violence.  Those two daughters were in a hospital in Jordan’s capital, Amman, being attended to by another sister.  As we inflated balloons for their children, more and more kids from the neighborhood streamed into the house seeking a balloon as well.  

After our visit, as we said our goodbyes while putting on our shoes, my 6-year old son, Sa’ar, noticed that his shoes were missing.  Obviously, a neighborhood kid that had come in search of balloons had felt blessed to discover shoes his own size.  The embarrassed father of the house brought out shoes that had been given to one of his children, pressing them upon us, but we told him that it was not a problem.  As I carried my son out to the car, he asked if that family had money. We told him that before they fled Syria, they probably had land and other things, but now they had little.  He then asked if we could give them some.

We spent the night in Madaba, another ancient site famous for a Byzantine church that has a 1400 year old mosaic floor map depicting Jerusalem and the Holy Land.  The first families we met the following day were Iraqi Christians that were temporarily living at the Christian Missionary Alliance Church.  We heard the story of Levon, who had grown up in Baghdad but, because of the growing violence against Christians there, had fled to Aleppo, Syria in 2006.  There he tried to find avenues for religious asylum in a Western country.  When the Syrian Civil War broke out in 2011, he returned to Baghdad.  As the violence against Christians continued in Baghdad, he along with other Iraqi Christians, found his way north to Qaraqosh, the largest Christian city in Iraq.  For Bible readers, Qaraqosh is near Nineveh, the Assyrian capital, where the prophet Jonah preached to the Ninevites. 

In August of this year, Qaraqosh was overrun by ISIS, causing a massive exodus of Christian refugees.  Levon and his family fled back to Baghdad.  With the continued danger for Christians in Baghdad, they have now found temporary safety in Jordan but are seeking asylum in the West.  More than 5,000 Iraqi Christians have recently found a respite in Jordan while facing their uncertain futures.  Besides all the bureaucratic paperwork, visa applications to Western countries can cost thousands of dollars, of which most do not have.  As we sat talking with our Iraqi Christian brethren, all their few life belongings were splayed out behind us in suitcases and a pile of random bags.  After all of his dangerous escapes over the last years, Levon emphatically told us, he and his family could no longer live in the Middle East.

After we prayed with them, we exchanged contact information.  When Levon saw my Facebook profile picture which had the Arabic letter “nun,” he asked me if I knew what that meant.  (Note: When ISIS has invaded towns it marked the homes of Christians by spraying the letter “nun” on the outside.  “Nun” is the first letter for Christian or Nazarene.)  I told him, yes, and there are many others like us who are praying for them and seeking to help them. 

The last family we visited was from Syria.  They had three small girls who were given three boxes from Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child.  The wife had seen her brother killed in front of her and suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Her husband also was diagnosed with PTSD and had had 40 members of his family killed.  Both are taking prescribed medication.  At the end, we prayed over the mother and our spirits groaned with her bottomless burden.

It seems the world has been quite full of bad news lately.  Ebola has ravaged West Africa with over 6,000 dead to date; Eastern Europe shivers under the shadow of a resurgent Cold War Russia; Hong Kong fears its future freedoms are fading; Nigeria is bleeding daily under the Islamicist terror of Boko Haram; not to mention, Israel stands again at an uncertain political crossroads in the wave of recent violence and bloodshed.  Not just globally, but locally, we all have our own problems, from chronic health issues to broken down cars.  It is only natural to worry about our own needs first.

Yet, the Syrian Civil War has now claimed more than 200,000 lives.  Over 3 million refugees have fled the country and nearly half of all Syrians (6.5 million) are displaced within their own country.  Last week U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson issued an appeal for $1 from every person to help the Syrian refugees.  Eliasson said requests from around the world for humanitarian help have risen nearly 600 percent in the past decade, from $3 billion to $17.9 billion, but the funds from donors and nations have not kept pace.

Turning away from the request of a beggar or the needs of a stranded refugee, it is easy to use Jesus’ words, “The poor you will always have with you but you will not always have me” as justification for our inaction (Mt 26:11).  But Jesus was quoting Dt 15:11.  Like a good Jewish teacher, when Jesus quoted part of a verse, his ancient listeners knew he was alluding to the entire verse—“The poor will always be in the land; therefore, I am commanding you to make sure you open your hand to your brothers who are needy and poor in your land.”

Our visit to the Syrian and Iraqi refugees showed us how much we have been blessed with, how much we can be thankful for—shelter, clean water, food, and, especially, shoes.  Since our visit, our children voluntarily pray for the families we met and the countless families we did not meet.  The fighting continues in Syria and Iraq with no end in sight, but that apparent senselessness and hopelessness does not release us from helping.  Read the Bible; we cannot escape God’s instructions—we are commanded to help.  We must open our hands.

If you would like to donate towards JCF's work with the Syrian and Iraqi refugees in Jordan, go to our Donate page.

 

 A Good Land

Israel’s Seven Species: Olive Oil

 By GARY ALLEY

Deuteronomy is a book of expectations. In this final book of the Pentateuch, God stokes the Israelites’ expectations concerning their entrance into the long-awaited “Promised Land”, while at the same time, He explains the rules that they are expected to follow.  One of these expectations is the agricultural bounty of the land of Canaan, often summed up by the so-called seven species.  During the time of Jesus, only these seven varieties[1] were presented in the Temple at Jerusalem as offerings of the first fruits festival (Ex 34:26).

“For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of brooks, springs, and fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates, of olive oil and honey (Dt 8:7-8).”


The OLIVE is a stout evergreen fruit-bearing tree native to Israel and the Mediterranean region.  A most unique, resolute tree, because of its deep roots into rocky soil, it can live for hundreds, even, some thousands of years in spite of fire, drought, and disease.  In the Bible, the olive, and specifically its leaf, first appears in the mouth of a dove returning to Noah and bringing hope that life continues after the Flood.[2]  The olive tree’s gnarled and twisted trunk covered by silver-green leaves which shimmer in the sunlight aptly depicts its rugged and resilient existence. 

Olives are harvested in September-October when the branches are beaten or shaken to cause the fruit to fall onto blankets spread below its limbs.  The olive fruit is naturally bitter and must be cured in order to eat, but its pressed oil is its most valuable and highly-prized commodity.  In Jotham’s parable of the trees in the book of Judges, the olive is the first tree that is asked to be king of the trees, highlighting the olive’s primacy in the dendrological pecking order of the Bible.[3]  Olive oil was used throughout the ancient world as currency in trade, commerce, and taxes.[4]  Olive oil’s healthy monounsaturated fat was a key part of the daily diet during biblical times and still today in Mediterranean region. 

Olive oil is intricately connected with the Messiah, or the “anointed one.”  In Hebrew, to anoint someone or something with oil is mashach (משח) from which we get the word, Messiah.  Olive oil was used to anoint those chosen by God to represent Him before the people, like kings, priests, and prophets.[5]  When Jesus read Isaiah 61:1 in Nazareth’s synagogue, “the Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor,” he was claiming this same divine anointing to speak God’s word.[6]  As can be seen, anointing with olive oil came to represent the presence and the power of God’s Spirit.[7] 

So too, God’s Spirit is found resting on David’s descendent in Isa 11:1, portrayed as a shoot and branch springing forth from the olive stump and roots.  The Apostle Paul paradoxically depicted the nation of Israel as a cultivated olive tree which had a wild olive shoot (i.e. Gentiles) grafted into its root.[8]  Grafting olive trees has been done for millennia as a way to produce better fruit and hardier trees.  Yet, Paul’s ironic allegory would have challenged his readers’ theological assumptions.

Olive oil was also used as fuel for lamps, bringing light to dark places.[9]   In particular, only olive oil was to be used for Israel’s tabernacle and temple.[10]  The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, has customarily focused on the miracle of the Temple’s olive oil.[11]  This olive oil miracle is a Talmudic tradition which describes how after Judah Maccabee freed the Jerusalem Temple from the Greeks, only one day’s worth of undefiled oil was found.  But instead of lasting for one day, the Temple’s menorah lamp amazingly burned for eight days until new olive oil could be obtained.[12]


[1] Mishna Bikkurim 1,3

[2] Gen 8:11

[3] Jud 9:7-15

[4] See Samaria Ostraca dated to the 8th cen BCE.  Also Lk 16:5-6.

[5] 1 Sam 16:13; 1 Kgs 1:34; Ex 29:7; Lev 8:12; 1 Kin 19:16; Ps 115:15

[6] Lk 4:16-21

[7] Zech 4; I Jn 2:27

[8] Rom 9:17-24

[9] Mt 25:3-4

[10] Ex 27:20; 35:14-15

[11] Josephus Jewish Antiquities xii. 7, § 7

[12] T. Shabbat 2; T. Shabbat 21b

 

Charity Report: 2014 Year in Review

Jerusalem Cornerstone is not a large organization. We are a handful of people that love God’s Word, His people, and His land. While there are many other non-profit groups working in Israel and the Palestinian Territories with a greater financial support and human resource base, at JCF we believe that God has given us a special calling despite our limited assets.

We believe that God has called us to help those who are struggling, those who have fallen through the cracks. Everyday we come across people that have been rejected by the world, those forgotten by their families, friends, neighbors, and governments.

JCF does not have a brick and mortar building. We have a simple staff in Israel that receives modest stipends. Our workers embody your prayers and gifts.

This year, 131 different people have given towards the work and staff of JCF, and we are honored to serve as God’s ministers of those funds entrusted to us. Thank you for your faithfulness towards the Lord’s work and His Word.

House of Light (HOL) is an Israeli Arab Christian ministry led by Anis and Nawal Barhoum that provides spiritual and social aid to both Jewish and Arab residents. JCF specifically aids House of Light’s prison work, which visits and disciples current and former prisoners. In the future they hope to have a half way house to disciple former inmates who accepted the Lord while in prison.  HOL owns farming land and is hoping to grow their own food for those in need and, perhaps, one day, build a Christian Center on the property.  JCF’s average monthly support: $500

Club for the Blind is an Israeli social service to the blind residents of Tiberias which was dormant before JCF’s involvement. The club has around 30 members and meets three times a week for classes and trips. There are art and cooking activities led by professionals.  Recently they started a long-term theater workshop.  JCF’s average monthly support: $600

Beit El is a Messianic Jewish Ethiopian Congregation in Jerusalem with more than 100 members. They struggle to make ends meet, while standing as faithful witnesses for the Gospel within Israeli society. JCF’s funds typically go towards the needs of their families, single mothers, sick, elderly, new immigrants, youth, and children. Over 30 families have received support through JCF during 2013. JCF’s average monthly support: $500

Little Hearts Preschool is a unique school where Jews, Arabs, and the nations come together to form a unified community in Messiah. It also strives to provide a quality trilingual (English, Hebrew, Arabic), faith-based education at an affordable cost for locals.  JCF’s donation is helping fund an Israeli-certified teacher’s salary who is fluent in all three languages.  JCF’s average monthly support: $500

JCF partners with an Israeli social worker in Jerusalem who refers cases to us of families who are in difficult financial, emotional, and medical situations. Many of these are individuals from broken homes, with very little income, unable to work due to health reasons. We’ve been able to help 15 different families this year who received on average $500 from JCF.

Others JCF has helped:

  • Syrian refugees living in Jordan. JCF was able to give some basic supplies and gifts.
  • During the war with Hamas this past summer, JCF was able to help several individuals and organizations who were affected by the events.  JCF donated to a therapy program at Orr Shalom, a home for at-risk children in Israel.  The children who benefited from this program were from areas hardest hit by rockets, Beersheva and Ashkelon. JCF also gave toward a primary school in Gaza, which tries to provide a safe haven for children's education in spite of the dire local circumstances. 

News in Israel and the Middle East

  • A Jerusalem bilingual Hebrew-Arabic school, Yad b'Yad was attacked by arsonists on Nov 29th.  Three radical right-wing Jewish youth were apprehended last weekend in connection to the vandalism and arson attack.  The school was spray-painted with "Death to Arabs", "No coexistence with cancer" and "Kahane was right." One classroom that was burned was the first grade class of Rafi Kopp, son of JCF's Danny and Eva Kopp.
  • New Elections have been called for Israel on March 17, 2015.  More, here.
  • Canon Andrew White, known as the "Vicar of Baghdad" for the Anglican Church, has recently left Iraq due to the security risk he currently presents to himself and his flock.  Canon White recently spoke at Narkis St. Congregation in Jerusalem.  He shared about Iraqi Christian children who were told by ISIS militants to convert to Islam or be killed. Their response? “No, We Love Yeshua (Jesus).”  For a video, here.  For the full sermon at Narkis St. Congregation, here.
  • Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, will run from Dec 16 to Dec 24 this year.  For more on Hanukkah, here.

JCF News: Josh, Julie, and Leon Korn in Israel

The son-in-law, daughter, and grandson of Chuck and Liz Kopp successfully arrived in Israel from Niamey, Niger where they are working for Cure International.  Josh is a chaplain and Julie is an art therapist at the Niamey Cure Hospital.

Prayer Requests and Praise Reports

  • Safety and Wisdom in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Recent news, here.
  • Gary and Sharon Alley with their boys are in Florida for Christmas.  They will return to Israel on January 3rd.
  • The Syrian and Iraqi refugees.  See article above.
  • Canon Andrew White shared recently of his plans to begin work in Amman, Jordan for the many Christian Iraqi refugees currently stranded there.

 

JCF has been giving toward Holocaust survivors living Jerusalem.  This is an update from the International Christian Embassy which we have been partnering with.

 
There are approximately twelve needy and very lonely Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem who have been receiving loving care and companionship from an aid organization with whom we partner.   These Survivors receive monthly checks to support them economically and receive regular volunteer visitors, which is also very important to them.  A very nice program was begun to link boys from a local institution for disadvantaged children and youth, to some of these Holocaust Survivors.  This has greatly benefited both the teenage boys and the elderly survivors.
 
Loneliness is a huge problem to people who have lost all their family and often their spouse.  Visiting some of these Jerusalem Survivors regularly ourselves, we know how important this program is which supplies both financial and emotional support.  
 
The donations of JCF have been used in part with help to maintain the ongoing expense of supporting these survivors in Jerusalem with monthly help in form of coupons for food items.  The other part has been used to cover maintenance problems in their homes. For example, when our staff visited a 90 year old Survivor, her small, modest apartment was quite dark owing to a broken slatted shutter which could not be raised and had been like this for more than a week.   Having received the gift from JCF, we were in a position to immediately arrange its replacement.  One of hermost  terrible memories is from her home town of Yasi in Romania where she suffered terribly from violence and terror.  She lost most of her family and witnessed people being pulled out of their homes and killed.  She finds it very difficult to talk about those memories. She is suffering from many health problems, does not have children, and lost her husband many years ago.  Visits from Christians like us mean the world to her.