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December 2015


A Light in the Darkness

By GARY ALLEY

Yet, there will be no gloom for the land which was anxious.
In earlier times he humiliated the land of Zebulun, and the land of Naphtali;
but in the end he honors the way of the sea, the region beyond the Jordan,
and the Galilee of the nations.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.
A light shines on those living in the land of the shadow of death. (Isa 9:1-2)

Over 2700 years ago, the Prophet Isaiah recorded a time when an oppressive darkness swallowed his land.  At that time, the Assyrian king, Tiglath-Pileser III, had conquered the northern tribes of Israel and taken many into exile.  Judah and its capital, Jerusalem, had survived after making a preemptive treaty with Assyria.  Yet, those Judean survivors could only fearfully gaze north upon their Israelite brothers’ ravaged land as a reminder of their own tenuous position. 

When one looks out over the land, he sees distress and darkness, gloom and anxiety,
shadows and people forced from the land. (Isa 8:22)

According to tradition, these ten “lost tribes” of Israel would disappear within the pages of history, assumed to have been assimilated by the surrounding nations. It would be 150 years later till Jerusalem and its temple would be destroyed by another enemy, the Babylonians.  Isaiah again describes it:

Like a frightened gazelle or a sheep with no shepherd,
each will turn toward home, each will run to his homeland.
Everyone who is caught will be stabbed;
everyone who is seized will die by the sword.
Their children will be smashed to pieces before their very eyes;
their houses will be looted and their wives raped.
(Isa 13:14-16)

The Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, would also force many from Judah down the long path of exile, like their Israelite brothers, as refugees.  70 years later after the Babylonian exile, with the return of a small group of refugees, Jerusalem and its temple were rebuilt, though not to its former scale or grandeur.  

Many years later, another foreign army would again attack Jerusalem, this time by Antiochus IV, the Seleucid king, who is remembered particularly for desecrating the temple (167 BCE). 

Raging like a wild animal, [Antiochus] set out from Egypt and took Jerusalem by storm. He ordered his soldiers to cut down without mercy those whom they met and to slay those who took refuge in their houses. There was a massacre of young and old, a killing of women and children, a slaughter of virgins and infants. In the space of three days, eighty thousand were lost, forty thousand meeting a violent death, and the same number being sold into slavery. (2 Mac 5:11–14)

The Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, celebrates Judah the Maccabee’s successful rebellion and restoration of the temple three years later.  Despite Judah’s legendary victory, four years later he would fall in battle.  It would take another twenty years to remove all Seleucid presence from Jerusalem.

Generations later another foreign king under the auspices of the Roman Empire would once again devastate the environs of Jerusalem by slaughtering all the male children under two years of age in Bethlehem, a local village.  Wise men from the East had come to Jerusalem bearing gifts—gold, frankincense, and myrrh—for a new toddler king.  Herod the Great, King of the Jews, but not a Jew himself, responded to this apparent challenger to his puppet throne with extreme cruelty.

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he became enraged.
He sent men to kill all the children in Bethlehem and throughout the surrounding region from the age of two and under, according to the time he had learned from the wise men.
Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud wailing,
Rachel weeping for her children, and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were gone.” (Mt 2:15-18)

Prior to Herod’s bloodshed, the child Jesus and his parents had fled to Egypt after being warned in a dream.  The other parents of the slaughtered infants and toddlers were not so fortunate.  Jesus and his parents would remain in Egypt as political refugees until the death of Herod. 

Today, when we look out over the world, we see that clouds have darkened our landscape.  Recurring news of violent attacks against innocents is no longer the exception but the rule.  Some areas of the world feel as if they are under a suffocating shadow of death.  At this time of year, during Christmas and Hanukkah, it is easy for Christians to proclaim that “Jesus is the light of the world” and wash our hands from global or even communal responsibility for those suffering.  It is much harder to declare Jesus’ words—“You are the light of the world…let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven."

History may be cyclical; violence and suffering may be inevitable, but as disciples of Jesus we are commanded to be light in this darkness.  Our actions may be diverse in how each one of us shines the light, but our results will always be the same.  If we truly shine a light in the darkness, those around us will come to the light and God will be praised.


Refugee Update from JCF's Recent Trip to Jordan

JCF staff, Yoni Gerrish, Gary Alley, and Danny Kopp, along with Nazarene minister Shahade Twal, returned to Jordan at the end of November to follow up on the refugee work that we have been supporting.  We were graciously invited to a home cooked meal prepared by two Iraqi Christian families with whom we have been in contact for the past year since our first visit.  We have continued to pray and support them during their stay in Jordan while they hope and wait to make asylum in the West.  If you know of anyone who may have Western contacts for Christian asylum seekers, please let JCF know.  Write [email protected]

During this trip to Jordan, we also attended two Nazarene church services, one in Amman and the other in Madaba, which had many refugees present.  We heard stories how God is working among the refugees for good.  Though their futures are cloudy, many have hope.  In particular, one refugee poignantly told us that if it had not been for all the problems and suffering they had gone through, they would not have discovered how to have a real relationship with God.  Statements like these, reminded us at JCF why we continue to support the refugee work in Jordan. Read Danny Kopp's article below, "When Refugees Serve the Church" for more details about our recent trip.


When Refugees Serve the Church

By DANNY KOPP

Over and over again, when everyone else ran for the hills, Sarmad stayed behind until there was nearly no one left to serve. He would not describe it that way, but that seemed to be the essence of how this Iraqi Christian refugee has chosen to live through the recurring nightmare that is the civil wars in Iraq and Syria. Originally from Mosul, in northern Iraq, and like most refugees of these wars of the last decade, Sarmad has been displaced multiple times. “I just thought, wherever we are, we might as well chose to view these circumstances as opportunities”, Sarmad told us recently in a church in Madaba, Jordan. “I tell other refugees that I serve with, that God has us here for a reason and wants us to be active, not sit around passively waiting to be rescued.”

This is easier said than done. Most of the Iraqi and Syrian refugees have fled to either Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan, where Sarmad is now living. Both Lebanon’s and Jordan’s economies were already straining with skyrocketing unemployment before the refugees arrived. Neither country allows the refugees work permits, nor access to local schools.  Aid agencies continually complain of a lack of capacity to meet the refugees’ most basic needs.  Sarmad has shrewdly taken initiative by furthering his education, while serving in local churches. But with depleted savings and very few options, it is easy to see the simple calculations many refugees have made in taking the life-threatening risk of crossing the treacherous Mediterranean Sea to uncertain shores in Europe, in search of a sustainable future.

But why would anyone put their life and the lives of their children in such peril, when it is possible to at least live out of harm’s way as a refugee in Lebanon or Jordan? In fact, circumstances have become so desperate, that in recent months, Jordan has registered more exits than entries across its border with Syria. With little to no opportunities to provide for their families, some opt to gamble with bombs and bullets or erratic sea billows rather than watch their loved ones, slowly but surely, waste away.

The impulse to jump into the abyss becomes easier to imagine, when one considers the harrowing trek that Levon and Ghassan and their families have endured, only to have their hopes for refugee status crushed by the perverse obtuseness of the bureaucratic agency whose role it is to determine these matters. Since first meeting this extended Iraqi Christian family in November 2014, we have learned how they were initially internally displaced in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, and then repeatedly uprooted and forced to flee, first to Syria, then within Syria with the beginning of their civil war in 2011, then back to Iraq, and after the rise of ISIS, into Jordan in 2014. After approaching the United Nations for refugee status in Syria, they were denied help because of their multiple trips between Syria and Iraq and a recent marriage.  It was determined that their family circumstances did not correspond to the specific United Nations’ definition for a refugee.

None of this would matter if so many Western nations did not require that those applying for immigration as refugees first provide proof of refugee status with the UN. When one considers the huge disparity in the number of Iraqi and Syrian refugees that the United States has accepted as compared with other Western nations, it is difficult for me, as an American, not to feel shame in the face of such poverty of action.  And after witnessing ordinary Christians in the Middle East who are willingly serving refugees in need, it becomes even more embarrassing. 

For the Church in countries already inundated with this mass of humanity, like Jordan, there really is no choice but to serve. It simply is not possible to retreat into isolation, neither is fear a viable option. None of the exceptional ministers that we have met in Jordan are naïve about the threat posed by groups like Islamic State.  After our multiple visits to the work in Jordan, this unprecedented refugee crisis has revealed a Jordanian Christian leadership which has been refined and prepared for the great task before them.  Their unheralded, selfless service in the volatile Middle East is a testimony to all of us followers of Jesus.  When I listen to the unbearably acrimonious debates in the West over what policy to take towards the refugees, I am encouraged when I remember Sarmad’s choice to serve with such resilience. The situation is clearly not improving. We are witnessing the slow death of Christianity in Iraq and now, likely, Syria. Sarmad may have to uproot again for the umpteenth time. To hear Sarmad tell his story would cause a listener to lose faith in humanity, yet it is that same story which reminds us of those times when we really trusted God for everything.

Charity Report: 2015 Year in Review

Jerusalem Cornerstone is not a large organization. We are a handful of people that love God, 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. Every day 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, 166 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.

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 20 families have received support through JCF during this year. JCF’s average monthly support: $500

Beit El was able to move into a larger facility this year.  They now have more room for their weekly service and for other meetings and programs.  Membership has increased to around 70 adults and 40 children/youth. Fifteen new believers have come to faith in the last three months and 5 of them regularly attend Beit El.

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

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

Israeli Social Services.  JCF partners with an Israeli social worker in Jerusalem who refers cases of families in difficult financial, emotional, and medical situations. Many of these are individuals from broken homes with very little income and unable to work due to health reasons. We’ve been able to help 19 different families this year.  JCF’s average monthly support: $500

Little Hearts Preschool is a unique preschool 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 scholarships for needy families.  JCF’s average monthly support: $500

Refugees from Iraq and Syria. Over 4 million Syrians have fled their country since the beginning of the civil war that began in 2011.  In November 2014, JCF began to pursue open doors in aiding some of these refugees who had fled to neighboring Jordan.  During 2015 JCF gave $52,150 towards refugee needs like food, clothes, blankets, heaters, school tuition, medicine, rent, and transportation costs.  In particular, JCF has partnered with the Nazarene Church’s work in Jordan.  Here is a recent video detailing the story of one Syrian girl and how she came to study at the Nazarene School in Amman, Jordan.  JCF gave $6000 toward scholarships at this school. 

Holocaust Survivors Fund: Around 200,000 Holocaust survivors live in Israel, of whom a significant percentage struggle with poverty.  Over $1870 was given this year through JCF towards helping those in need.

Charity Report: Your Gifts Helped these Individuals, Families, and Ministries during September, October, and November 2015

JCF gave $500 toward scholarships for needy Muslim children which attend a Christian school in the Gaza Strip.

Manny is an elderly Israeli man who lives off of disability benefits because of a heart condition.  JCF gave $262 towards hiring taxis to get to his regular appointments at a hospital far from his home.

Etti is an 82 year old Israeli widow who is cared for 24 hours a day by her two daughters.  The daughters need a short break, so they need to arrange full time care for their mother. A local care center has agreed to be with Esther through the night for a short time. JCF is helping cover the cost of this program ($268).

Annie is a Muslim orphan from Bethlehem and is married as a second wife.  She has a young daughter and struggles to make ends meet.  JCF is helping cover her month's rent ($300).

Susan is a 47 year old Israeli single mother of a 4 year old. She never married the father of her child who was very abusive towards her. She has lived in a home for abused women for a year. She has been suffering from teeth problems and needs help paying for dental care.  JCF contributed $531 towards her dental work.

Lifegate Development School is an educational institute for Christian and Muslim Arab children in Beit Jala with special needs. JCF gave $1000 towards purchasing a new computer for their classroom use.

Cindy is a single 45 year old handicapped Israeli who survives on social welfare and cleaning homes.  Because of a recent surgery, her physical and mental health deteriorated and she was hospitalized for psychiatric care.  She needs outpatient treatment for three more months. JCF is helping with her living expenses during this time ($530).

News in Israel and the Middle East


A New Intifada

As mentioned in the last JCF newsletter in September, violence began on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, and since then, has now spread throughout Israel and the West Bank over the last two and a half months.  Since October 1, over 200 Israelis have been wounded, and 20 killed.  More than 100 Palestinians have been killed, and many more injured. 

Rather than the stones of the first intifada (1987-1993), or the bombs of the second intifada (2000-2005), this violent period has become known for its knives.  For example, Palestinians, ranging from an 11 year old school boy with his 14 year old cousin to two high school girls to a father of five, have taken up knives and other sharp instruments to attack the unsuspecting. 

The carnage has resulted in deaths and shattered lives.  An Israeli family’s car was shot up, with the parents being killed in front of their four young children.  A Jewish family walking through Jerusalem’s Old City with their toddler in a stroller was stabbed, with the father dying, as well as another Israeli man who tried to help.  An Israeli father and son were killed together when their family, riding in a car, was shot up on their way to a wedding.  A 13 year old Israeli boy was stabbed multiple times by two Palestinian boys while riding his bicycle in the neighborhood. 

Due to the mixture of Jews and Arabs within the country, oftentimes the assailants and avengers have wounded their own kind.  Responders to the terrorist events have been quick to neutralize the attackers, even mistakenly killing the wrong person, like the horrid lynching of Haftom Zarhum, 29-year-old Eritrean refugee at the Beersheva Central Bus Station in October.

In particular, one attack on Oct. 13 hit close to home for JCF, when two terrorists entered a bus in a southern Jerusalem neighborhood with a gun and knives.  Sixteen were wounded and three were killed.  Among those murdered was Richard Lankin, a Jewish American-Israeli 76 year old educator known for his passion for coexistence.  He also was a friend of JCF’s Liz and Chuck Kopp

Marike Veldman, a Dutch Christian woman who attends Narkis St. Congregation in Jerusalem, was also stabbed multiple times on the same bus.  She recounts,

"They began to cry 'Allahu Akbar.' The man in front of me began with a knife stabbing into me. The other man started shooting. People screamed very loudly. It was awful. I cried constantly in Dutch: 'Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus! Help me, help me!'" she said from her bed at the Ein Kerem Medical Center in Jerusalem. When she did this, she said her attacker "ran away to the back of the bus."

Marike, who has run a foster home for Palestinian children for the past 32 years, was asked by her now grown foster children,

Mom, do you hate us?” She responded, “No, I don’t hate you,” but then they asked “do you hate the Arabs?” and she said “no, it didn’t even cross my mind to hate them.”  “I don’t even hate the man who stabbed me, I pity him,” she added.


More News...

  • Two-thirds of Palestinians support knife attacks.  “Sixty-seven percent back the use of knives, while 66 percent of those asked said an armed intifada or uprising would "serve Palestinian national interests in ways that negotiations could not", the survey by the respected Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) found.” More, here.
  • Poverty in Israel.  According to a recently published National Insurance Institute review of poverty in Israel during 2014, 1.7 million people in Israel live below the poverty line, including 776,000 — close to one in three — children. But the Latet umbrella organization, which works with NGOs to aid the poor in Israel, says that figure is over 2.6 million people, Israel Radio reported. Israel’s total population is about 8.4 million.  More, here.
  • Australia will take in 12,000 more Christian refugees, here.
  • Canada is taking 25,000 Syrian refugees over the next three months.  The United States is planning to take 10,000 refugees during 2016.  Newly elected Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, said while greeting newly arrived immigrants at the airport,

"This is a wonderful night, where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult situations." 

"They step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada with social insurance numbers, with health cards and with an opportunity to become full Canadians," Trudeau said. "This is something that we are able to do in this country because we define a Canadian not by a skin color or a language or a religion or a background, but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that not just Canadians but people around the world share." More, here.

Others see Canada’s currently open borders and less stringent security vetting for Muslim immigrants as concerning

  • The Vicar of Baghdad: 'I've looked through the Quran trying to find forgiveness... there isn’t any.'  A recent profile on Canon Andrew White, here.
  • Israeli Great Grandmother Returns Home after 68 Year Exile in Syria, here.
  • Recent Archaeological Discoveries that Shed Light on the Bible
    • We just celebrated the last night of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.  Two places associated with the Hanukkah story and its heroes, the Hasmoneans, have been suggested by recent archaeological findings.  The Hasmonean or Maccabean Family Tomb in Modiin and the Acra Fortress of Jerusalem.
    • First Temple Royal Seal from the Temple Mount discovered by a 10 year old Russian tourist.  "The seal is the first of its kind to be found in Jerusalem," stated Dr. Gabriel Barkay. "The dating of the seal corresponds to the historical period of the Jebusites and the conquest of Jerusalem by King David, as well as the construction of the Temple and the royal official compound by his son, King Solomon. ... What makes this discovery particularly significant is that it originates from upon the Temple Mount itself."
    • King Hezekiah’s Royal Seal has been discovered at the Temple Mount.  It is believed to be the first-ever seal -- also referred to as a "bulla" -- from an Israeli or Judean King to be discovered by archaeologists.  Dr. Eilat Mazar said, “It's very reasonable to assume we are talking about an impression made by the King himself, using his own ring.”  More, here
    • At the biblical site Lachish, Researchers Discover ABCs of How Alphabet Came to Be, here.

Come See the Land of the Bible this February with JCF Biblical Study Tours

It’s not too late to join a special JCF tour this February 13-28, 2016 when Yoni Gerrish leads “Israel: The Exodus and the Gospels” with a visit to Petra in Jordan.  For more information, here.

 

Come Learn Biblical Hebrew in Jerusalem this Summer

Randall Buth and the Biblical Language Center (BLC) will be offering a four week session (July 3-29, 2016) for those who want to learn to read their Bible in its original language, Hebrew.  The class is designed specifically for students with little or no background in Biblical Hebrew.  BLC's classroom is a fun and interactive environment with instruction and activities all conducted in Hebrew.  For more information, here.

 

Prayer Requests and Praise Reports

  • Peace and Security in Israel and the West Bank
  • Iraqi and Syrian refugees 
  • Beit El, a Messianic Jewish Ethiopian Congregation in Jerusalem, asks for prayers that they will able to continue to pay the monthly rent, for their children’s program, and for transportation needs to shuttle members to services. 
  • House of Light’s Israeli Arab Prison ministry asks for prayers for more people to be called to working with inmates, for a half way home for former prisoners, for jobs and support for former prisoners, and for House of Light’s Christmas outreach to prisons.
 
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.