Since the days before email existed, Sondra Oster Baras, Director of Christian Friends of Israel Communities (CFOIC Heartland)’s Israel Office, has been advocating for the Biblical heartland communities of Yehuda (Judea) and the Shomron (Samaria).
While Sondra and her Jewish colleagues were raising their voices against the Oslo accords in the early 1990s, a philanthropic Christian Zionist family convinced the now-defunct Jewish organization for which Baras worked to help them educate Christians about life in Judea and Samaria.
“We prepared materials. They used the materials to give talks in churches. I would take them around when they visited Israel,” Baras explained about the early days.
When the Jewish organization that hosted this Christian partnership closed in the late 1990s, the Christian family supporters helped Baras establish CFOIC Heartland as an independent organization. “They provided funding for the first two years. I built the foundation and created the organization and started networking in the Christian Zionist world.”
By 2000, initial financial support had concluded. That turned out to be a blessing because, as Baras explained to Breaking Israel News, “I was free to find a broad base of funding.”
Twenty years later, CFOIC Heartland has raised millions of dollars for projects in communities all over Judea and Samaria. At any given time, they are promoting as many as 70 different humanitarian projects, such as building playgrounds, providing food and dental care for needy families, helping the elderly pay their heating bills, helping communities buy surveillance cameras and other security equipment, funding special education programs for severely handicapped children and much more.
According to Baras, 99.9% of CFOIC’s donors are Christians. Baras is the Jewish partner, based in Israel. Kim Troup is her US-based Christian counterpart. Part of what makes CFOIC distinctive, claimed Baras, is that, “Everything in Israel is Jewish. Everything outside of Israel is Christian. Messages coming from Israel are spoken by Jews. Many other organizations don’t have the same direct relationship between Christians and Jews the way we do.”
Funding projects in Judea and Samaria is only one of the ways CFOIC Heartland nurtures those relationships.
The second pillar of their work involves bringing Christian groups to Jewish communities and to historical and Biblical sites in the area. They can tailor a visit to Judea and Samaria for anywhere between 90 minutes and five days, depending on the needs of the group.
Baras wants to, “enable [Christian visitors] to understand, in the most authentic way, what the communities look like. We want them to listen to people who explain their motivation, which is rooted in faith and in the Bible, for living here.”
Visitors learn how security operates in the community, what a preschool looks like and how the residents share “a real commitment to ideology. The Bible becomes your history book, even if you’re a secular Jew. This is eye-opening for Christians. It offers them a whole other dimension to the Bible.”
The communities obviously benefit from Christian support for their local projects, but Baras explained, “It’s a mutual benefit. Their connection with Israel is very Biblical. They are seeking a better understanding of their Bible. Coming to Israel and coming to communities, meeting people whose daily life is motivated by Biblical considerations, is enormously inspirational.
“They better understand the relationship of Jews and the Land and they come to understand that we have a lot in common. As in any healthy relationship,” she emphasized, “both sides win.”
Visitors can tour communities in Judea and Samaria with CFOIC Heartland directly or on an upcoming Prophecy Tour with Israel365 and Yeshiva for the Nations, which includes CFOIC Heartland visits in their tours.
The third pillar of CFOIC’s work, beyond fundraising and tourism, is education. “These are three goals that are interrelated. We are really doing all three things at the same time,” Baras commented.
She frequently shares with Christian groups what she calls her Judea and Samaria 101 talk. “The whole Bible teaching started out as a natural basis for teaching about Judea and Samaria. My Judea and Samaria 101 talk is 80% Bible.
“The Jewish people didn’t wake up one day saying ‘Jews are connected to the Land of Israel’. The whole story, the history and the destiny of the Jewish people, is geared toward the idea that we were there and we are coming back.”
Her Bible teachings were so popular that her Christian students encouraged her to prepare a teaching on the weekly Torah portion.
As technology developed, Baras filmed a 30-minute Torah teaching in her home on Fridays, in-between cooking, doing laundry and getting ready for Shabbat. Eventually, she filmed an annual cycle of teachings on the Torah portion for Christian audiences in cooperation with a Texas-based television station.
“Now when I go speak to a new group, I always end up with the Bible-based message about why we belong in Judea and Samaria. The core is always the Biblical teaching. When I return to an audience, I’ll do a quick update and then a hard core Biblical teaching.
“I always keep the message oriented around Israel, because that’s the most important thing we’re dealing with today. And it’s what binds Jews and Christians.”
Baras and her team are very clear about asking Christians to “restrain from evangelizing activity in regard to Jews. They want to be part of building Israel in fulfillment of prophecy. They understand that to be part of that, they cannot come with an agenda and offend the Jews. No Christian has to change their theology. Some are willing to set their evangelizing agenda on hold. That’s a huge step for a Christian.
“The Christians who love what we’re doing become spiritually enriched by encountering Jews who are living out our beliefs. We’re living in a time where Jews in Israel live out Biblical prophecy. We believe that developing the Land of Israel and fulfilling the destiny of the Jewish people is the beginning of the redemption.
“We are an inspiration for them, especially because we’re rooted in the same Bible as they are,” Baras concluded.