אֲנִי יְהֹוָה קְרָאתִיךָ בְצֶדֶק וְאַחְזֵק בְּיָדֶךָ וְאֶצָּרְךָ וְאֶתֶּנְךָ לִבְרִית עָם לְאוֹר גּוֹיִם׃
“I’ve called you in righteousness. I’ll take hold of your hand. I’ll preserve you and appoint you as a covenant to the people, as a light for the nations…” Isaiah 42:6
Christian Media Summit
It was at the end of an amazing October 14-17, 2018 Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem, in which our gracious host, Nitzan Chen of the Government Press Office, began to invite critiques on the conference from the 140 journalists and other various Christian media personnel present from over 30 nations. The Israeli government has, in the past, sponsored conferences for journalists representing Jewish media outlets abroad, but only since 2017 have they began to target the much larger Christian media.
We were honoured when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the Summit by welcoming Christian Media as valuable partners, both now and in Israel’s future. He highlighted the role the US Evangelical movement had contributed to President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem and the move of the US Embassy to Israel’s capital and eternal city. Messages of honor were given over a dinner hosted by Jerusalem’s then-Mayor Nir Barkat, and continued non-stop as the newsmakers of Israeli politics and media gave of their time to help Christians gain a greater frame of reference in how to communicate Israel, especially in this age of growing anti-Semitism. Other brilliant Israelis, who have pioneered and advanced Israel’s contribution to the world in every sector of society, presented ‘good news’ worthy of communication to Christian audiences.
What a fitting ending when, exhorted by our host Nitzan, we sang “Amazing Grace” at the residence of Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin. Beyond being president of the only democratic nation in the Middle East, he closed our significant time together as a loving grandfather by expressing a deep appreciation for Christians from many nations who are a blessing to Israel as, together, we celebrate 70 years of Israel’s independence.
What could I offer as a critique to such a powerful time of enlightenment in which I sensed things are changing in a positive way as it relates to closer Christian/Jewish relations? Israelis, at the Government level, are taking huge steps to work together for Israel with Christians from around the world. They are, in fact, fulfilling the ancient words of the Prophet Isaiah – they are being a light for the nations. Baruch HaShem!
I thought back to my first visit to Israel on a Familiarization Tour for Christian leaders in January 1995. It was a life-changing experience in which I was shown Israel through the lens of what an Israeli tour operator thought was the way Christians would appreciate. Thus, I never saw so many church buildings, ancient and newer on a tour that majored on the ministry of Jesus and church history in the Holy Land. Likewise, Yaffa Datner, our dear Sunworld Tour operator, had also requested a critique from all her pilgrim travellers at our farewell dinner. Then, as just recently at the Christian Media Summit, I was overwhelmed at what God was doing in my lifetime. I felt privileged to be alive to witness what I had seen, but was left wanting more for others.
My critique in 1995 to Yaffa was forthright. As Christians we need to see and experience more than Israel’s ancient stones and walking where Jesus walked 2,000 years ago. We yearn to hear from the living stones, the Jewish people who pioneer the land and to witness firsthand what God is doing in Israel in our day. We long to see the evidence with our own eyes that what God spoke through His prophets is coming to pass in our lifetime.
Back in 1995, Israel was struggling to counter suicide bombers while settling thousands of Russian Olim (new immigrants) making their Aliyah at the same time. Yes, Christian history was meaningful, but there was a real need for Christians to connect with the diverse people of Israel living in the land today, to understand Israel’s modern history, and why Jewish people from the nations have made their Aliyah and returned to pioneer as they have – all according to Biblical prophecy. We needed to place a face on Israel that would be stronger than the International news media’s often biased reporting. As Christians, we also needed to create a bond with the land just as many Jewish people from many nations have. We needed to learn our part, those that are non-Jewish, as written by the ancient prophets. I suggested to Yaffa, “Become a greater light for us from the nations by helping Christians to experience the Scriptures that are all coming to light in our lifetime so we can also learn and do our part in the return and restoration of God’s people to the land of Israel.”
That critique engaged me, and still has for many years, with loyalty to that same tour operator and now her Israeli daughter, in not only bringing more than 60 tours to Israel over the years, but in helping them transform how they communicate Israel to other Christian leaders and groups. We determined that we needed each other to evaluate how Israel can bring the light in the most effective ways to the nations. Yes, it was time for me back then, and for many more from the nations, to work together for Israel, thus sanctifying God’s Holy Name.
With gratefulness to God and to the committed organizers of this unique October 2018 Christian Media Summit, what could I offer by way of a critique to what has truly been a once-in-a-lifetime conference for myself and others? The Government of Israel has certainly come to know that Israel needs the nations to communicate Israel properly and have invested great time and expense to begin to do so. In fact, so much so that in recent years, the Government Press Office (GPO) determined that better-informed Christian media could effectively counter the multitude of lies being disseminated through various media outlets. However, could there be other effective witnesses besides the prominent Israelis we were introduced to? Who else did the Christian Media need to hear from? Whose witness was missing that could also achieve the GPO’s goals and objectives?
Suddenly my hand went up and I nervously awaited my turn to respond to Nitzan’s question. Amazingly, this critique would be somewhat similar to my words years earlier. It cannot be overstated enough. Christians need to hear from Israelis who can effectively communicate why they were living in Israel! A people who could do more than explain what the historic borders of Israel were in 1948 and 1967 while justifying Israel’s existence. We need to hear from a people who can confidently open up the Hebrew Bible and say, “This covenant of land made with Jews by the God of Israel justifies our existence.” Israeli witnesses that could give evidence to the words of the prophets spoken ages ago coming to pass in the times we currently live in.
Somewhat awkwardly, I merely asked that if in future Christian Media Summits, consideration be given to hear from people who could explain their Aliyah to Israel, their return to Zion as it relates to the Bible. I shared that as Christians, we long to hear from Israelis who could boldly explain and justify Israel’s present existence and government policies in a biblical language that could be quoted, written, recorded, filmed, and even blogged. A people whose roadmap was the Tanach and whose witness was their own lives and purpose in being “a light for the nations.”
To my shock that overcame all nervousness, Nitzan asked if I could come to his next media summit! He immediately motioned to his staff that I was to come back in a month’s time to participate in the Jewish Media Summit. Wow, such an amazing honour to now be invited as a Christian to yet another Jerusalem Media Summit, but this one structured for Jews, not Christians.
Jewish Media Summit
“Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the LORD! Look to the rock from which you were cut, to the quarry from which you were hewn. . . “Pay attention to me, my people! Listen to me, my nation! For instruction will go out from me, and my justice will become a light for the nations…” Isaiah 51:1-4
Isaiah would have been pleased that this summit began in a quarry – Zedekiah’s cave, just inside the Damascus Gate in the Old City. We descended in darkness into a passageway lit by hundreds of candles till we came into the main cavern, the remains of a quarry, the stones from which built much of Jerusalem in Second Temple times. What an awesome setting to talk about foundational truths.
In the time between the two media summits, the international media was filled with the news of yet another horrific act of anti-Semitism with the Pittsburgh massacre in which 11 Jewish people were slaughtered while in worship. Appropriately we began the next morning by remembering the 30th day of traditional mourning by standing in the shape of a Magen David with the number 11 in the middle, with the walls of Jerusalem in the background.
I was thrilled as a Christian to unite with my Jewish family at this Jewish Media Summit. The Ministry of Diaspora Affairs hosted the first full day, and as promised to me by Nitzan at the Christian Media Summit a month earlier, we did in fact hear and gain a great witness from a number of new Olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel). These young and older Olim told of their excitement in making their aliyah and shared stories of their contribution to Israel which was bringing “a light for the nations.” I was blessed, and thought, if only the Christian Media Summit could have had this day too.
However, we were to witness that Diaspora/Israeli relations have fallen upon tense times. Israel’s Government Press Office’s intention in hosting such an event sought to bring reconnection between the two Jewish groups and to re-establish stronger relations. I witnessed interactions that were fiery at times of the family trying to understand one another, Jews in the Diaspora with Jews living in Israel. There was no hiding that they all had expectations of the other. It seemed to me at times that many of the Diaspora Jews felt Israel needed the Diaspora more than the Diaspora needed Israel! It was apparent that many in Israel, especially those citing statistics of anti-Semitism rising in the nations, felt Diaspora Jews now needed Israel more than ever.
Speaking with heart-felt boldness, some Israelis expressed the concern they were feeling, that Diaspora Jews could be losing ground to a liberalism and even a globalization that is gaining ground in their respective nations. It was obvious that there was a need to heal some wounds and the rift growing between Israel and their remaining family living in the Diaspora. Or was the rift being misunderstood as a new shift of – who needs who more? I believe I was witnessing a defining paradigm shift that may have seemed uncomfortable for those from the Diaspora in the beginning. They love Israel but were concerned what light they seemed to be illuminating to the nations. Often, the various Israeli speakers sensed a need to explain and justify the current news while trying to help Jewish journalists from the nations frame the picture properly.
There was a fresh boldness coming forth from Israel before their own Jewish family, that the nations now, in light of Israel’s 70 years of independence, need Israel. Some were even so bold as to invite Diaspora Jews to move home, make aliyah. Yet, Israel pleaded with their family of journalists from the nations not to be misled by fake news, but rather, to be effective ambassadors of the truth about Israel amongst their own in the nations. In response, some, while trying to be polite, were unconvinced, and argued that as Jews in the Diaspora, they needed to be treated as journalists and not ambassadors for Israel.
The GPO organizers seemed to know their own people and what they were dealing with and had pre-planned strategically to close the gap with a very clever itinerary that helped the Diaspora participants take greater ownership of the Israel that is also theirs. I was privileged to watch the greater Jewish family work together over the next few days, bringing a communication that was healing and drawing the family living abroad to close the gap they all knew existed. In a sense, I came to the kitchen and watched the dinner being prepared by the chosen family, from near and far, to ultimately be served on a banqueting table for so many more in the nations to taste and see.
We were blessed that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was able to join us on the last day at the Knesset. He did what he doesn’t often do before any media – gave an opportunity to ask questions, this time from a media that, in a few days, seemed more convinced they were part of a greater family with purpose that goes beyond what words could ever communicate. I was honoured to witness such profound and true love and respect.
I will reflect a long time on the experience of these two profound media summits, different but yet very similar in objective – to help both Jewish and Christian media representatives in Israel in their communications to the nations, to be a greater light of what is truth and what is really happening. It was fitting that President Rivlin said, “You, too, are people of words and pictures. Today, you work on different platforms: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, but the task is still the same: to tell stories, to help us understand, to bring light and truth.”
Could we pray together that the day will soon come when the Israeli Government Press Office will initiate a Jewish/Christian Media Summit, too? I’m challenged to be the family recorded in the Bible that defines a unity of ‘Israel with the nations’ in a peace that will ultimately make us all ONE and bring God’s light and blessing to all.
The establishment of the State of Israel and its role on the international stage calls for a transformation of the “light unto the nations” metaphor from a passive, individual candle, to a powerful blaze, firing up the nations and igniting the world with righteousness. (The Israel Bible)