Built on a foundation of repentance over Germany’s involvement in the Holocaust, a small group of evangelical sisters have been living and serving in Jerusalem since 1957. Their primary mission is to support Holocaust survivors and needy Jews in the Land of Israel.
They also want to help Christians recognize and understand God’s promises to Israel.
Breaking Israel News spoke with Canadian-raised Sister Charis about the work of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. Sister Charis has been in Israel since 2015 and is the current director of Beth Avraham (House of Abraham) in the Ein Kerem section of Jerusalem.
Sister Charis elaborated on their mission to help Christians dissociate from the doctrine of replacement theology. “From the very beginning, antisemitism was there, through the churches. Many Christians don’t understand this is what they have taken in – biases and prejudices – really damaging false teaching that we have replaced Israel and we have not! We try to counter this really damaging teaching, the false replacement theology.
“Our founders had always stood with Israel, even in the 1940s.” She explained that the sisterhood’s co-founder, Mother Basilea Schlink, traveled around Germany during the Nazi era, speaking about God’s promises to Israel.
Israel has always been a central part of the sisterhood. “Our founder did a lot of research and wrote a play showing who Israel was and the guilt of the German people. She was called into the Gestapo,” Sister Charis told Breaking Israel News, but miraculously was not arrested.
Schlink wrote ISRAEL, My Chosen People – A German Confession before God and the Jews. The description of this small book, available on sisterhood’s US website, reads, “The heart cry of one who realizes that to hurt the apple of God’s eye is to hurt God Himself. Identifying herself with the guilt of her nation in the Third Reich, Mother Basilea Schlink stresses the need of a nation-wide repentance, beginning with the Christians.”
For thus said the lord of Hosts—He who sent me after glory—concerning the nations that have taken you as spoil: “Whoever touches you touches the pupil of his own eye. Zechariah 2:12
Sister Charis noted, “It’s amazing what happened because our two founders really humbled themselves about the guilt. They were young teenagers during the war. They both did a lot of humbling and doing reparation for what happened during the war.”
Sister Charis’ own background parallels that of the sisterhood’s founders. “I grew up in an area where there were just three gentiles. All my friends were Jews. I loved the Jewish friends. My parents were not biased in any way. I came from a secular background and entered the sisterhood in 1972.
“In 1995, I was given the book None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe 1933-1948. I read about when the [ship called the] St Louis was looking for a place to bring Holocaust refugees. I had no idea how Canada had stood. It’s not taught in our schools. It devastated me. I was shocked to hear things about my own country. Jews knew this history, but it was Christians who didn’t know.
“It’s been in my heart a long time to bring to Christians the reality of who the Jews are and to understand Israel and the Jewish people in a different way. It’s what I try to whenever I’m given an opportunity. By helping them to see the promises of God to Israel, we can try to counter antisemitism where we see it. We have to do this as Christians!”
Although they are in regular contact with Jewsish people, proselytizing is nowhere on the sisterhood’s agenda. “Definitely not! We do not do evangelizing. It’s in our statutes. We would not ever try to convert a Jew,” assured Sister Charis.
The Sisters of Mary are an evangelical, not Catholic, sisterhood – something Sister Charis explained is common in Germany. They are similar to Catholic nuns in some important respects.
Although someone can leave the sisterhood of her own volition, in general, their service is a lifelong calling. Sister Charis referred to it as an “inner sense from God that this is how He would like us to serve him and live our lives. It has to do with this real, deep love for God.”
Like Catholic nuns, Sisters of Mary do not marry. “We give our lives in this way to God so we are free to serve wherever the need is,” she explained.
Their appearance is also similar to Catholic nuns. “We wear the long dresses and a hat to cover our heads. We personally do this to make it obvious who we are. People will ask who we are and why we’re here. This gives us an opportunity to let them know why we’re here and how we support survivors and the needy in any way we can. We’re here for the Jewish people.”
Consistent with their mission, the sisters are officially friends of the Nations 9th of Av project, which aims to create a special day for Christians to educate themselves about, and repent for, two millennia of antisemetic atrocities committed against Jews by Christians.
The sisters are also decidedly supportive of the young German Christians who recently brought a replica of the golden menorah to Israel.
The original Beth Avraham was a kosher guest house, located in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem. It offered Holocaust survivors an opportunity to vacation in Jerusalem for eight days. The sisters who staffed it spoke Hebrew and cared for the survivors as part of their mission to serve.
As the survivor population aged, so did the original group of sisters. The first Beth Avraham house was also in need of substantial renovation, so the Sisters of Mary sold it in 2014 and downsized to the current property in Ein Kerem.
The Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary operates in eleven locations worldwide. Their headquarters are in Darmstadt, Germany, where the majority of the approximately 200 Sisters of Mary are based. Four permanent sisters belong to the Jerusalem team. On occasion, sisters from other branches come to Jerusalem for a few weeks at a time, in order to meet and interact with the Jewish people.