Living and working in Israel with my wife for the last six months has been one of the greatest privileges of our lives – and we still have three more months to enjoy!
As I work with the Bible Society in Israel, Arab Israeli Bible Society and Palestinian Bible Society, I’ve been to Israel a number of times but working here for an extended period of time has been a wonderful opportunity.
We live in the heart of Jerusalem on Jaffa Street, which is bustling with people shopping or enjoying the many coffee shops and restaurants. It borders Orthodox Jewish areas and is only fifteen minutes’ walk from the Old City. One of my favourite times of the week is Friday evening when Shabbat starts. The light train and buses stop running. All the shops are closed and a peaceful quiet descends on the neighbourhood, marking a distinct change to everyday life.
The UK is a very secular society now, but here there are signs of faith all around you which go far beyond the religious sites. Orthodox Jews read the Torah and prayer books as they walk along the street or sitting on the train. Recently Israelis enjoyed celebrating Purim. This commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people when they faced genocide, as recorded in the book of Esther.
Reading through the gospels whilst living here brings an additional reality, knowing that Jesus ministered just a short walk away. We’ve also been able to visit Capernaum, Chorazim, the Mount of Beatitudes and Sea of Galilee. And the Old Testament, too, takes on added meaning where many places are no longer just names on a page but places we’ve visited.
It has also been great to be part of a local international congregation made up of Messianic Jews and believers from many different nations. Shirley and I are on the Welcome Team so we have the great privilege of welcoming people, both those living here and many Christian tour groups from all over the world.
Jesus refers to Jerusalem as ’the city of the Great King’ (Matthew 5:35). It certainly is a unique city. The Psalmist encourages us to pray for the peace – the shalom – of Jerusalem (Psalm 122). The Hebrew word Shalom carries a far deeper meaning than the English word ‘peace’. It includes wholeness, harmony, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquillity. The entry in Wikipedia for Shalom is very interesting: “it can refer to either peace between two entities (especially between man and God or between two countries), or to the well-being, welfare or safety of an individual or a group of individuals.”
What greater need is there for people living in Jerusalem, the rest of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and indeed our own communities – firstly for individuals to be at peace, and in right relationship, with God and then for this be worked out in our relationships with our neighbours.
Each of the three Bible Societies working here focuses on connecting their communities with the message of the Bible. This is a small, disputed, complicated part of the world, yet also a wonderful mix of people, history, religions and cultures. This will be a time we will always treasure.
Which just leaves me to conclude with this wonderfully poetic and profound comment from Job. There is so much more to discover about God and faith…
And these are but the outer fringe of his works;
how faint the whisper we hear of him!
Who then can understand the thunder of his power?
Job 26:14 (NIV)