by Dr. Maxie Dunnam
President Emeritus of Asbury Seminary
Maxie is widely known as an evangelist, leader, and pioneer in small-group ministries, he organized and pastored three United Methodist churches before becoming the world editor of the Upper Room Fellowship. He created the Upper Room Cursillo that later became the Walk to Emmaus.
I first visited The Holy Land in 1968; I have not counted the times I have returned since then.
My visits have always been marked by joy and sadness. The obvious “holiness” of this land is the source of my joy. There is a mystery to it all; yet the Bible comes alive in unique and different ways on every visit.
My sadness holds no mystery. The diminishing Palestinian Christian population, particularly in Jerusalem breaks my heart. My first visit in 1968 was less than a year after the Six Day War. The Christians I met on that visit were primarily merchants in Jerusalem. The Christ bond was easy to establish; conversation came freely.
As the nation of Israel has become stronger, the Palestinian Christian population has diminished. Is there a connection between the two? The Christians will tell you yes. Too many Christians, outside that land, fail to accept the fact that an exclusive claim to the land of the Bible in the name of God is not in harmony with Scripture. Too many, too readily identify the modern secular state of Israel with Israel as the People of God, the People of the Covenant. The prophets of the Old Testament where clear about the new covenant that would include the Gentiles to whom Israel would be a light. Being that Light to the Gentiles, as Israel was called to be, certainly would preclude taking the land that had been theirs for hundreds of years.
On one of my last visits, in 2012, I preached on Sunday in the East Jerusalem Baptist Church. Alex Awad was the pastor. He and his brother, Bishara, then President of Bethlehem Bible College, have been my anchor Palestinian Christian friends through the years. For many years, Bishara served as President of Bethlehem Bible College. They have been my primary personification of the forgotten people of this land, the Palestinian Christians. Back in 1948, when they were children, their father was killed by the crossfire between Jordanian and Israeli armies. Because of war strife since, there is not even a gravestone to mark and commemorate their father’s existence.
But what marks his life is the witness of his sons, Alex and Bishara. Because of the strong Christian influence of their mother and father, they have become lights of love and reconciliation in this hate-filled land of the greatest Lover and Reconciler of all times. Along with others, they are seeking to be lights in the darkness. That’s what Christ At the Crossroads is seeking to foster…a fearless expression of Christ following in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On our first visit to the Holy Land in 1968, we purchased a painting that has been our home now for more than 50 years. It is a landscape looking across the Sea of Galilee to the Golan Heights. Israel seized this territory from Syria in the closing stages of the Six Day War. Syria sought to retake it during the1973 Middle East war, resulting in heavy loss of life. Both countries signed and armistice in 1974 and a UN observer force has been in place on the ceasefire line since. Israel unilaterally annexed the Golan Heights in 1981, but the move was not recognized internationally.
Our painting of the Golan Heights has been an ongoing reminder of the strife in the Holy Land. I don’t how many explicit Christians, if any, are in that territory. The dominant population has been adherents of the Druze faith, who self identify as unitarian “believers in one God.” Many Jewish settlements have been established there. I ask myself, does what government control it make it more or less “the holy land;” especially if the “control” is determined by ongoing war?
So, our Golan Heights painting is a call to prayer, especially for Palestinian Christians because I know they are at the spear point for reconciliation of Arab Muslims, Jews and Messianic Jews.Posted on CATCUSA on: August 4th, 2018