CM2000 28 December, 2000
Plenary: Celebrating God at Work in the Biblical Heart of the 10/40 Window

What God is Doing Among the Arab / Palestinian

Salim J. Munayer

Salim J. Munayer was born in Lod, Israel, to an Arab Christian family from a Greek Orthodox background. His Christian family can trace their roots to the land for many generations. Salim grew up in a mixed Arab and Jewish environment, attending mixed schools, and finished a Bachelor's degree at Tel Aviv University. He went on to receive a Master's in Missiology from Fuller Theological Seminary and a PhD from University of Wales, completing his dissertation on the ethnic identity of Palestinian Arab Christian adolescents in Israel. In 1977, Salim committed himself to the Lord and since has been involved in the Messianic Jewish movement and Palestinian Arab churches. He serves as Academic Dean at the Bethlehem Bible College, lecturer at the Israel College of the Bible, and Director of Musalaha, a ministry of reconciliation. He is married to Kay, and they have four boys.

As can be seen from Salim's multi-cultural background, he is very much connected to the heritage of Christianity in the Holy Land, and its accomplishments and struggles through the last century.

As an Arab, Salim has great concern to see Muslim people come to the Lord, through teaching, writing and presenting the Gospel to Muslims. He worked with Phil Goble in writing New Creation Book for Muslims, a book published in Arabic, English and Urdu for the purpose of reaching out to Muslims. Part of this ministry includes training Westerners about Islam, Arab culture, and how to present the Gospel to Muslims.

In the struggle to see the Church grow and remain a viable institution in the Middle East, the Bethlehem Bible College is helping to raise up Christian leaders. The Bethlehem Bible College offers education, academic work, leadership training, and publishing books on Christianity and religion. Salim is helping to write a Christian curriculum in Arabic for Palestinian high schools on faith, practice, doctrine, the Bible and comparative religions. This is the first of its kind in Arabic, and will be used by local schools in religious education. It is essential for Christians to acknowledge and understand the sensitive and difficult situation of the Palestinian Church. The Church finds itself in a complicated context, not only after centuries of domination by Islam but also with the new era and challenges of modernity, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the rise of extreme religious movements.

One of the major challenges for Christians is how to respond to ethnic conflict, nationalist movements and political strife. As a result of being involved in both Arab and Jewish communities, and understanding the tension between them, Musalaha, a ministry of reconciliation, was founded in 1990 by Salim. During that time of enmity and hatred, Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews came together, and continue to do so, to say that God is our peace and heed the call for reconciliation. The motivation for reconciliation has its foundation in the Bible and also in the realities of our lives in the Middle East. It is like two families living in one house, that must learn to live together. It is essential that believers take part in this process, in the hearts of people on spiritual, emotional, personal and interpersonal levels.

The Bible teaches us that the love of God that brought Jesus to the world is the driving force behind our love for one another. I John 4:7-10. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

For we believe that God whose highest attribute is love, proved his love and gave us power to show it. His compelling love for a lost world should motivate us to love one another. In verse 20-21 ("If anyone says, `I love God,' yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.") there is a test of our spirituality, saying that our relationship to God materializes in our love for each other. The love of God, that flows freely towards the rebellious, sinful word, expresses itself in how we follow Jesus commands to love our enemies.

Therefore reconciliation has become a central issue within the body of Christ here in the land, and believers are being compelled to deal with it on many different levels. Christ's death and resurrection are the foundation of reconciliation, and that forgiveness and healing can only come through following His example and obeying His word. Musalaha hopes to emulate and teach Christ's model of forgiveness, mercy, and love, breaking down the walls of enmity that so easily embitter and ensnare.

The challenge lies in the practical application of such Biblical teaching and truths. Palestinian and Jewish believers who share a common faith and desire to honor the Word of God, often continue to be separated by cultural misperceptions, language barriers, and resentfulness. The years of conflict between nations have allowed a process of dehumanization and demonization of the "other." How can people groups, whose images and opinions and attitudes are so defined by a history of conflict, be reconciled?

First, they must meet one another; and in an area with such complex realities, it is difficult to find common ground that is an appropriate forum for teaching and advancing in the process of reconciliation. There are very few locations that are neutral and easily accessible. In order to solve this problem, Musalaha developed the Desert Encounter, where different groups of Palestinian and Jewish youth, young adults, and leaders go on a desert journey. Groups in the past have shared camel treks, jeep tours, and hiking trips through the deserts of the Sinai, Negev, and Jordan. They have found the desert to be a uniquely neutral atmosphere, where the challenges of survival and cooperation provide an excellent occasion for relationships and open communication. Each trip has been a unique experience of cultural and spiritual discovery.

The Desert Encounter was the first fulfillment of Musalaha's vision to implement the teachings of Jesus in a practical manner. In the ten years that have followed, projects have been expanded to include conferences, publishing, cultural teaching, and leadership training. We have several programs specifically for youth, university students and women, and also attempt to reach out to our communities with the message of reconciliation through social service projects in both Israeli and Palestinian areas.

Theological questions can be divisive issues that have much bearing on cultural understanding. Because of the importance of these issues to both people groups, the Theology of the Land is one area that Musalaha has emphasized, arranging conferences and seminars on Biblical topics. Three books have been published containing articles on the nature of peace, reconciliation, and theology of the Land.

While there is a vast range of political and theological perspectives among believers, together we are the community of God. Eph.2: 19-22 So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Together, as a body of believers, our lives are a testimony of the peace and love that comes from the Father. As Jesus says in John 17:21 "that they may be one in us, that the world will believe that you sent me." The love of God inspires the body of believers to reach out to the world. In reconciliation and unity we have proof of the love of God. Our love for each other can be the most powerful testimony we have to the people of the Middle East. Thus, reconciliation becomes a proclamation to our community, that as Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews, God created us to be a new people of God, born in a new covenant.

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