Israel – The Only Mideast Country Where Christianity Is Growing

Last month I interviewed author Lela Gilbert about her new novel The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight, which tells the story of a team of commandoes working to help persecuted Christians. I also reviewed the book, and said:

“The persecution of Christians around the globe, and particularly in the Muslim world, is an escalating terror. Yet too many Western Christians seem uninformed or, at best, aware but unwilling to do much.

“We need more educational resources, in all forms of media, that vividly portray the new reality. That is why novels like “The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight” serve such an important role. This is a novel that the church needs to read.”

Lela lives in Israel, so I was able to ask her a few questions about a topic that interests me, the state of Christianity in that country.

Is Christianity growing in Israel? If so, why?

Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community is increasing – and is able to increase. This is not the case in the West Bank, however, because, under the authority of the Palestinian Authority, abuse of Christians by Muslims is usually overlooked or even exacerbated when reported. I wrote about this in my book “Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner.”

Is it easy to be a Christian in Israel?

Israel is a Jewish State and Judaism is much more a part of the daily life of many of the people here than Christianity is in a so-called Christian nation like the US or other Western countries. Judaism and “being Jewish” are the primary identity of Israelis, and tradition as well as faith permeates much of daily life. I have mostly Jewish friends and have been accepted with affection by nearly every one. I let them know I’m a Christian and that I’m a real believer, but I don’t engage in “God-talk” unless the subject arises naturally or I’m asked about my beliefs, etc. I do feel I have far more in common with Jews than with today’s Western nouveau-atheists who are so antagonistic toward all religious faith.

Might Israel become a sanctuary for Mideast Christians who are trying to escape Islamist persecution? Is this happening already?

A few years ago, Israel took in some 600 Darfurian Muslims who fled Sudan; they also took in a number of Vietnamese boat people in the 1970s. I am less inclined to think they will take in large numbers of Middle Eastern Christians seeking asylum. The population here is very sensitive to infiltrators, and a large number of refugees who are not Jewish and speak Arabic would likely stir up a huge amount of controversy. And, truthfully, many of the Middle Eastern countries who have refugees are exceptionally anti-semitic and anti-Jewish. They would, most likely, reject the idea of coming to Israel – even as a safe haven.

I believe increasing numbers of Christians are enlisting in the Israel Defense Forces. Do you know why this is happening?

Numerous Evangelical Christians – at least in the US – are very attached to Israel and the miraculous regathering of the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. They are also sensitive to the times, and many believe we have entered the “end times” or the biblical “last days.” Seeing the encroachment of so many vicious enemies has caused some Christians to review the biblical prophetic passages, to cast their lot with the Jews, and to fight alongside them. This is especially true of young men (and some women) from Jewish families who have become believers in Jesus as Messiah.

I have read about a new Israeli Christian political party, Bnei Brit HaHadasha (called, in English, Sons of the New Testament). Do you know anything about this?

Yes, there is a movement in the Nazareth area, led by a visionary Greek Orthodox priest named Father Gabriel Naddaf, that seeks to inspire young Arabic-speaking Christians to enlist in the Israel Defense Forces and to fight for the one country in the Middle East in which they can be full citizens – Christians who have full rights in a democracy. Most of these people are from ancient Christian churches that never converted to Islam and still speak Aramaic in their church liturgies. Rather than calling themselves “Arab Israelis” they identify as “Arabic-speaking Christian Israelis.” And yes, a political party has also been established.  I wrote about this phenomenon last year for Fox News.

Lela, thank you very much.

“The Levine Affair: Angel’s Flight” is available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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