Recently, I caught word that an exciting new educational initiative in Israel between the Messianic community and Arab Christians was underway involving up to 3,000 students from K-12 schools through college and seminary. Botrus Mansour, head of the Nazareth Baptist School, filled me in about the details. He told me by email:
On Monday, Feb. 23, 45 Arab and Jewish representatives from all the Messianic and Evangelical educational organizations in Israel met at the Israel College of the Bible (ICB) in Jerusalem and unanimously approved setting up the Israel Education Forum (IEF). (Right photo, left to right, educators Bryson Arthur (Nazareth Seminary), Erez Soref (ICB), Yohanna Katanacho (Galilee Bible, Bethlehem Bible colleges) at the kickoff event.)
IEF would provide a framework for prayer, sharing and mutual encouragement, and through which organizations could be supported in all areas in their work, and through which strategic development of education and discipleship can be undertaken. The initiative had begun with a common vision developed by four friends engaged in education and discipleship ministries:
* Botrus Mansour ,the General Director of the Nazareth Baptist School.
* David Zadok, chair of a committee developing Messianic school and Director of the HaGefen Publishers.
* Erez Soref, President of the Israel College of the Bible.
* John Sode-Woodhead who founded the Fellowship of Christian Students in Israel and was the Assistant Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and has held management positions in the University of Edinburgh.
During an email interview, I asked Botrus:
What is the biggest challenge that evangelical Arab Christians and Messianic believers face in educating the next generation?
Mansour: Globalization in general leads to openness and that will lead to unprecedented exposure of the Christian message worldwide.That is true in Israel too but this message will be faced with layers and layers of stereotypes and a long history of prejudice.The Israel educational forum will have to deal with these layers in a fresh and creative way in order to make the message of Jesus known and accepted in the same spot where He lived.
According to a press statement that I received:
This February gathering brought together a diverse set of organizations covering schools, higher education institutes, and discipleship ministries. These Messianic and Arab evangelical organizations met with the objective of working together. What links these Israeli registered organizations is a commitment to seeing people's lives being transformed through a faith-based education. All these organizations are united in their faith in Jesus as Messiah and in the trustworthiness of the Old and New Testaments as God's word. The gathering was acutely aware of the many divisive forces but committed to serve one another while celebrating their diversity and each individual's personal identity.
A number of the organizations that were represented in the founding gathering have long roots in the country stretching back into the 19th century. Tabeetha School in Jaffa, for example, was established as early as early as 1863. Others are well known for the quality of their education. The Nazareth Baptist School is known to be a school of quality teaching children from diverse backgrounds. Today, the school is recognized by the Ministry of Education as one of the top schools in the land with 1,000 pupils primarily Arab Christians and Muslims. Several of the siscipleship organizations are associated with well known international ministries such as the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students or Campus Crusade for Christ.
Many of the organizations have developed in the past decade or two reflecting the growth in the Messianic and Arab evangelical society in Israel. There are several recently established schools and Bible colleges including Makor ha-Tikva school, the Galilee Bible College and the Israel College of the Bible. Among the discipleship organizations are very local initiatives such as Lech L'cha that seek through a mini-Bible school to teach young adults about their faith in a three month program through which they get to know the Bible while walking through the land.
The IEF includes schools, higher education institutes and discipleship ministries and it will assist in seeking registration with the authorities, funding for upgrading facilities, developing a Messianic/evangelical curriculum, management issues and others.
The Forum aims to see the Messianic and Arab evangelical community fully serviced with faith based educational organizations that will have significant impact on the society in Israel. IEF aims also to provide a service to the believing world community, particularly through opportunities of getting to know the Bible through the land where our Lord lived.
Among the institutions involved are these top 8 schools:
1. Nazareth Baptist School.
2. Anglican International
4. Mekor Hatikva.
6. Kerem El
7. Tekvat Israel
8. Be'er Sheva/Arad.
Here's the rest of my email interview with Botrus Mansour:
From your point of view, how important will this new ministry be for the future of biblical education for believers in Israel?
This forum will set a platform for efficient ministry through cooperation.This cooperation is essential especially when the believing community in Israel is a tiny minority that has been entrusted with an eternal message and a huge mission. It is important to provide the best education for the members of the believing community in Israel in order to maintain the the faith of the new generation of believers as well as equip them for the best professionalism which is essential for a vibrant community.
Will this organization be influential in building a more peaceful Middle East?
The model of believing Arabs, Jews and ex-patriots coming together under the banner of love of Jesus as reflected in the IEF will set an example for the peoples of this land. If with the grace of God, we succeed to promote Christ centered education in Israel then the message of forgiveness and grace (that is so vital for this land of conflict and struggle) will prevail.
What can American evangelicals do to support you all in this effort?
A kingdom perspective means that Evangelicals in America partner with these organizations for the betterment of the service and education provided. This means supporting in advocacy for licensing and accreditation for some of these educational institutes, providing programs,curriculums,training and appropriate facilities.