We hope you are both doing well. We are in Amman, Jordan now – actually we have been here four days, and I’m sorry to be so late in writing to you. I can’t begin to tell in a few words all that we have seen and experienced, but will try to give a partial summary. Please say hello to the class for us, and forward this email to the list.
Our first stop was Ariel, Israel which is the largest Jewish settlement in Samaria. We stayed a few days with David and Leah Ortiz, who are Messianic Jewish believers from the U.S. They have lived more than 20 years in Ariel, sharing the Gospel with Jews and Palestinians. Jews who convert to Christianity are of course rejected by their family and friends, and for Muslim converts it’s worse. We have known several who spent time in Palestinian jails and were tortured. (The Israeli army controls this zone and protects Israelis, but Palestinians are under the authority of PA courts and police.)
This situation makes for a small but very close congregation, very dedicated to Yeshua, as they call Jesus. The youngest Ortiz son, Ami, was very severely injured when their apartment was bombed in 2008. Bill visited him in the hospital a few days after he was hurt, and he was amazed at how much Ami has improved, not only physically. Ami is in good spirits and seems strong in his faith. He still has some more surgeries to go, and especially needs prayer for his hearing. He is supposed to have surgery on his eardrums later this summer. Many of the religious Jews, who have been pretty hostile, were shocked by the bombing and have called to wish Ami well and are now quite a bit friendlier.
We stayed in a two story apartment that adjoins the Ortiz’s and it is basically the church. Bible studies and youth groups are held in the living room, and the upstairs is one large room which is used for services. We attended the Sunday service led by David and Leah, and Bill spoke to the congregation also. One part of the service was to talk by speaker phone to a young Palestinian man who was facing a hearing and almost certainly a long prison sentence for converting. He has a large and wealthy family who could buy his way out of it, but they refused, telling him he should just lie about his faith. He said he couldn’t deny Jesus. Then the PA said no bribe would work in his case anyway. His name is Sabed, and he really needs our prayers.
With help from Religious Freedom Coalition supporters we have sent contributions to the Ortiz ministry for several years, and will continue to as we are able. David and Leah devote their whole lives to reaching out to others with the Gospel, and teaching new believers, even risking their lives to do so. Also, they are fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic, in addition to English. I don’t think many other people could or would do this work.
The next day we visited our old friend Solomon Nour, the Palestinian Christian headmaster of Hope School for boys, just outside Bethlehem. David went with us, because he seems to know and work with just about all the born again believers in the area, no matter what denomination. Hope School has been a real blessing to the community for many years. A few years ago the school found itself, along with Bethlehem, no longer a part of Israel, but under the Palestinian Authority. On this trip, we found the school to have a little bit better facilities, thanks to a Christian organization in England, and some other donations. Solomon, his daughter, and several of the teachers who have been there for many years, seem determined to keep their school curriculum truly Christian, but the PA is always interfering with their textbooks, taxing them, etc. It’s hard to see how they can continue for very long under the present situation, but they are just trying to persevere, one day at a time, and seem to have a peace about it. We have also given contributions to this school for years and will continue to do so, but what they really need is freedom to teach. One way we might possibly help is with finding Arabic speaking Christian teachers, especially in science and math, and also Arabic speaking volunteers. We are trying to think of any contacts we might have who could put the word out. This may seem an unlikely search, but it is surprising how often the Lord does put people in our path for a purpose –I know you’ve often experienced that too. For instance, just a few days before the visit to Hope School, we were up on Mt. Gerizhim, visiting the small, ancient village where the last surviving Samaritans live. The only other visitors there turned out to be a team of college athletes and sponsors from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, along with a local pastor. They were holding basketball camps in the area and seeking to share their faith with any youth who were interested. Bill got Solomon in touch with them, and hopefully they will be an inspiration to the boys at Hope School.
After we left the school, we visited in the home of a Palestinian Christian couple, Noal and Jerias, who live nearby. They are about our age and they live in a nice home where they have raised all their children, but the neighborhood has changed a lot. Since the PA took over, they had to surrender their Israeli passport and were given a Palestinian passport – which is only accepted in 2 or 3 countries in the world. Even the Muslim countries don’t want the Palestinians coming in (unless they have a lot of money). So, the Christians are trapped. Just outside the door there was singing and wailing over a loud speaker from a new mosque built with Saudi money. The mosques are all over the place, and they are everywhere in Jordan as well. They are not built by local congregations, but are built with Saudi oil money partly to intimidate non- Muslims and drive them out. Please pray for the Christians under Palestinian rule.