In Israel, 100 years of Baptist work celebrated
Ava Thomas, Baptist Press
May 17, 2011

In Israel, 100 years of Baptist work celebrated

In Israel, 100 years of Baptist work celebrated
Ava Thomas, Baptist Press
May 17, 2011

ISRAEL — Hiba* used to pore over the Quran, trying to sort

out life’s problems.

Then she bumped into some Christians in her hometown a few years ago. She

agonized for days about which was the real book, the Quran or the Bible. “And

then God showed me,” Hiba said.

Thanks to local Baptists discipling her, she said she now knows it’s Jesus who

changed her life. This lasting legacy of Baptist work was honored May 12-14 at

the 100th anniversary of Baptists in Israel, celebrated in Nazareth where the

nation’s first Baptist church was planted.

Hiba was baptized in the Sea of Galilee to close the weekend celebration.

Before the first believers were baptized through Baptist work in Nazareth a

century ago, Baptists “had nothing in the Middle East,” said Drew Carson*, a

Christian leader in the region.

In 1911, Shukri Mosa — a Palestinian who came to follow Christ at First Baptist

Church in Dallas — brought his faith to Nazareth and led two people to faith

and baptism. He faced persecution from the town around him, but eventually a

church was planted in the 1920s.

The International Mission Board (IMB) partnered with the work in Israel soon

after it began, helping nurture the church. IMB workers continue to reach out

among the different Jewish and Arab people groups in the nation.

“Shukri Mosa’s connection with First Baptist Dallas provided a bridge for us to

come over here and plant our lives and get deeper and deeper into this part of

the world,” Carson said.

“We should never underestimate the first step of the

journey. What happened here 100 years ago resulted in untold lives across the

Arab and Jewish world being touched by the salvation of Jesus Christ.”

The work in Nazareth sparked a flame of American-led Southern Baptist work in

the region. And it produced many Arab believers who took the gospel to other

countries when war in Israel dispersed part of the nation’s Palestinian

population in 1948.

A baptism in the Sea of Galilee reflects the ongoing work of Southern Baptists after 100 years of outreach to both Arabs and Jews.

“Many believers scattered when war happened, but they were able to take the

message with them where they went,” said Dale Thorne, a Southern Baptist

representative in Israel.

Baptist work in Israel dwindled nearly to extinction immediately after the war,

but then new ministry doors opened, Thorne said.

“A large number of Arabs fled to Nazareth, which had surrendered to the Jews,

and so the town boomed in population,” he said.

A Baptist school was founded in the Arab community, and it’s still going strong

with 1,000 students, Thorne said. Roughly a couple hundred Baptist

congregations, both Messianic Jewish and Arab, exist in Israel today.

“I hope that this time of celebrating 100 years is an encouragement to Baptists

here not only to look back but also to accept the challenge of moving forward

into the future,” Thorne said.

Gordon Fort, vice president for overseas operations for the IMB, challenged

Baptists to keep reaching out across their region and the world.

“Israel has a genuine faith living among its Baptists for 100 years. Years ago

someone brought that genuine faith to you. It is your responsibility to share

this faith with others,” Fort said.

Baptists are striving to do this, showing Christ’s love through unity across

deep cultural divisions, said Bader Mansour, secretary of the Association of

Baptist Churches in Israel.

“I am thankful for the Lord and what He’s done in our lives. He’s commanded us

to be one in body, one in mind, one in spirit,” Mansour said. “We are in a time

of miracles.”

*Names have been changed.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Thomas is an International Mission Board

writer/editor based in Europe.)

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