How both Jews and Arabs pay a heavy price as they follow the Prince of Peace
What is God doing in Israel?
(Monarch Books, £8.99)
reviewed by Charles Gardner
This time of year is particularly poignant for the Ortiz family, because late March sees the festival of Purim, when teenager Ami was virtually blown apart by a bomb disguised as a traditional holiday gift.
The bomb was aimed at his father, a believer in Yeshua/Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.
The Ortiz family are the most well-known of the extraordinary characters in author-journalist Julia Fisher’s beautifully-written new book which beats any romantic novel. Having said that, What is God doing in Israel? is a divine romance, for it tells the wondrous story of how falling in love with Jesus brings former enemies together.
We learn of hard hearts melted as both Jew and Muslim encounter the God of Israel, manifested through his Son Jesus, as a result of which the sons of Isaac embrace the sons of Ishmael. It is a testimony to the reconciling power of Jesus, whose death on the cross for our sins has broken the dividing wall of hostility and created “one new man” out of the two (Ephesians 2:14).
In each case it has led to a dramatic transformation in their lives. And the cost of their discipleship – whether coming from a Jewish or Muslim background – has been no less demanding than that experienced by St Paul and the original apostles. For there is nothing half-hearted about their faith, with passion undimmed despite painful suffering, especially through rejection by family or community.
Appropriately, therefore, the book is divided into 12 chapters, each dedicated to what I would call a true modern ‘apostle’. Most of the Jewish believers included have been disowned by their families at some point – in the case of Sandy Shoshani it was 14 years before she was reconciled with her father, who subsequently gave his life to Jesus on his deathbed!
As Jesus said: “No-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields – and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10.29)
Also featured is the more widely-known story of David and Leah Ortiz, whose teenage son Ami was virtually blown apart by a bomb (though he has since miraculously recovered after worldwide prayer support). Perversely disguised as a Purim parcel, the device was sent to the family home during the Feast of Purim, when Jews exchange gifts to celebrate their rescue, by Queen Esther, from a plot to exterminate them in ancient times. The perpetrator of the atrocity, a Jewish extremist, believed the Ortiz family were betraying his people by encouraging them to follow Jesus.
As far as some of the Muslim-background believers are concerned, they have become like hunted animals after deciding to follow Christ, with Julia having to carry out interviews with a great degree of stealth and care so as not to attract attention to these brave men and women risking their lives for the sake of their Lord. Many have been tortured, imprisoned or forced to flee the land.
The shocking irony of it all is that these persecuted believers actually hold the key to peace in this troubled region. Palestinian and Jewish believers are clearly united by their love for Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah; praying and sharing their lives with one another, they are a powerful demonstration of the reconciling effect of what Jesus did for them on the cross.
“This is something the politicians cannot do,” said Mazen Naswari, a Palestinian pastor in Jerusalem’s Old City. “This love that we as believers in Jesus share, no matter what background we come from, shows that we can love one another.”
Patrick Radecker was a seemingly hopeless drug addict who lived on the streets for seven years but, with the help of a rehabilitation centre in Haifa called House of Victory, he has been totally cleaned up and renewed, almost unrecognisable to those with whom he used to hang out in downtown Tel Aviv. A Jew whose family immigrated to Israel from Holland, Patrick too has developed a special love for Arabs since he started following Yeshua.
Here is the answer to conflict in the Middle East – all these people, Jews and Arabs, have found peace through the Messiah whom the prophet Isaiah foretold would be the ‘Prince of Peace’. (Isaiah 9.6)
It’s a must-read for everyone who struggles to see the relevance of Israel in God’s purposes.