After son’s murder, Arab pastor forgives killers and testifies of God’s love
The murder of a Christian Arab young man provided a painful platform for the man’s father to publicly display the power of Yeshua’s love and forgiveness.
The stabbing death of Jonathan Nueseri, 24, after a traffic altercation in a village near Nazareth, rocked the small community of Arab Christians many of whom are also believers. Jonathan’s father, Michael Nueseri, is a well respected believer and pastor in the North. Many Arab Christian leaders credit him with their coming to salvation or nurturing them in the faith.
If ever there was a time to learn from his example, it was after the death of his only son — a child for whom they waited and prayed 14 years.
When a group of Muslim dignitaries came to visit the Nueseri’s to seek a sulha (reconciliation agreement), Michael Nueseri publicly declared his faith and forgiveness.
“For 38 years I believe in the education I received from the Messiah and I am not prepared to throw that all away, even in spite of the murder of my son,” he said. “I have no enemies, I forgive everyone and the law will deal with this issue.”
“I love all of them, Muslims and Christians, I do not say this out of weakness, but I know what I learned from the Messiah, and I beg everyone to follow this path and to stay calm,” Michael said.
Despite the sulha tradition, some families refuse reconciliation attempts and reserve the right to take revenge, causing concern that violence could run rampant in the community. According to an article in Come and See dozens of relatives and neighbors were gathered at the Neuseri’s home when the sulha dignitaries arrived.
“Michael gave a five-minute speech that was shocking to many: He told the dignified group that he forgives the murderers and does not have any demands. He said that he would like to share something with them, and proceeded to share about the love of Jesus who he follows and serves. He said that he has been walking with the Lord for 38 years and is not going to be shaken because of circumstances, as hard as they might be. He then explained that we have all sinned and need to repent. He continued by explaining that ‘I do not have an enemy’ and he forgives the murderers because this is what His Lord taught him, and this is not an act of weakness. He also approached his extended family in the crowd – some of whom were outraged because of the murder – and asked them to calm down so as not to ruin the testimony that was built over years, and to let the judicial system handle the case.
“Suddenly, one of the dignitaries, a Muslim Imam from a large mosque in Acre, came to Michael and said: ‘This is faith, real faith,’ kissing him on his forehead as a sign of deep respect. The chairman of the Sulha committee was also astonished by Michael’s reaction. He told the audience that he has been visiting bereaved families all over the country from the far north to the deep south, but has not met a man like this.”
Michael has since been asked to share on news outlets and he begins with why he named his son Jonathan, which means God gave: “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”
“He also explains why he took the stand of forgiveness that is so uncommon in our society,” the article continues. “In a traumatized society that has suffered lately from violence and revenge, Michael sharing the good news has been like ‘cold water to a weary soul.’”
Arabs, both Muslim and Christian, are a minority in Israel, but Christian Arabs are an even more marginalized group comprising about 1 percent of Israel’s population. Most Christians here adhere to Greek Orthodox or Catholic theologies. An even smaller minority of Christians are born-again believers.
Nueseri’s murder underscored the violence that Christians face in Muslim-majority communities. On a regular basis Christian properties are vandalized and residents are intimidated in Muslim-majority towns. Jonathan was attacked by nine suspects and stabbed to death over a minor traffic dispute.
Christian Arab groups on Facebook mourned Jonathan, a volunteer with the Israel police and beloved friend, and demanded that the situation cannot go on like this for Christians.
“Today we said goodbye to your body, dear brother, but your soul and your memory will will remain engraved on our hearts,” an Aramaic Christian group posted on Facebook. “Instead of a wedding, we got a funeral.”
The same group exposed several vitriolic comments by Muslims on social media after Jonathan’s killing. “Infidels, the people of the book, are evil and hell is their eternal place,” one person wrote. Another, commenting on pictures of Jonathan’s funeral, wrote: “In accordance with the religion of Islam, it is forbidden for Muslims to pity the death of infidels… because they are the people of hell.”
The group also quoted a family member of one of the suspected killers who threatened Christians for exposing the social media comments: “You’ve talked too much beyond your computer. Is there one Christian with the balls to take it up with us? You accepted the reconciliation because you are a cowardly people. You agreed to the sulha like mice. So stop threatening from beyond your computer screen because whoever tries to play with us, his fate is known — and its not in peace and not in talking.”
Another family member of one of the suspects also made the shocking comment: “We are the bosses of Rayna… Whoever doesn’t like that, the cemetery is waiting to absorb you.”
Following the Sept. 1 murder, police arrested nine people on suspicion of involvement in the murder. The town of Rayna declared two days of mourning after the incident. Thousands attended Jonathan’s funeral that day, including people from nearby towns who had never met him.
Let’s pray that the power of his father’s message of forgiveness and Yeshua’s love transcends the messages of hate that are being spewed.
Friends of Jonathan composed a song for him, which you can listen to here [in Arabic]. The friends lament: “Jonathan, we won’t forget you, murdered in cold blood, we won’t forget you, stay engraved in our hearts.”
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The sleeping fox catches no poultry
“The sleeping fox catches no poultry” goes the proverb. This is just one of many proverbs that echo the bible. Time and again the Scriptures, both of the Hebrew bible and of the New Testament, call us to take initiative and to not remain passive. One of the most important biblical ideas is that fruit, or harvest, is the result of man’s interactive partnership with God, and not a sudden drop-down from heaven “by grace”. From Solomon, who saw poverty as the fruit of inaction (Prov. 6:10-11), to Yeshua’s teachings about forcefully advancing God’s kingdom (Matt. 11:12) and taking its yoke upon ourselves (Matt. 11:29), the call is the same: express your faith in the Creator by being creative! Step out, take action, do something!
Why am I writing about this? Because if it were not for the initiative of one teacher from a Bat Yam congregation, there would be no development in the children’s ministry in that congregation. This particular teacher, in conversation with Alec Goldberg (Israel Director of the Caspari Center), broached a matter that lay heavy on her heart: there are many children in the congregation, and although their Shabbat School teachers desire to serve these children to the best of their abilities, these teachers lack both knowledge and experience.
As our regular readers will know, the Caspari Center regularly holds seminars for Shabbat School teachers, where they can learn both the theoretical and practical aspects of working with children in a congregation. Unfortunately, Israeli reality dictates that not everyone is available to participate in our seminars, which are held on Fridays. Although Friday is a day off for most people, many congregations have meetings that day, while other people might need to work or study, making it impossible for some children’s ministry workers to participate in seminars.
We decided to try something new, and come to the aid of the teachers in this Bat Yam congregation by offering on-site training. As a pilot project, we conducted a weekly series of evening meetings in the congregational building to train the teachers, for a total of 5 weeks. I embarked upon this course enthusiastically as I routinely train new teachers in my congregation and am aware of the importance of this process.
I remember the first meeting with this group of teachers. Not many were present – only eight teachers – and they were already tired from a full day of work or study. But as they spoke about the children and about what they were hoping to achieve through the course, each one began to revive. I saw that their love for God and for the children gave them the strength to continue. Their incredible motivation struck me, and I realized just how much I wanted to help these people. They came to every meeting hungry to learn more, and carried out all their tasks with zeal.
From the New Testament, we know that Paul and the disciples of Yeshua taught the believers intensively. For one year, Paul and Barnabas taught people in Antioch (Acts 11:26), and for three years, day and night, Paul taught the Ephesian presbyters (Acts 20:31). Of course, we are not Paul, nor could we reach this level in Bat Yam in only 5 meetings. But we do look to the early disciples as our role models.
I was pleased that my students immediately applied what they had learned in class, and then happily shared the positive results, some of them unexpected! When something is done regularly, a habit is formed. It’s what happened here, too. When, after the fifth meeting, I informed them that the course had come to completion, some of the teachers expressed their disappointment, that they had only just gotten a taste and weren’t ready for it to end. This is always a good sign. They enjoyed learning, which gives me hope that they will continue to learn on their own.
I am so happy that the Caspari Center was able to respond to the need of this congregation to train their teachers. We hope to offer this new kind of on-site training for other congregations’ teaching staff in the future.
This article originally appeared on Caspari Center, October 16, 2018, and reposted with permission.
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Anne Graham-Lotz: ‘Time to turn to God and thank Him’
JERUSALEM, Israel – Christian leaders from around the world came to Jerusalem recently for what’s become a major annual event, the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast (JPB).
CBN News interviewed three key participants in this year’s gathering: Israeli Knesset member Robert Ilatov, chairman of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, the committee that promotes relations with the Christian world and initiated the event; Albert Veksler, co-founder of the Jerusalem Prayer Breakfast; and Anne Graham Lotz of AnGel Ministries.
The JPB is a prayer movement that brings together government leaders and influential Christians from around the world for a gathering in Israel’s capital to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6).
According to JPB’s website, the vision of the prayer initiative is to mobilize the Church worldwide to join in the “gathering the nations to align themselves in prayer with God’s purposes for Israel and Jerusalem,” thereby answering “God’s command and the Knesset’s call to the nations to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and the prosperity of Israel.”
This article originally appeared on CBN News, October 24, 2018, and reposted with permission.
Chris is CBN News Middle East Bureau Chief based in Jerusalem.
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Ashdod threatens Messianic congregation for operating a ‘house of prayer’
As if it wasn’t enough that Orthodox Jews had vandalized their new building, now the Municipality of Ashdod is bearing down on the Beit Hallel congregation in the legal arena declaring that the non-profit organization itself is operating illegally.
“We got our permits 11 years ago,” Pastor Israel Pochtar told Kehila News Israel. “Then suddenly one day you wake up and say its illegal?”
This latest threat, which is a different tactic from the physical vandalization of the congregations’ property, began when Pochtar and other leaders went to City Hall to discuss getting permits for a new building they are planning.
“Not only did we not receive them, we received a letter saying our current building is illegal,” Pochtar said. The municipality accused the congregation of “illegal gathering and operating a house of prayer in the city.”
The municipality’s declaration, made in a letter sent last month, is quite a switch since the municipality itself had granted Beit Hallel’s tax exemption based on its non-profit status a decade ago.
The matter had been brewing for about two years, however, when one of the city council members, Avi Amsalem, publicly promised to do everything in his power to stop Messianic Jews in his community. Amsalem, who is running now for re-election, is Orthodox and is a member of the Shas party. Two years ago he asked the city to verify that renovations of the congregation’s building were being one according to the law.
In a letter this week to leaders in the believing community, Pochtar says that the municipality “has really taken on itself the mission to put an end to our presence and work in the city.”
Pochtar wrote, “they suspiciously enough decided it wasn’t enough for a prayer house to operate under all the required permits, according to their current stance” and that “a different, exceptional permit is also required for an organization like ours (something that as far as I’m aware of, has never been mentioned, nor appears in city bylaws, that I know of).”
Despite the ongoing pressure from these attacks, Pochtar said he has received supernatural encouragement from the Holy Spirit.
“We’ve come through many battles and each one has turned out for good for us,” Pochtar said. “So now we are looking to see how this is going to turn out.”
The congregation’s administrator, an Israeli lawyer who has won in the courts several cases of discrimination for other congregations and houses of prayer, is on the case.
Pochtar believes that at the root of the continuing discrimination in Ashdod is the influence that his congregation of 300 people has in the city. Each month, the ministry helps 1,200 families from Holocaust survivors and people with disabilities to single mothers and new immigrants. The congregation provides food, clothing and counseling to those who are in need. Some 100 volunteers man the center.
The impact of the believers in Ashdod from two congregations that meet in buildings and a few home groups rivals that of the Orthodox community in 350 synagogues in the city.
“That is part of the reason the religious people have become jealous,” Pochtar said. “They see the work we do and our influence. And everyone knows, the Orthodox only help the Orthodox.”
Pochtar said his team will fight this latest battle so as to prevent a precedent in Israel that could be used “to impose strict limitations on the work of other congregations in the country.”
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Messianic organization urges believers: Adopt, foster vulnerable children in Israel
An initiative that is going nationwide this year intends to bring awareness to the plight of orphans and foster children in Israel and to encourage believing families especially to provide them with loving and nurturing homes.
Orphan Shabbat, an initiative of the HaTikva Families department of HaTikva Project, is the local adaptation of Orphan Sunday, part of an international organization based in the United States. While the event last year was hosted by one local congregation, this year leaders are hoping several congregations will dedicate a full weekend to shedding light on the dire situation of at-risk children in Israel.
“The orphan is kept out of view from the public. We want to say through this initiative, ‘We see you and we will care for you,’” a HaTikva Families representative told KNI.
According to HaTikva Families, some 367,000 children in Israel are classified as at-risk. Approximately 10,000 children have been removed from their homes by the Ministry of Welfare and only 25 percent of those have been placed in foster families.
“People don’t realize how great of a need there is,” HaTikva Families said. “We are using Orphan Shabbat as a platform to really campaign, primarily to the local Body of Messiah, but we are targeting society in general and the Jewish diaspora.”
While the main push of HaTikva Families is recruiting families for adoption and foster care, the organization is an advocate for child welfare and is partnering with other nonprofits that have similar missions.
Orphan Shabbat is scheduled for Nov. 10 and 11. It purposely rolls over into Sunday so that religious Jews who observe Shabbat will be able to connect the following day. HaTikva Families provides resources to congregations and organizations that want to get involved and ideas for teachings and Bible studies that relate to the issues of adoption and caring for at-risk children.
“The narrative of the scriptures is, you were adopted into a family that is not your own,” HaTikva Families said. “If we’re talking to believers, there’s no better way to live out the Gospel than reaching out to children in need. That’s pure religion: visiting the orphan and widow in their distress. (James 1:27)”
Since not everyone is able to adopt or foster, HaTikva Families suggests other ways people can help including volunteering at a local welfare office, touring a children’s home or supporting an adoptive family with babysitting, meals or financially.
“Even the smallest action can make a difference,” HaTikva Families maintains.
Fostering and adoption in Israel goes according to religion, meaning Jewish families can adopt only Jewish children, Muslims only Muslims and Christians only Christians. Culture and language also play a role in placing children in family situations.
The country averages 120 adoptions a year and tends to prefer keeping an at-risk child in the welfare system, whether in an institution or in foster care. While the government works to rehabilitate the biological family, the issue is that there is no law that stipulates the amount of time given for rehabilitation. Therefore, a child can get stuck in the system rather than being moved over to adoption. Hence fostering is a more viable option, especially for believers who want to get involved. Adoption can take five years while foster care can take between three to 18 months to be approved, HaTikva Families said. Children with disabilities or special needs that have been abandoned tend to be more quickly assigned to a family willing to take them in.
“A child wouldn’t be in (an at-risk) situation unless he has gone through abandonment, trauma or extreme distress, or addiction. This has a great impact on a child and even on his or her brain development,” HaTikva Families explained. “The only way we see a child come through to wholeness is through the nurture of a mother and a father.”
After they recruit families that want to adopt or foster, HaTikva Families helps them navigate the process. Currently the organization is assisting about 10 interested families.
For the upcoming Orphan Shabbat, HaTikva Families is partnering with Orr Shalom, an Israeli organization that enables at-risk children to find safe homes — the quintessential goal of HaTikva Families and Orphan Shabbat.
“We hope to see wounds healed and each child fully develop to his potential.”
The first Orphan Sunday is credited as occurring in Zambia where a pastor called on church members to care for orphans in their community. A visiting American pastor was inspired and the idea — adopted by American churches through Every Orphan’s Hope — eventually spread around the world through the Christian Alliance for Orphans.