It was my privilege to travel to Jerusalem as a member of Solidarity with Israel, a delegation of ten evangelical leaders organized by Jerry Johnson, the President of the National Religious Broadcasters. At first I dismissed the thought of a four-day trip to Israel as being impossible because of my home responsibilities, but in prayer God impressed on my heart that this was an assignment from Him. So on August 17th (2014) my daughter Morrow and I left home, arriving in Israel at a very strategic time.
The Israeli summer began with the kidnapping and brutal murder of three teenagers. The terrorist act not only provoked world-wide outrage, it was followed by Operation Protective Edge, which was Israel’s response. The Israeli military proceeded to destroy terrorist tunnels and Hamas positions inside Gaza. There have been several cease-fire attempts, each one broken by Hamas. The day we arrived, the last cease-fire ended at midnight, with Hamas vowing there would not be another one. While we felt very safe in Jerusalem and the surrounding area, when we went to Ashkelon, which borders Gaza, we experienced firsthand the almost constant sirens alerting the people to the firing of an incoming Hamas missile. The stress of those living under the threat 24/7 of an enemy attack either from the air, due to a missile, or from the ground, due to the threat of terrorists popping up from some hidden tunnel, is unimaginable. Babies who are born during this time are born and kept in bunkers. Schools are now being built as bunkers. Every residence and public place has a bomb shelter within a 15-second distance.
While Operation Protective Edge has the support of 95% of Israel’s population, the world seems to view Israel as the aggressive bully in this conflict. Pictures of very real devastation in Gaza make headlines around the globe, but there is a lack of explanation that the suffering is primarily due to Hamas firing rockets, then using human shields when Israel seeks to protect itself. The loss of life is regrettable on both sides, but journalists fail to point out when reporting the numbers that the majority of those killed in Gaza are Hamas terrorists themselves. In talking to those who live on the border with Gaza, I am convinced that if Hamas stopped the rocket attacks and other acts of terror, the region would be quiet and the Jewish and Palestinian people would live side by side.
The following is a brief pictorial report…
The Delegation of Evangelical Leaders
Pictured are the members of the Solidarity with Israel delegation from left to right: Rich Bott, President and CEO of Bott Radio Network; myself; my daughter Morrow Reitmeier who accompanied me as my assistant; Kay Arthur, Co-founder of Precept Ministries; Jerry Rose, President & CEO of Total Living Network; Jerry Johnson, President of National Religious Broadcasters, who organized the trip; Richard Land, President of Southern Evangelical Seminary; Chelsen Vicari, Institute on Religion and Democracy; Bill Blount, NRB Chairman of the Board; Annette Garcia, President of Son Broadcasting Co., and Katie Pavlich, News editor/Fox News contributor. Not pictured is Tony Perkins, President of the Family Research Council.
The Golden Gate
On the first day we were in Jerusalem, Morrow and I had time to walk around on our own. One of the places we were drawn to was The Golden Gate, The Eastern Gate, or The Beautiful Gate, which tradition says Jesus passed through on Palm Sunday. Although His enemies have bricked it in, when Jesus returns to reign from Jerusalem, He will enter the city through this gate (Ezekiel 44:1-3). Surely the heavenly choirs will be singing not only Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! (Matthew 21:9), but Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!(Revelation 5:12) In the very city in which He was cast out in humiliation, one day He will enter in triumph and victory!
My first day in Israel began when I arrived at 5:30 a.m. at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. It drew to a close in Jerusalem with participation in a live television broadcast on Daystar, along with Tony Perkins, Kay Arthur and Jerry Johnson. Each of us was asked to share what was on our hearts. So, with the Mt. of Olives, the Temple Mount, and Mt. Zion as a dramatic backdrop, I issued a call to prayer for Jerusalem. Quoting Zechariah 12:10, I urged viewers to claim God’s promise that He would pour out a spirit of grace and supplication upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, that their eyes would be opened to recognize that Jesus is their Messiah, that they would mourn for their sin, and that as they cry out to Him they would be saved spiritually as well as physically from their enemies.
Over dinner on the first evening in Jerusalem, I commented to the delegation that I believed we were all there by Divine Appointment, not only to show support for Israel; but in some way, to be a blessing to each other. As we traveled together on the bus, it became increasingly apparent that God was using each of us to minister to others in the delegation. I myself was enriched and encouraged by all, including the sweet, fun interaction with: (right to left) my daughter Morrow, who after a lengthy illness was strong enough to once again be my travel assistant; Kay Arthur, with whom I spent hours discussing the Scripture; Joel Rosenberg, who joined us for our final bus ride in order to share his insights on what is taking place now in the Epicenter; and Bill Blount whose quick wit and engaging personality made him a joy to be with. Each member of the delegation was an outstanding and influential leader, yet each went out of his or her way to encourage one another and build each other up. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) The fellowship was truly a blessing to me.
My Father’s Presence
Our delegation was hosted by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, which generously provided beautiful accommodations in the elegant and historic King David Hotel, adjacent to the Old City of Jerusalem. The main hall going through the entire width of the building had a strip of signatures in the marble flooring. Imagine my delighted amazement to find my Daddy’s signature among other notables that included Mikhail Gorbachev and Barbara Streisand. It was a reminder of my Heavenly Father who has put His name on the city (1 Kings 11:36), who had preceded us, who was present in our midst, and who will remain in the City that He loves after we are gone.
As many people have done before us, we had the joy of planting small oak trees as a sign of Life and Love for Israel at the Neot Kedumim Biblical Reserve. We were asked to dedicate our trees as we planted them. My daughter Morrow helped me with the physical effort. Then I dedicated my small tree to the small number of Messianic Jews, estimated at 15,000, who are currently living in Israel. I pray that they will grow strong in faith and in numbers, becoming like trees planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither…For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.(Psalm 1:3, 6)
Ashkelon is a city located almost on the border with Gaza. It’s the ancient Philistine city that is now a beautiful resort located near gorgeous beaches. But it is a city that is constantly under the barrage of missile attacks from Hamas in nearby Gaza. As part of our fact-finding tour, as well as our demonstration of solidarity with Israel, we visited Ashkelon and were briefed by the Vice-Mayor (center in blue shirt) at his command post which is inside a bunker. He could not give an accurate count of the number of Hamas missiles fired on his territory, as the daily attacks are skyrocketing into the hundreds.
As we drove from Ashkelon to a farming community, we passed the Iron Dome. It looks like a small army outpost, but in fact is a very high-tech battery of missiles that can determine within fractions of seconds when Hamas fires a missile, where it was fired from and where it will hit. If the Iron Dome determines it will hit in an open field, it lets it fall and explode. But if the enemy rocket targets a home, town, or population center of any type, the Iron Dome intercepts with a missile of its own, protecting the people who live within range of the rockets. We were shown pictures of schools, hospitals, apartments and cities that are completely undamaged because, although Hamas rockets have been fired on them, the Iron Dome has been effective.
I will never forget visiting the farming community near Ashkelon when Hamas missiles were fired, one after another. When the siren sounded, everyone had 15 seconds to get into a bunker. Three times while we were there the sirens sounded and we had to run quickly into the closest bomb shelter. On one occasion when we emerged from the shelter, we looked up and could see the contrail of Israel’s interceptor, along with the puff of smoke from the impact, as it took out the enemy rocket aimed at us in the cobalt blue sky right above.
It was sobering to be told that the Israelis are beginning to build schools in the community that are also bomb shelters themselves, as it is so difficult to get all the children to a separate shelter within 15 seconds of the siren sounding. With no windows facing south towards Gaza, and built of solid concrete, the children are being raised in an atmosphere 24/7 of impending danger. Before taking a tour, I urged the leaders of the community to call on God, then read Psalm 91 as my prayer that God Himself would hide them in the shadow of His wings—that He would be their refuge and fortress. I am continuing to pray this
Psalm for them on a daily basis.
Life in the City
While tourists were noticeably absent from Jerusalem, it was remarkable to see the city teeming with life. Every park, shopping mall, walking street and other public place were filled with local families enjoying their holiday and the beautiful weather. The atmosphere was one of peace and festivity, with no indication at all that the country is at war to the south. It made me long for the day the prophet Micah foretold, when everyone will sit under their own vine and fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. (Micah 4:4)
With the help of Moshe at Daystar, as the sun set over Mt. Zion, I video-taped a call to prayer for Jerusalem based on Daniel 9. Standing on a rooftop patio overlooking the old city, with the music of a blaring concert and the Muslim call to prayer in the background, I urged viewers to pray effectively for the people that God uniquely loves, using the pattern of Daniel’s prayer. It’s my hope that we can offer the video as our gift to those who participate in 9 1 1: An Urgent Call to Pray for Jerusalem.
Early on the morning of our last day, I went to the Southern Steps, over which the people in Jesus’ day would have walked as they entered the Temple Mount. This is the place where rabbis sat and taught their disciples. Without doubt, Jesus walked these steps. This is where He sat and taught His own disciples. It is also the likely place where the church was born. The site is large enough to easily accommodate three thousand people and traditionally had large vats of water for ceremonial cleansing which could have been used for baptisms as described in Acts 2 at Pentecost. I taught from John 16, praising God that Jesus did not leave us as orphans, but He has come to us in the person of His Holy Spirit. (Click here to purchase the DVD of the message).
Following the video taping on the Southern Steps, I joined the rest of the delegation for a time of prayer at the traditional site of the Last Supper in the Upper Room. I was humbled to be asked by Jerry Johnson to share a devotional in such a meaningful place, with such outstanding leaders of the faith gathered around. I recapped John 13-17, pausing on the promise of the Holy Spirit in John 16, knowing that as we returned home, we would especially need His guidance and wisdom in processing and communicating all we had seen and learned. Because without Him, we can do nothing of eternal significance. Nothing that truly pleases the Father.
Morrow and I returned home beyond exhaustion from the schedule that began with a daily wake-up call around 6:00 a.m. or earlier, then ended about 11:00 p.m. each night. Our days were filled with traveling, interviews, video tapings, briefings and meetings. Along the way we laughed and cried and talked and discussed and reflected on all that we were learning. Not once did I feel afraid. Not even when running into the bunker on the Gaza border with the sirens sounding and the missiles flying. In fact, if the tour I led to Israel in April 2013 had been scheduled for this summer instead, I would not have canceled it. Israeli security is the best in the world. And I would have welcomed the opportunity to let the world know that as Christians, we stand by Israel in good times and in bad.
This was my third trip to Israel in the last four years, but this one was very different. This time I left with tears in my eyes, an ache in my heart and a prayer on my lips. While I earnestly pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as instructed in Psalm 122:6, I am more convinced than ever that permanent peace will only be possible when the Prince of Peace rules the world from the city that He loves. So my prayer is, Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.
For more about the trip:
From the Huffington Post, Evangelical Leaders Will Visit Israel To Show Support, Ask God To ‘Protect Her From Her Enemies’
From CBN News, Anne Graham Lotz | NRB Make Solidarity Visit to Israel