Reconciliation, running and praising God in a crowded Jewish bar
[notice]UK-based South African-born journalist Charles Gardner shares his personal reflections at the end of the intense, four-day At the Crossroads conference in Jerusalem[/notice]
The idea of a conference in Jerusalem aimed at fostering deeper bonds between Arab Christians and Jewish followers of Jesus had inspired me from the moment I heard of it.
And now that the delegates to At the Crossroads are making their way back home at various points of the Middle East compass, I can report without fear of exaggeration that, in 40 years of journalism and a little more as a Christian, what I have witnessed was beyond my wildest dreams.
– Jesus reconciles Muslim couple
– Where the cross of Christ unites jews and Arabs
– Israel and Iran pray for each other
– Muslim goes to Mecca — and finds Jesus
As the scripture says, “No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, nor mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
The invitation-only gathering involved some 100 pastors from many of the nations perceived as enemies of Israel coming to sample the hospitality of their Jewish brothers at Christ Church just inside the magnificent walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
As if being in this glorious ancient city – described by the psalmist 3,000 years ago as “beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth” – wasn’t enough, the conference venue too (a tranquil oasis of peace) was something of a microcosm of all that is best about this magnificent place set on Mount Zion, some 3 000ft above-sea-level.
Prince of Peace
And I was able to sample the city in all its splendour via a few rather hot and hilly running excursions, including a six-mile round trip to the top of the Hebron Road and up onto the newly-constructed ‘Peace Forest’ promenade – running alongside the pre-1967 border – affording stunning views of the Mount of Olives where Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is to set to return any time soon.
Yes, it is paradoxical – throbbing with life and festive noise as its 800 000 population seem permanently to be partying, its streets lined with palms and flowering trees and its splendid stone buildings gleaming in the sun.
But at the same time it’s the immovable rock to which the prophet Zechariah referred, fought over for millennia in an ultimately futile bid to rob Israel of her prized possession, the city God calls his own.
So we have tension here requiring young soldiers to patrol the streets with menacing weapons and, for those of us who follow the Man who died for the sins of all in this city, there is an awareness of a spiritual battle going on for the souls of its inhabitants because, after all, the message of Jesus was “for the Jew first” (Romans 1.16).
And in this respect I had the great pleasure and privilege of talking to a number of its residents, especially at Mike’s Place, a friendly bar on Jaffa Street where I dropped in a few times on my way home to the apartment where I was staying with a delightful Australian couple who looked after me with extraordinary kindness and even set me up with a ‘news-room’.
On my first visit to Mike’s Place, I engaged in deep conversations about faith with three young Jewish men and was then invited by a man behind the bar to their weekly ‘open mic’ session in the cellar below, where live music is played every night. My guitar was back in England, but he said I could borrow his. So I came along for the show late the following night and joined a lively crowd of young people out having a good time. Having prayed about it, I got the feeling it was part of the ‘open door’ the Lord had promised me before I left.
Sitting at the bar waiting my turn with a charming man from Singapore, I have to confess I was beginning to get nervous, worrying that I might forget the words and perhaps even the chord sequence. I can’t imagine what those X-factor contestants must go through.
While I help to lead worship at my home church in North Nottinghamshire, I have never done anything like this before, though I do regularly perform at family parties.
But once I was under the spotlight, a huge calm descended on me and I just knew I was in the place God wanted me to be.
So having hoisted the borrowed guitar over my shoulders, I launched out with the Elvis song ‘Can’t help falling in love’, having dedicated it to my wife Linda back home in England, and knew after just a few bars that I had hit the right note with my twenty-something audience who were clearly entering into the spirit of this fabulously romantic song.
I then followed with ‘You raise me up’, having explained that it said something about my faith. Indeed it is effectively a worship song despite not actually mentioning God by name and proved the key to unlocking the door to at least one young Jewish man there that night. As I returned to my seat to cries of “awesome” from various customers, he put his arms around me and I talked with him about Jesus for the next half-hour. He had many questions, but his eyes lit up when I explained how Jesus (Yeshua in Hebrew) was the ultimate Passover Lamb.
And as I urged him to place the blood of Jesus (metaphorically speaking) on his heart just as his ancestors had done on the doorposts of their houses the night they were freed from slavery in Egypt, he seemed almost ready to take a step towards a life of total fulfillment only possible through the Messiah.
All of which – both this experience and the privilege of reporting on the conference – fulfilled a word spoken into my life so many times: “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ (Isaiah 52.7)
- The At The Crossroads conference was held in Jerusalem from May 13 to 16, 2014.