We were blessed with so many fantastic speakers at the ICEJ/ACLI Conference earlier this week, and I want to share about one of the most interesting speakers of the event, Pastor Saleem Shalash. Pastor Shalash is an Arab Christian living in Nazareth (Jesus’ boyhood hometown), shepherding Home of Jesus the King congregation.
His gratitude for salvation is clearly obvious, as is his love for Israel. Only 1% of Christians in the Middle East live in freedom, and the vast majority of those are in Israel. He humbly recognized that he has more rights than Jewish Israelis, including lack of mandatory service in the IDF (as a Christian Arab), though having the same right to subsidized medical care.
Additionally, he confirmed what is known by mamy: the Arab-Palestinian cause is very lucrative. Monetary and humanitarian aid given to the Palestinians could be used to build dozens (if not hundreds) of schools, hospitals, government facilities and much more, yet those resources flow right into the pockets of Palestinian leaders. Founding leader Yasser Arafat, current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and Hamas leader Khaled Mashal are all worth over $1 billion…while the Palestinian people suffer.
Saleem fully recognizes the stark contrast between his fellow countrymen and himself, calling it “the difference between heaven and hell.” Whereas Arabs and Palestinians, in general (particularly in the Gaza Strip and West Bank), live in turmoil, he enjoys peace and relative prosperity in Israel.
Regarding his homeland (Israel), he stated unequivocally that it is the prerogative of the Israeli government to determine its capital. With great excitement and energy, Pastor Shalash exclaimed that the move of the US Embassy was not just history, but HIS story…God fulfilling His covenant with Abraham to use Israel to save the world. (See Israel: God’s Vehicle to Redeem the World and Israel: God’s Vehicle of Eternal Salvation) Indeed, He is!
In closing, Pastor Shalash used a familiar Bible account to illustrate God’s work in Israel today. In Luke 5:1-7, Jesus was standing on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and found two boats on shore and fishermen (Peter, James and John among them) cleaning their nets. Jesus got into Simon Peter’s boat, cast out a short distance and began teaching the crowds on shore who had followed Him there.
When He finished, He instructed Peter to put out into deep water and cast the nets. Peter was a master fisherman and had just spent a very unproductive night fishing, had gotten the nets cleaned up for the next day, and was perhaps a bit indignant at being given fishing lessons! You see, it was the wrong location. Fishing in the deep was not what they did! They knew the fish stayed in more shallow parts of the lake.
Not only was it the wrong location, but it was also the wrong timing. Fish don’t bite in the daytime! On top of that, it was the wrong tools. Their nets were not made to fish in deep water. Wrong location, wrong timing, wrong tools.
Yet, they obeyed and the nets were so full of fish they needed help hauling them all in!
Comparatively, many would say Jerusalem is the wrong location in Israel for embassies! After all, not a single nation’s embassy has been in Jerusalem since the 1980’s. Some would say the timing is wrong. Though the US Embassy was the first to move (on May 14, 2018), there is outcry that it will result in extensive regional conflict, which some nations and people groups have vowed. Still others argue that moving embassies is the wrong tool. Do something different…just don’t move embassies to Jerusalem!
You see the parallels. However, God chooses foolish things of the world to confound the wise! (1 Corinthians 1:27) His thoughts are also higher than ours.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
We were truly blessed by the boldness and contagious joy of Pastor Saleem Shalash, but we were even more grateful for the evidence that God is indeed calling all people to Himself. Pastor Shalash sees the Light and is a Lightbearer to his fellow countrymen. The love of Jesus to all mankind is shining brightly into the Arab community in Nazareth Israel and beyond as Saleem takes his message of Christ’s love and redemption around the world.
Praise God His love isn’t reserved only for a small group of people, but for the entire world!
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.