In 1998 friends who had been part of our church in Boston offered a gift to us—the dream of my life: a trip to the Holy Land. Their generosity not only gave us ten days of tourism that stretched the limits of our heartstrings, but continue to bless and perturb sixteen years since.

It was the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel, and the girl who dreamed Israel since she began to read Bible history at around eight years of age had also turned fifty. Lau and I had started our ministry in 1969 among Jews in Belo Horizonte, Minas Gerais,  and São Paulo, even after we left that mission, continued to study and remain fascinated with things Jewish. He taught Jewish Evangelism at the seminary from which we had graduated, and I read and befriended judaica: people, ideas and achievements. As committed Christians, we believed that there is still an important place in God’s dealing with humanity for the children of Israel. Jewish friends were part of our life; we believed Yeshua to be Hameshiach, but did not try to proselytize—only pre-evangelizing, creating bridges and bonds which would reach out and bring into the fold of the Great and Only Shepherd of Israel.

We have friends and colleagues who, while believing the Bible, interpret what it says about the future in amillennial or postmillennial ways. Though we respect them, we dare differ. Our historical premillenial view of God’s dealing with all nations of the earth allows us to make distinctions between Jews, Gentiles and the Church, and believe that God still has a purpose for each group. In one sense, the church is continuation of the children of Israel—we are sons and daughters of Abraham by faith. But Israel as a people and a nation still are unique, and there is a promise for those who pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  I identify with the apostle Paul’s longing for “the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen”(Romans 9:3-8). Of course I knew that “it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring” (v.8) and because we believe that God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable, I considered myself to be a “daughter of Sarah” by faith. "I will call them 'my people' who are not my people; and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one... they will be called 'sons of the living God.'" I applied God’s promises through Isaiah to his servant  that this people of the covenant  would be a light unto the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness—which the gospel of John (8:2) attested as being Christ himself, and Dr. Luke documented in his story of  Jesus’ first sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth, when  he read Isaiah and declared, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

I was enchanted with the way Edith Schaeffer followed the crimson thread of redemption in her presentation  of Christianity as being Jewish, and rejoiced in roots in history that point to identification with Israel from days of old. But going to Israel was not a magical encounter. I walked the land where Jesus walked, but saw, on one hand, misguided Christians, just as their Jewish peers, who believed that placing a written prayer in the cracks of the ruins of the walls of the Temple would assure God’s answer to prayer (a woman minister who was in our group had been given the ticket and all expenses paid to bear the prayers of her congregation in the US and stick them in the cracks). And they went down to river Jordan to be re-baptized or dipped seven times for healing in the same manner as Elisha told the pagan general to do (a lady with cancer on the bus with me said that she had made the pilgrimage and therefore “claimed her healing” after the Jordan dip. I walked the stony shore of Galilee where Jesus talked to his disciples about stony hearts as well as singling out Peter and saying: “You are a pebble, but you are a stone also, and upon the Rock I will build my church”...

Lots of superstition surrounded a journey through the Holy Land, and the most appalling was in the visit to Omar’s Mosque, which is built on the ancient site of the Temple and where, ages before, Abraham had presented his only son in sacrifice. Lau refused to enter that monument to the destruction of Judaism. I entered to observe the artistic beauty of the architecture. While under the arches and surrounded by incredible mosaics (or would I say, arabaics) of that gold-domed palace, in my ten-minute walk through that holy spot I saw a mother sock the mouth of her little child and a man hit the face of his veiled wife. Bethlehem was visited, not by shepherds or wise men, but buyers of holy oil and olive-wood trinkets, a town infested by anti-Israel haranguers preaching at every corner to men who religiously bowed five times a day toward Mecca and while living in freedom in Israel, swear to destroy the Jews that harbor them.

Antisemitism is as old as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and we Christians are ashamed at the many times it was wielded in the name Christ, the only Perfect Jew, against Jews of all kinds. Many of the first who colonized Brazil were “cristãos novos” – Jews forced by the Inquisition to become “Christian” or die. Cohens became Coelhos (rabbits), Pereses became Pereiras (pear trees)—but there was a coexistence even when much of the Jewish tradition was completely swallowed up.

My adopted country, Brazil, was the first to welcome the State of Israel into the United Nations in 1948, but today the presidenta made a speech in that disunited union condemning the United States’ intervention in the Middle East and saying “we must dialogue with Hamas and ISIS”, making clear her predilection for Islamic State’s atrocities in Iran and Syria against Christians and Jews, and despising anything we “anti-socialists” do for humanitarian causes. She was the only chief of State in the world to emit such a blatant discourse! Brazil is a melting pot and harbor for people of every tribe and nation—and presently a “preferred residence” for terrorists. I am appalled to see many evangelicals swallow the propaganda of godless men and women who in the name of freedom incongruously prefer an Allah-for-men-only dominated culture than Judeo-Christian thought.

Many of our friends had their origin in the Middle East: Lebanese and Armenians, Turks and Persians and not-so-modern Babylonians, Druses and Syrians. I love the food they taught us to appreciate, their generous, gregarious, hospitable welcoming of strangers. These “arabs” are in all segments of Brazilian society, many in high leadership positions far above their tiny storeowners and traveling salesmen grandparents. They coexist well with the Jewish descendants of those who fled persecution in Nazi Germany or Bolshevik Iron Curtain lands. As I think of God’s mercy on all nations of the earth, I cannot help but love and accept people descended from Ishmael, as well as from the twelve tribes of Jacob. Or from tribes of Gês, Tapuias and Tupinambás or the more than three hundred other people-nations which made up Brazil’s first inhabitants, and were also decimated by “christianizers” centuries ago.

As an unlikely and unknown American living and serving Christ in Brazil on a little piece of farmland, with no merit or fame to my credit, I pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as do many sisters and brothers like (and different from) me. But my yearning, as a citizen of heaven, is to see the day when a declaration that transcends all nationalities is made:

You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals; For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And have made us kings and priests to our God;
And we shall reign on the earth." (Rev. 5:9) and
behold, a great multitude which no one could number,
of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues,
standing before the throne and before the Lamb,
clothed with white robes,
with palm branches in their hands,
and crying out with a loud voice, saying,
"Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb!" (Revelation 7:9-10)

Elizabeth Gomes

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