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Interview: Jews and Arabs Together – Hope for the Future

editor - 22 June 2019

Steven Khoury felt pain in the back of his neck. He reached with his hand to touch the spot. Maybe just an insect. Then he turned around. That is when he saw them. Several men, armed with knives and heavy weapons, were approaching. “Filthy Jew-lover”, they snarled — “Traitor”. One of the men struck Khoury. He fell to the ground. They kicked him and beat him repeatedly. Finally, he was left alone.

“Strangely”, recalls Khoury, “at that moment I felt God’s presence like never before. I realised God is a God of love. As I lay there, bleeding and in agony, a wave of peace came over me. I knew, deep inside, that God loved me, and that He will never leave me. I understood what it meant to be in covenant relationship with Him. I realised that when God promises to look after us, to provide for us and protect us, He says what He means, and He means what He says”.

The Whole Bible
Steven Khoury is the son of pastor Naim Khoury, a Palestinian Christian pastor in Bethlehem. Over forty years ago, pastor Naim and his young wife Elvira came to a living faith in the Lord. Naim started to preach the gospel, and together with his wife and young family, they reached out in love to their Muslim Palestinian neighbours. They became well-known in Bethlehem.

There was only one problem. Naim taught from the whole Bible – both Old and New Testaments. He preached that God is faithful to His covenants with the Jewish people and that God is bringing the Jewish people back to the land as He had promised in the prophets of the Old Testament. He taught them that Jesus was a Jew. He spoke about the Kingdom of God and God’s purposes with the Jewish people, and he encouraged them to look for the return of Jesus.

That is when the attacks started. Molotov cocktails. Naim’s brother was murdered on the Mount of Olives. The church in Bethlehem was bombed. Death threats became a reality of daily life.

Steven grew up knowing that his father pays an enormous price for following Jesus and loving the Jewish people. Gradually, Steven came to realise that he, too, has a calling to demonstrate and express Jesus’ love, forgiveness and grace, and his faithfulness to the Jewish people, to the Palestinian people.

Step by step, Steven came to realise that it is because of God’s faithfulness towards his People, that we Gentiles can know God as a faithful God. “I can claim the promise in Genesis 12:15-17 as my own because I know God is faithful to His promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. If I can’t trust God’s continuing faithfulness towards the Jewish people, why should I trust Him to be faithful to me?”

An Orthodox Jew in Brooklyn
At the same time as Steven Khoury was discovering his vocation in Bethlehem, a young Jewish man in Brooklyn got an
unexpected phone call that would change his life forever. David Nekrutman – a descendant of Jewish refugees who fled
the pogroms in Minsk (present-day Belarus) to New York in the 1800s – was working at the Israeli consulate in New York. One Friday morning, his boss, the Deputy Consul General of Israel in New York, called David from Jerusalem. “I have to stay here for an emergency. Can you attend a meeting in a Spanish-speaking church in New York tomorrow? It is walking distance from your home so that you won’t violate the Sabbath.”

David had never been in a church. The only thing he knew was that Christians hate Jews and that they persecuted his people for centuries for being “Christ- killers”. He called his Rabbi. “Rabbi, what should I do? Can I enter this church?” The Rabbi replied: “We are in a war. In times of war, you do what your commander tells you to do. You need to speak in that church”. And so, David attended the meeting, and for the first time discovered that there are Christians who love the Jewish people. The next thing he knew, he was appointed by the Consulate to look after relations with the Christian world.

Several years later, David made Aliyah to Israel. Soon after, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin called him. “It is time for us Orthodox Jews to reach out to Christian Zionists”, explained Riskin, who himself had left America to become the Chief Rabbi of Efrat. And so the Centre for Jewish Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC) was born in 2008. David became the Executive Director, a function he still fulfils.

Jews and Arabs – United in Covenant
Ten years ago in Jerusalem, David invited Steven to accompany him to a meeting in the USA. A friendship was born. Today, David Nekrutman considers Steven Khoury, his best friend. “I love Steven as a brother. Who could have imagined, in his wildest dreams, that an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn would one day become best friends with a Palestinian Arab Christian from Bethlehem? God works in mysterious ways!”

Nekrutman and Khoury are working closely together on many projects. CJCUC supports the Khoury’s ministry, which has grown into the largest, fastest-growing Christian Arab evangelical ministry in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Together, David and Steven travel the world to tell Christians and Jews about how God is bringing Jews and Palestinians together, in a bond of love.

Nekrutman: “With a covenant land, comes covenant responsibility. We Jews have an obligation to help the non-Jews in the land. God called us, and brought us back to the land, in order to be a blessing to others. But it goes deeper than that. Steven Khoury has inspired me to be a better Jew. His willingness to sacrifice his own life has changed my life. I realise that together, we are fulfilling God’s divine mission to establish the Kingdom of heaven so that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

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