Some 3,000 evangelical Christians from 36 countries, followers of pastor Dr. Jaerock Lee of South Korea, started arriving in Israel on Thursday to take part in a mass prayer rally for peace.
The pilgrims will be attending an international cultural festival in the capital on Sunday and Monday nights, which includes the prayer rally. The event, whose theme is "God is Great," will be broadcast live to an estimated 50 million viewers worldwide. Tourism Minister Stas Meseznikov and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat will be attending.
Lee's ministry has seen its share of controversy. His sect reportedly believes that he has the power to heal medically incurable injuries and illnesses, and he allegedly claimed in 1998 to be "sinless and exempted from dying." His organization was ejected from the Christian Council of Korea in 1999 over its "heretical claims," and leaders of the Korean Ministry Association have accused him of being a cult leader.
According to conference organizer Sharon Kang, all of the participants are connected to Lee. His Seoul-based Manmin Joong-ang Church has some 100,000 members and 9,000 member churches around the world.
Kang also says that many of his followers have connected with Lee's teachings via television. The event is being produced by Manmin TV, which broadcasts Christian programming around-the-clock, around the world. Lee is its founder.
The event has been in its planning stages for months. On a recent visit to Israel to plan the conference - during which he met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak - Lee said, "My choice to hold the convention in Jerusalem and bring thousands of evangelical Christian supporters of Israel to the Holy City of Jerusalem is an expression of solidarity and faith in the State of Israel and its leaders."
In the past, this conference has been held in Germany, New York, Russia, India, the Philippines, Peru, Honduras, Uganda and Kenya.
The pilgrims attending the event will also tour the country. They will plant trees at Yad Kennedy, climb Masada, visit Yad Vashem and touring the North.
Lee expressed his wish to strengthen the cultural ties between Israel and South Korea and to invite Israeli cultural and spiritual personalities to his country.