Spreading the good news

Billy Graham Evangelical Association Chief of Staff Ken Barun advises Israel to focus on promoting the positive things it does.

July 6, 2013 22:57
KEN BARUN and his wife, Sethea, are shown around a Magen David Adom national blood center.

MDA blood donation 370. (photo credit: Courtesy AFMDA)

Ken Barun, the charismatic Chief of Staff of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, believes Israel should publicize the great advances it has made, and like his organization, focus on good news.

“I think we allow the negative stories of the political conflicts surrounding Israel to be overstated and exaggerated,” he says.

“You should talk about the positive things that take place here and minimize all the other stuff.”

The 65-year-old Barun was born and raised Jewish in New York and converted to the Christian faith in 2001. He currently lives with his wife, Sethea, in Charlotte, North Carolina, with whom he is visiting Israel as guest of Jonathan Feldstein, the Israeli representative at American Friends of Magen David Adom.

Prior to joining BGEA in 2007, he spent more than 20 years with the McDonald’s Corporation as a Senior Vice President and President of Ronald McDonald House Charities worldwide. Before that, with a degree in sociology from the University of Houston, he was asked by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 to join the White House staff, where he served for three years as Director of Projects and Policy to First Lady Nancy Reagan.

What is the purpose of your trip to Israel?

The purpose of my trip is to learn as much as I can about Israel, I’ve learned over my years, first growing up in a Jewish family in New York and then becoming a Christian nearly 13 years ago that Israel is the center of all history and the roots of my existence. Knowing my background, my friend and my boss, Franklin Graham, the President and CEO of both BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse, brought me on my first visit about a year ago and has been encouraging me to return with my wife.

Franklin and I came on a trip between Budapest and Riga. I was overwhelmed by this country, and the spiritual content and context of Jerusalem was amazing to me. I expected that, and it by far over delivered.

Returning to Israel had always been a dream of mine. I had been invited many times during my years at McDonald’s but tensions were always high and now I realize this was the “right” time in G-d’s plan.

The Israeli consul-general had come to visit me in Charlotte in 2011, and said, ‘You need to come to my country.’ I said I would love to, but that I hadn’t had the opportunity.

Then I met Jonathan Feldstein, and we hit it off famously. I thought that I could help introduce him to some Christians in the USA who are supportive of Israel to help in their Heart to Heart project.

How do you see the relationship between the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Israel developing?

Billy Graham, of course, was a great supporter of Israel. He was close to Golda Meir, and helped in many ways behind the scenes, as well as being very supportive publicly. His son, Franklin, has a huge heart for Israel, and has visited many times in his younger days. Franklin has been very outspoken on his feelings about the Middle East situation and has worked very hard to share the Gospel message in many hundreds of countries around the world including Muslim countries. Franklin understands and believes the biblical implications of the State of Israel.

How do you explain the basis of your support and that of Evangelical Christians for Israel?

Evangelical Christians read the entire Bible.

It does not contradict the Old Testament but adds to the richness of our belief in one G-d and the sacrifice he made in sending his son to die for all of us on earth. We believe every word of the bible is true, new and old. I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior because it is a natural continuation from the Old Testament.

It is not replacement theology, it is don’t mix other theology, or other customs or rituals or other beliefs.

If you read both old and new, it is clear that Jews are G-d’s chosen people and that in His covenant with Abraham that Israel would be a permanent homeland for the Jews. Because of that and Evangelical Christians, G-d the calls all of us to support Israel, it’s G-d’s commandment to love the Jews, and it’s G-d’s commandment to love all people.

Sometimes we have a strange way of showing that around the world, and sin enters into our lives through opinions and exaggerations and we lose focus on why Gd placed us where He has.

Mr. (Billy) Graham, is the most humble man I’ve ever met in my life. He is also one of the greatest example of love and kindness and openness to all people. And that is also how Franklin Graham addresses things. He’s straight to the point, and he interprets the Bible the way it’s written.

And that is to love the Jews, and the Greeks, and all people.

Are you interested in any specific projects in Israel or have you come just to check things out?

For me, it’s an education and it’s the start of what I hope to be a great opportunity for Franklin and the ministry. We hope to find ways to help the people of Israel and to do whatever we can to expand the relationship, such as through Heart to Heart.

When Franklin told me to come to Israel, I could hardly contain myself, my heart pounding, and my wife was beyond excited.

I don’t even know how to explain it; it’s beyond words. The people around me were just as excited, and they prayed, and they can’t wait to see the pictures and they can’t wait to hear the stories, and see what I’ve seen. They really want to see what it’s like for a person who was raised as a Jew to come back to his homeland and interpret it from a different point of view.

How do you advise Israel to get positive news across?

Obviously, politics always enters things and that makes the headlines. But the things that Israel is doing – medical technology, electric technology, weaponry – everything that is far advanced comes from Israel. I know in the US, we look to Israel as the toughest, fiercest fighting force in the world, highly committed and highly trained. In the US, we don’t have that sense of nationalism like we used to have. We don’t have the commitment and we have lost our moral compass. We have lost that because we have taken G-d out of our schools, our government and our public places.

Israel has the commitment and G-d is the history of this great country. You cannot remove G-d from life here.

Many great breakthroughs in history have come from Jews. Somehow the politics and the misunderstandings block us from being open and learning about each other, and we cannot break through those barriers. I had great breakthroughs in my life just by listening to G-d, and G-d directed me.

G-d took me to a whole different level in coming to work for the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. I’m at a place where people are truly committed to G-d and salvation. The mission is to take every available means possible and share the Gospel with everybody. We want to bring G-d back into people’s lives or introduce them to a personal relationship with him.

Israel is G-d’s chosen homeland, and the Jews are His chosen people. If you add the love that G-d wants us to share with each other and practice what He gave us in the Ten Commandments, everyone would flock here to see that in place.

How do you relate this to Israel today?

You should talk about the positive things you do. Minimize the other stuff. From a public relations point of view, I’ve done this my whole life, when I was working for McDonald’s and for Mrs. Reagan. If there’s a negative story, you don’t repeat it and go over it. You know that in the journalism business.

You don’t talk about it. You just give a statement, put it to bed and move on to the next thing. I think we allow the negative stories of Israel to be overstated and exaggerated. Israel has to talk about the great things it’s doing.

Share the good news as we do at BGEA, continue to help your neighbors and love them, and never give up. I am so impressed at what I have seen in the past few days in the way Israel continues to help their Arab neighbors. Along its borders and in Gaza, Israelis are performing life-saving acts every day to help a child get needed medical care, supply food and other supplies to those who drop rockets on their towns.

And when I asked why, I was told, “That’s what G-d tells us we should do.”

So love your neighbors, in spite of themselves.

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