Penitents place a statue of Jesus Christ on top of a float during the Palm Sunday procession of the "Estudiantes" brotherhood in Oviedo, northern Spain.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This morning on my way to buy a sandwich for lunch, I walked past an ambulance that was parked at the curb and noticed that the dedication sign on the side of the ambulance read: “Presented to the people of Israel by IMPACT FOR (space) MINISTRIES” Taking a closer look, I saw that the word “Christ” was faintly visible in the empty space, so it was obvious that the plastic letters spelling out “Christ” had been carefully peeled off. Curious, I went to the other side of the ambulance and saw the exact same thing.
I knew nothing about Impact for Christ Ministries, so I googled them and discovered that they are headed by Prophet Philip Banda from South Africa, and that their stated mission is “To glorify God, to proclaim the Kingdom of God by preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.” They have nothing to do with The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), and the Fellowship has nothing to do with them.
Nevertheless, I started thinking through the scenario that might have led to this situation. There was very likely a day, sometime in 2013, when members of Impact for Christ Ministries excitedly got on a plane in South Africa and flew 12 or more hours to Israel for their special dedication, filled with pride in their hearts regarding the (roughly) $150,000 that they had raised for “the people of Israel.”
Awaiting them in Israel was a shiny new ambulance decorated with ribbons and, after raising a glass of champagne and, no doubt, speeches by the head of Magen David Adom and Prophet Philip Banda, the ambulance set off on its mission to save lives. Alongside this imagery was my thought of how they would react if they happened to see to see the ambulance today, just as I did. As a Jew and an Israeli, I was immediately flooded by a feeling of shame, knowing that their God-inspired intention had been desecrated so cynically.
I wondered how and when the act to remove the word “Christ” from the ambulance was planned. Was it a decision made in a central office in the headquarters of MDA or in a dark corridor? Was it the ambulance driver himself, or a dedicated volunteer? Or perhaps MDA is completely unaware of this and it is the work of a passer-by? Clearly, whoever removed the letters from both sides of the ambulance tried hard not to damage the vehicle. So unlike the despicable arson of the Church of the Multiplication, the motivation behind the removal of the letters was surely not vandalism for vandalism’s sake, but had some deeper purpose, which I am trying to understand.
My initial assumption that the perpetrator is simply opposed to Jews or Israelis receiving donations from Christians cannot be true. If that were the case, removing the letters would not change the fact, only conceal it, and be an act of deception toward an innocent victim being rushed for emergency treatment. (Much like the soft drink manufacturers that I suspect often slip some sugar in my “zero calorie” drink to make it taste better.) Logically, if the perpetrator wanted to warn people not to travel in an ambulance donated by Christians – and had decided not to simply destroy the vehicle – to achieve his goal, not only should he not remove the word “Christ,” he should paint the warning in very large letters.
My conclusion, of course, is that this is no more than a deed of outright hypocrisy, no better than that of the leader of a large Jewish organization who agreed to accept a generous check from the IFCJ but refused to have a photograph of himself receiving the check. In his cowardly act, the letter-peeler was saying, “By all means continue using that ambulance to help Israel’s sick and perhaps save their lives.
Just don’t let people know or admit who made it possible.”
Throughout a long career in the field of fundraising I have tried to teach professionals the ethics of donor recognition and the highest commandment of fundraising: to honor and respect the wishes of philanthropists who voluntarily enable good things to happen in society. This is a rule that we at the Fellowship adhere to very strictly. I must admit that the ambulance I saw today was one of the lowest moral actions I have seen in recent memory, and should be publicized accordingly.
As we approach the High Holy Days and our obligation to conduct a cheshbon nefesh (self-examination), we need to recognize that it is time for Israelis to welcome with open arms and hearts the deeds of millions of loving Christians who make sacrifices everyday so that Jews and Israelis in need can receive medical care, experience less poverty and have more security. But until that happens, let those who are opposed at least have the courage of their convictions, and not accept the assistance our Christian friends are offering, instead of cowardly removing plastic letters that spell out the name of Christ.
The author is the executive vice president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and the co-founder of the Israel Academy of Philanthropy.