NRB tours 'a nation transformed'

Dr. Frank Wright: The desert is blooming - and so is Israel's Silicon Valley

Frank Wright_311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Frank Wright_311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The leadership of the National Religious Broadcasters association – a Washington-based global network of thousands of Evangelical Christian broadcasters and publishers – paid a special visit to Israel last month and held their annual board meeting in Jerusalem. The Christian Edition spoke with Dr. Frank Wright, NRB president and CEO, at the end of their week-long tour.
‘Christian Edition’: Why did the NRB decide to hold its annual board meeting in Israel this year?
Wright: We came at the special invitation of the Israel Ministry of Tourism. They happen to be the largest single exhibitor at our annual NRB convention each year, so we have a close and unique relationship and it was only natural to take up their invitation. We also decided to combine the trip with our semi-annual board meeting, which was already scheduled for late spring anyway.
Did you discuss ways of deeper cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism?
We've had two main points of discussion. First, we spoke about how to expand the ministry's involvement in our NRB convention. The annual Israel breakfast which they sponsor was our most popular event at last year’s convention, so we want to build on that.
Second, ministry officials sought our advice on how to relate better to Christians in their tourism promotions and other efforts.
Our discussions with Israeli officials extended all the way to an off-the-record briefing with Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. That was a highlight for many.
Was this a new experience for many in your delegation?
Around 25 percent of our delegates had never been here before, so it was all new to them. But everyone was overwhelmed, even the veterans of past tours to Israel. The nation has simply been transformed. We see it in nature.
The desert is blooming as promised in Scripture... So Israel is extraordinarily different. It is so fruitful and green. But we were especially surprised by all the high tech ventures. The emerging Silicon Valley in Israel is amazing.
What else did the NRB delegates learn about Israel on this visit, given the recent turmoil in the region?
For all that Israel has to offer, it still has an image shaped by the conflict over the land. In all the polling, the number one concern about visiting Israel is security. So we were aware of the attempts to come across the border from Syria while we were here... Yet the nation still seemed to have this calm over it... None of the tourist sites were in danger. So we all felt safe. But the main perception problem for Israel is the security issue.
Given that there is a growing number of Evangelicals sympathetic to Palestinian nationalism, did you receive any criticism from NRB affiliates for visiting Israel?
There are many of our members whose primary outreach is into the Arab/Muslim world, yet there was really nothing negative communicated to us ahead of our visit. We came here fully recognizing that our membership is diverse, but everyone understands that this is still a special place for all Christians.
How widespread is support for Israel among the NRB constituency?
For the most part, Israel is seen favorably by our membership. But keep in mind that there is a wide diversity on theology represented within our ranks.
Some members have an eschatology that will be very different from others, and Israel may be more central to some in their view of the end times.
Did you have any other message for Israeli leaders whom you met?
It's no secret that some in Israel would not like to see the open proclamation of the Gospel, as several of our local members and broadcasters related to us.
But this is a matter of free speech. The only way to guarantee one person’s right to free speech is to protect everyone’s right to free speech. And we made that clear to all the Israeli officials we have engaged with this week. •