Serving Israel with love

A largely evangelical organization dedicated to building ties between Christians and Jews Bridges for Peace operates on a small campus near Zion Square.

A ‘Zealous8:2’ project participant visits an Ethiopian community center as part of her service (photo credit: Courtesy)
A ‘Zealous8:2’ project participant visits an Ethiopian community center as part of her service
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘Basically, what we are doing is reaching the young adult generation worldwide,” Rebecca Verbeten tells me, leaning back in a comfortable chair in the book-lined library of the Jerusalem headquarters of Bridges for Peace.
A largely evangelical organization dedicated to building ties between Christians and Jews (but not to missionize, its leaders are quick to assure), Bridges for Peace operates on a small campus behind a gate at the end of a tree-lined alley only a short walk from Zion Square.
“It is time to awaken the next generation,” she declares, explaining that for many there is a cognitive dissonance between reading the Bible and understanding that the ancient Israelites are the Jews of today.
“I grew up in the church and it wasn’t until I was in my early 30s that I made that connection,” she recalls. “Almost the entirety of my life was spent reading the Bible and not realizing that this is an actual people and an actual place, and this is important. So what we are trying to do is bring that message to the millennial generation.”
“We have teams in many nations. We have teams of young people who are educating, who are holding events, prayer meetings, conferences.
We have a tour every year where we bring young people here from around the world. They get to tour the land, receive teaching on-site, and there is a service component. We go into schools, we plant trees – things that enable us to give to the land and to the people.
“We also have a one-year program with young people from the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia; they are here to spend an entire year. A tour sometimes is not enough,” she continues.
“In their year here, they plug into the different projects we have,” she details, mentioning the organization’s social media presence, Jerusalem food bank, house repair program and nascent school lunch program.
“We are really trying to equip this generation so that when they return to their nations of origin, they can be a bold voice for Israel.”
EMANUELLA, A 19-year-old Bible college student from British Colombia, is one of the participants in Bridges for Peace’s Zealous8:2, the “young adult ministry.”
“I really love it,” she says of her experience in Israel.
“It’s been great just because we have truly been able to see the land. For me, I like to indulge in what I’m doing and instead of just a tour, we get a whole year to see these places and then go and experience them as much as we want. It’s a different experience day-to-day busing around the city, compared to riding on a tour bus.
That’s a really great thing.”
Having grown up with Jewish friends, she was familiar with the concept of Shabbat before coming here, but now that she is in Jerusalem, she says enjoys celebrating what she sees as a more authentic Shabbat.
“One of things we are doing is teaching Christians the Jewish roots of our faith and in that, they are learning about the Shabbat and what it is and participating,” Verbeten adds.
Emanuella affirms that it has been a meaningful experience for her as a Christian to meet Jews as individuals. “You look at Jewish people and sometimes you view them from a distance, and see that they are God’s chosen people – but then you get up close and see that we are all just people, and we all just love each other. That’s the greatest thing about being here. It’s the day-to-day aspect, just being surrounded by the Jewish people.
Experiencing it for a full year is phenomenal. It really is everything that God says it is.”
RECENTLY, CHIEF Rabbis David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef issued a strong condemnation against another Jerusalem-based Christian organization, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, accusing it of engaging in missionary activity. “Part of this organization’s goals is to change the religion of Jews from the religion of Israel and to bring them under the wings of Christianity,” the chief rabbis wrote in a letter.
According to the Bridges for Peace website, the group believes in supporting Israel because it is important to love what God loves, because the Christian world is “indebted” to the Jewish people and because “Yeshua [Jesus] clearly linked these events [the return of the Jewish people to their land] to His imminent return.”
“The New Testament clearly describes the signs of the times that will precede the coming of Messiah. These signs are most clearly seen when looking at Israel. We are not saying this will happen in the next 10 years, next 50 years or even our lifetime. We are merely pointing to the signs of the times,” the website maintains.
Asked if her organization has a missionary component, Cheryl Hauer, Bridges for Peace’s international development director, replied firmly in the negative.
“Our goal is to extend a hand of unconditional friendship to the Jewish people,” she asserts, admitting that the history between the two faith communities has not been good.
“The Christian community in many ways failed the Jewish community in history, but at this point we want to move forward with a paradigm of respect and true friendship,” she explains. “Our projects provide benefits on both sides of the bridge, giving Christians ways to express support and Jews ways to understand that there are now Christians who are not the enemy and don’t want to change them.”
She says she understands that there are those who “believe that Christians are not to be trusted,” but that attitudes in Israel have been changing. “We are here to love we are here to serve and build relationships, and that is it.
We have no ulterior motive, nothing hidden behind our backs.”
“We do this because we love the Bible and the Bible tells us if we bless Israel, we will be blessed in turn,” Verbeten concludes.