'There's nothing religious about it'

Christian solidarity mission's third contingent to tour North.

As Katyushas rained down on the North, a resolute busload of American evangelical Christians snaked its way up to the town of Metulla last week, just one kilometer from the Lebanese border. As rockets lit the sky above them, the visitors were determined to show their support for Israel, confident that God was on their side. The solidarity mission is the brainchild of Earl Cox, a real-estate executive who has held senior positions in four US administrations and now produces Front Page Jerusalem, a Christian radio program that broadcasts from Israel. Two "waves" of visitors have made the trip, and a third is due to arrive this week. During their seven-day visit here, mission participants visit bomb shelters, hospitals and tank corps in the North, as well as give blood to Magen David Adom and donate money to help those affected by the war. Each mission hosts between 20 and 30 people, many of whom, Cox said, represent "mega-churches" with upwards of 10,000 members. According to Cox, the trip's participants are motivated by a deep belief that "when we help Israel, we are serving our God. "We will stand beside Israel with more than just prayers," he said. "We will give our money, we will give our energies - whatever is necessary to let the enemy know that they are not going to frighten us from coming to Israel." Cox and his wife, Kathleen, organized the trips in a matter of days, making it clear to participants that the visit would not be relaxing or scenic. "I tell them, 'You're coming for one purpose - to walk in a war-torn land, to walk with the people and give your money. If you're not willing to give your money and your blood when you come, don't come,'" Cox said. Cox puts his own money where his mouth is. He refuses to accept "a red cent" from anyone toward his Israel-related projects, which include his global radio program, billboards proclaiming Christian support for the country and various charitable works. "We've had people walk up with checks, and we turned them down," he said. "We say, 'Give them directly to services.' "I'm spending God's money," he added. Cox went out of his way to make clear that proselytization is not part of the solidarity mission's agenda. "I'm not here preaching," he said. "I'm coming here to do exactly what the word of God tells me to do, which is to stand with the nation of Israel and comfort her people, and that does not mean that I need to bring a Bible here and say, you've got to believe this. There is no ulterior motive whatsoever. I have never ever proselytized." Cox wasn't always a die-hard supporter of Israel. Until six years ago, he knew "almost nothing" about the country. "I didn't even know where the Dome of the Rock was." While out for a jog one morning in his neighborhood in South Carolina, Cox said that God spoke to him, telling him to support the people and State of Israel from his "own storehouse." He returned home and told his wife that "either God just spoke to me or I need a doctor." After visiting a physician, who couldn't offer a medical explanation for the incident, Cox decided to devote his life to Israel. "We threw out our television," he said, "and we bought every book we could find on Israel." Cox then set up the Front Page Global Radio Network, which broadcasts throughout the US. "It gives me an 'in' into a community that already stands with Israel," Cox said. "All I have to do is put out the message and there are people who will listen." Three weeks ago, Cox decided to put out a very clear message: He and his wife were going to northern Israel, to the eye of the storm, and anyone who wished to join them was welcome. A week later, the first contingent of supporters arrived. "We could not find an Israeli who would take us into the area," Cox said. "Finally, we negotiated with a couple of hotels in Metulla, who sent out a few of their vans. "[The driver] was terrified the whole time, and we were too," he said. "For the better part of 45 minutes, the Katyushas were right over our heads. But every person who went with me is going home with a message: We need to stand with Israel." Cox wiped away tears as he spoke about the group's experiences, which included a visit to a soldier who lost his leg in the fighting, and a trip to the bomb shelter at Haifa's Rambam Hospital, where they distributed toys and food to children. In upcoming weeks, Cox plans on organizing a care-package drive for soldiers, in addition to bringing more missions up north. "I've lived a good long life - what do I have to lose? In fact, I've got everything to gain by promoting my beliefs about standing with my fellow human beings in a time of trouble. "There is nothing religious about it," he added. "It's only what decent people should be doing. There are a lot of decent people in America, and I'm going to be calling on many more of them to stand with Israel."