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Arab Pastor Called to Share the Message of Salvation in Nazareth, Jesus’s Hometown

Pastor Saleem Shalash was born and raised in Nazareth in the Catholic faith, and attended Hebrew University to become a travel agent. During his lifetime, he has held several secular jobs including serving as a volunteer policeman.

On August 6, 1994 Saleem accepted Jesus into his heart. A friend who had been sharing with him passed away in a traffic accident. In his own words, ” One died, and one was born again.”

Saleem (center), graduation for M.A. in Pastoral Studies at Israel College of the Bible
Saleem (center), graduation for M.A. in Pastoral Studies at Israel College of the Bible

He asked Jesus to show him His way and His will for his life. First, he attended the Nazarene Church and served as a worship leader. He then attended the Baptist Church. He studied at Bethlehem Bible College and also Israel College of the Bible. He received a B.A., as well as two Master’s Degrees (Theology and Pastoral Studies), and he is currently working toward his Doctorate.

On the 20th of September, 2009, Saleem felt impressed to start a small Bible study in his home. He had no ambitions nor thoughts about being a pastor. He simply felt led of the Lord to open his home. As he puts it, he is not a man who is easily convinced of things and he needs time to ascertain whether his impressions are true. So, he opened the study with 20 people which soon grew to a point where they needed a larger place in which to meet.

At this point, the Lord told him to rent a larger place? When he wondered how he was to pay for it, the answer came with crystal clarity. “Just do it!”

Saleem said it was like walking on water but, for two years the rent was covered entirely. The group takes up no collections. Instead, they place a box near the door and whoever wants to give, gives. It is that simple.

After a while, the study grew to be about 60-70 people, and again Saleem went to the Lord, worried about contracts, jail, and every other possible pitfall. Once again, the Lord impressed upon him, “This is not your business, it is mine.”

One evening, Saleem’s wife Nisreen had a dream about the church they were going to build. Saleem thought it would be completely impossible because the place required so much work.

Neverthless, he brought the idea to his elders who were surprised but, because they loved and trusted Saleem, they prayed and decided that this was, indeed, from God!

They all spent two months working. They built stairs, renovated rooms, made a Sunday school and now the rent was $1,200 per month and, again, it was covered each month!

Saleem, his wife Nisreen, and their two children
Saleem, his wife Nisreen, and their two children

It is important to note that Saleem’s wife Nisreen is an integral part of the church, who among many things leads a women’s meeting on the first Thursday of every month, and his father-in-law is one of the elders.

The church, appropriately named Home of Jesus the King Church, focuses on outreach, and everyone comes for a purpose. The idea is not to simply get blessed but to be a blessing to others.

Their vision is to grow in the grace and knowledge of God, to build leaders and not followers, and to be project oriented.

Some of the projects are:

To provide school backpacks to poor Arab and Jewish families in Nazareth. They began with 20 bags and now provide 100. Inside each bag the church places a pencil case and a letter entitled, “Where are you going to spend eternity?”

During Christmastime, 140 food packages are provided. These include not only food items, but also Bibles, chocolates and the same letter.

The church also prints calendars, with an encouraging scripture for each day. On these calendars, which are given away freely, recipients will see the details available to be able to contact the church and receive counseling.

On Christmas night, members of the church visit three hospitals. They visit the children’s department and distribute toys, and there is a toy given to every child they meet.

The congregation also visits two houses for the elderly. They distribute warm blankets and share the message of salvation. Thus far, four elderly people have come to faith.

In Saleem’s words, “We need to be focused on outreach. The church needs to go to the people, rather than waiting for the people to come to church. The church can be like an aquarium and we forget the sea!”

The church meets on Saturday evening and Wednesday. Every alternate Wednesday, there is Bible Study and Worship.

In addition, the church has begun to offer theology classes (B.A. level) every Friday night.

During my conversation with Pastor Shalash, He was forthcoming, open and honest and after only a few moments, I felt as if I had known him for a very long time. I wondered, as a Jewish believer familiar with some of the issues some Palestinians have, where Saleem stood with regard to Israel and the covenantal promises of God on her behalf.

At this point in our interview, Saleem spoke with a great deal of passion.

“Why does Israel still exist? Why are so many people trying to destroy Israel? If God’s promises to Israel no longer exist, how can we trust any of His promises? If God changes His mind, we have a big problem.”

He goes on, “What about Romans 11? Why are there so many Nobel Prize winners? How can anyone think of boycotting Israel? Throw out your remote control! Delete your Facebook and throw out your jeans! Throw your camera and video tapes out the window!

“12 million Jews are not blessed because of Abraham. They are blessed because of God!”

Saleem wants to know how he can be a light for the Jewish people. He wants the Jewish people to know that Jesus is their Messiah. He is their Jesus.

Saleem wants to be associated with God’s plan, and during our conversation he quoted many Scriptures. He spoke of the giving of the law in Exodus 19. He spoke of Galatians 3 and Romans 3. Saleem believes that the covenental promises of God to His people are real because of the character of God.

He has many Messianic Jewish friends and is very anxious to provoke those who are not believers to jealousy. He wants to make the Jewish people jealous for what belongs to them, and has been taken by someone else. Once again the theme of covenant and trust was very obvious.

Saleem does not take a salary as Pastor of the church. Nevertheless, the church continues to pay rent and needs help on a regular basis, as they are devoted, completely and entirely, to fulfilling the heart of God.

Throughout the interview I found myself wishing I lived closer to Nazareth and spoke Arabic. This is a congregation in which one can grow and serve. This is real.

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K. J. Kruger is a mother of four and has lived in Israel for over 20 years. As teacher, life coach, writer, and speaker, she has been passionately involved in reconciliation between Arabs and Jews, and sees her role as being part of tikkun olam.

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