Christian Friends of Israel, Jerusalem, (CFI) held their 31st annual conference from May 22 through 25 at the Yehuda Hotel in Jerusalem describing it as “three days and four nights filled with praise, worship, teaching, education and excursion.”
The international evangelical Christian ministry headquartered in Jerusalem could not be more aptly named. CFI operates multiple outreaches in Israel and throughout the world representing Christians who truly love Israel. The organization’s primary objective is to “take the love of Yeshua back to the people who brought it to us… We also teach the [Christian] Church about its Hebrew heritage and Biblical responsibility to the Jewish people,” said Co-founder Sharon Sanders on opening night.
Sanders and fellow co-founder, husband, Ray, have been succeeded in the worldwide ministry by their daughter and son-in-law, Stacie and Kevin Howard. The Sanders have lived in Jerusalem for over 20 years and spent close to three decades traveling and speaking on behalf of Israel’s Jewish community. CFI’s goal is to demonstrate friendship and unconditional love for her Jewish citizens including Holocaust survivors, victims of terror and families in the South who have been traumatized by rocket attacks from Gaza.
CFI’s Bible-based commitment to friendship and support for Israel was clear among the many conference attendees. Janita Tsai, a volunteer with CFI Hong Kong, told KNI that she and her daughter made the 5,000-mile trip to attend her third international conference, to tour Israel and to demonstrate their love and support for the nation.
Evelien, from the Netherlands, lived in Israel from 1998 to 2009 and traveled over 2,000 miles to attend. “I spent two months living in a kibbutz when I first arrived,” Evelien told KNI News, “and later joined a Messianic congregation in Jerusalem. CFI always has good, uplifting conferences. I have learned much about the importance and mystery of the future of Messiah.”
Things aren’t falling apart, they are falling into place.
After Joshua Aaron, an award-winning Messianic Jewish singer and songwriter, wound up the opening-night crowd with worship, Sanders delivered the opening address, stressing the importance of Christian outreach to Jews as friends, not as targets for conversion, and the need to educate the Christian Church about the errors of replacement theology.
Striking an optimistic note, Sanders mentioned what she described as the relatively recent Spirit-driven improvement in relationships between believers in Yeshua and Jewish Orthodox leaders.
“Jerusalem is in the process of putting things in order and it could just be for the King,” she told her audience. “Things aren’t falling apart, they are falling into place.”
Regarding the End Times, she suggested, “those Jews who have not yet learned the truth of Messiah will be shocked, then joyful. Most Christians will be shocked too, to learn that he is a Jew.”
The first session included a presentation about CFI’s Foresake Them Not program, a ministry to comfort Holocaust survivors. CFI provides quilts, financial support, tanachs, birthday cards and, most importantly, personal time and friendship to a number of Holocaust survivors, most of whom suffer from financial woes, poor health, haunting memories and an inability to sleep soundly.
“Dear Christians,” began a thank-you letter from one of the outreach’s beneficiaries, “we are not forsaken.”
CFI’s Communities Under Attack and Under His Wings program assists victims of rocket attacks and terror. Presenters noted that not only have children and whole families in southern Israel suffered trauma, they have also endured burdensome financial struggles.
“The children are born into trauma and poverty,” in communities like Sderot. Located less than a mile from Gaza and an ongoing target of Qassam rockets from Gaza since 2001, 13 Israelis have been killed and many wounded in Sderot as a result of the attacks. The onslaught from the Gaza Strip has caused millions of dollars in damage and profoundly disrupted daily life. “At least 75 percent of children aged 4–18 in Sderot suffer from post-traumatic stress,” according to irinnews.org.
Another speaker, Jonathan Spyer, director of the Rubin Center, a fellow at the Middle East Forum, author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict and a columnist at the Jerusalem Post, provided an insightful and fascinating overview of key strategic developments in the Middle East.
Also addressing conference attendees was an Arab Israeli believer who runs a ministry that reaches out to Jews and Arabs with the love of Yeshua.
While the speaker has a fearless determination when he evangelizes, he many times faces dangerous and frightening situations. His example inspired many.
“Listening to (this speaker) I felt challenged to be bolder, to be more willing to take risks for the sake of the Gospel,” one conference attendee told KNI.
The speaker exhorted the conference participants to remember that as they walk this land and share their love for Israel, that there are both Jews and Arabs here.
“Arabs can be as much peace givers to this country, and possibly even more because they feel they have a responsibility to this land,” he said.
He encouraged believers to pray for the Arab community in the land.
“God, would You reveal yourself, reveal your truth to the Muslim Arab population. Reveal your truth to the traditional Christian Arab community. God, would you reveal your truth and open their eyes as well to see that, yes, this is the place that has been their home for hundreds of years, but they have a responsibility to fight for its peace and to fight for its future just as much as to say they have a right to be here.”
Karen Faulkner contributed to this article.