LET'S GO 360

Episode 24 The Holy Land - Arab Christians in the Midst of Turmoil

July 20, 2022 Larrie Fraley Season 1 Episode 24
LET'S GO 360
Episode 24 The Holy Land - Arab Christians in the Midst of Turmoil
Show Notes Transcript

I met Saleem and Andrea his wife several years ago but for over 35 years the Christian Holy Land Foundation has been focused on educating and advocating for issues concerning Israel and Palestine, both in the middle east and in the United States. Trust me if have not been there and,  we will talk about that a little more later, Israel is a nation full of beautiful but traumatic history. it has obviously been a place of great religious significance as well as great turmoil and suffering. the team there wants to help bring grace, peace, and understanding through Christ to this incredible land and its people. 

So in the middle east, chlf works with local churches and pastors to disciple, encourage and grow the local Christian community through evangelism, church planting, discipleship, relief and development ministries, and many more outreach programs.

But their ministry is not limited to the holy land, in the United States, chlf educates on and advocate for the many complex issues facing the holy land today. they offer programs for churches, small groups, or other ministries to help your church better understand these challenges and that’s what we intend to do with this podcast to our CCV family. they also organize and provide trips to the holy land to help educate and advocate through travel by spending time in communities, providing authentic cultural engagement, showing the reality of people's daily lives, and visiting biblical sites with experts, theologians, and historians.


Through relationships between western Christians and local indigenous Arab Christians, they share the gospel and disciple those who accept Christ and then provide holistic support that will foster a Christian movement across the holy land.


Website: https://www.chlf.org/ 

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CHLF.org 

Instagram:  @chlf_israel   

Linkedin:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/saleem-hanna-0285486/ 


Christ’s Church of the Valley: https://ccv.church/ 

CCV Missions:  www.ccv.church/missions  

Pastor Larrie Fraley: linkedin.com/in/larrie-fraley-53445032 

Email: missions@ccv.church 



Episode 24 Saleem Hanna, Christian Holyland Foundation


Larrie: [00:00:41] Well, I am so excited to interview our next guest, Saleem Hanna. I met Saleem many years ago and his wife Andera, when I went to the Holy Land and was able to spend some time with them.  Actually I was just there last month where I spent a little bit of time with him and his wife as we did a Holy Land hike. Now, Saleem is one of the team members and his wife Andera, that has relationships with between Western Christians and indigenous Arab Christians, where they share the gospel and disciple those who accept Christ and then provide this holistic support that hopefully is going to foster a Christian movement across the Holy Land. So today we are going to talk with Saleem, learn more about him and his family and his ministry. His organization has been around for over 35 years now. And it's called the Christian Holy Land Foundation. And it's focused on really educating and advocating for issues concerning Israel and Palestine and  both in the Middle East and in the United States. And trust me, if you have not been there, we are going to talk a little bit more about how you can be there, get there later. But Israel in itself is a nation that is just full of a beautiful but traumatic history.


Larrie: [00:02:05] Now, it's obviously been a place of great religious significance, as well as great turmoil and suffering. The team there wants to bring peace and grace and understanding through Christ to this incredible land and its people. So in the Middle East Christian Holyland Foundation. Works with local Christians and local churches and pastors to disciple and encourage and grow the local Christian community through spreading the gospel and church planting, discipleship relief and development ministries and many more outreach programs. But their ministry is not just limited to the Holy Land. In the United States, Christian Holy Land Foundation educates and advocates for many complex issues facing the Holy Land today. They offer programs to our churches and small groups and other ministries to help the church understand the differences that's going on there. And the challenge is and that's what we intend to do with this podcast today to our church family. They also organize and provide trips to the Holy Land to help educate and advocate through travel and spending time in the communities, providing authentic cultural encouragement and showing the reality of people's daily lives. And visiting biblical sites with experts and theologians and historians. Well, enough said. Saleem, welcome to the show.


Saleem: [00:03:35] Thank you, brother Larrie. It's very good to be with you. And I thank you for this opportunity. And we both, on behalf of my wife, even though she's not with me right now, that we always remember the times that we visited CCV in the past and made some friends. And we look forward if the Lord allows us to to be back there again. And. Thank you for that introduction. And I wanted to add ad something, if I may, that when the Lord called us into this ministry, it's been about 18 years ago, He called us into a ministry which at the time in our country was something that was not known, that people would leave their churches, go outside the walls of their church and reach out to people in their homes and in their businesses through our personal relationships. And that's exactly what happened about 18 years ago. And it's been going on and the Lord has really developed that into things that at the time we didn't know exactly where he was going to take us. But we are thankful for where he has taken us and what the ministry looks like today. So, yes, thank you again for having me with you.


Larrie: [00:04:44] Well, it's only been a month now and I'm already missing you and Andera and the church family there and the Holy Lands. I can't wait to go back next year. And we're going to talk between now and then, you and I, on how we can further this relationship with your team and CCV. But let's start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your family.

Saleem: [00:05:07] Well, Andera and I have been married for many years. We have four children. Two of them are married. And our third daughter, we have one grandchild and the second one is due in a month and a half. And our third daughter is finishing her second degree in psychology here in Israel. And our son has just started this semester studying also in the center of the country. So we're thankful for the family that the Lord has given us. And I’m originally from Nazareth. I was born here in Nazareth. My father was a pastor. He pastored a started the ministry and pastored that church in a village nearby in the outskirts of Nazareth. And he and my mother lived in that village for about 45 years. And so but that that church continues to be the church that Andera and I and our family attend, even though it's in a village nearby about 20 minutes away. But that's our church family. And so we we enjoy being there with them. And we are thankful that the Lord has us here in Nazareth. I I'm a pastor’s son. I'm a minister, but I also by profession, I'm an English teacher. So I also still teach. I teach in a school up in the north of the country, about an hour away from fro home. And so I'm also thankful for that opportunity that the Lord has allowed me to also be able to for me, it's not just the job. It's also reaching out to people in different places through my work and through just being with them.


Larrie: [00:06:50] Right. And so tell us a little now. You are a part of an amazing team there in the Holy Lands. Tell us a little bit about your team, the  geography of the different churches that they're involved with.


Saleem: [00:07:03] For those of you who have not visited Israel yet, and like my brother Larrie was saying, we welcome you to come. There are tours that whether through Christian Holy Land Foundation or if you're coming on a tour with Larrie or with somebody else, we always welcome you to come. The country itself is so important, even though geographically it's so small in a sense. But the majority of the Arab population lives within the northern part of the country. The country in general is divided into three sections north to south, the north, which predominantly has the Arab population, and then the central part, which is kind of mixed with more Jews. And then down in the South again, but the different ratios of the division itself. But most of our team, all of our team, we are seven families living up in the north. Geographically, we live and serve in four different villages in the north. The farthest away from us is about 45 minutes. So it's kind of giving you the area of where we are in. And we we. We came to know we came or we became a team by slowly learning that the Lord had called each one of us out of within our hearts, out of the church, and just saying, I want you to go out to the people who are not in the church because the people who are in the church, they're already in.


Saleem: [00:08:37] I want you to I need to reach the people who are out of the church. And we started slowly sharing that. And we found that there are some people that the Lord has been working in their hearts in that direction. And that is what brought us together initially and today this team is a team that supports itself, supports each other. We meet, we pray, we share our challenges. We share what we're going through. We we encourage one another. And other than the fact that whenever we try to see each other, it's always something that we enjoy our fellowship with one another. Like I said, most of the team itself, they're all I'm using the term just to make sure that I'm clear that we're talking about Arab ministers, Arab Christian ministers living in Israel and serving amongst our people, the people who live here in Israel. As the Lord opens these doors for us through what He has called us to do.


Larrie: [00:09:41] I know that when we were there just last month, we stayed, the team that we took is a team made up of about 12 guys that Mark Moore and myself lead on a hike from Nazareth up to the north shores of Galilee on about 150 miles over, over several days. But one of our favorite spots that we stay overnight after a long day, about 15 miles, is in Cana. And we always meet Hani and his wife, Shifa, who are the pastors there in the church at Cana. And it's just such a special time to be able to stay right near the Church of Cana and to know that we're right there in the first miracle in a place in the Holy Land. It's just a very special spot and Hani could not be more hospitable. He is just always there asking how he can help in any way. And so we look forward to a reunion someday with all the team members there when we come back. Now, Saleem, there's somewhat of a misconception by a lot of Americans today. They just assume that the holy lands is made up of we know there's Jews there, but for the most part, how could it not be more of a of a Christian nation in terms of the number of Christians that are there? But that's just simply not true, right?


Saleem: [00:11:13] Yes. That's one of the. Well, let me answer you first. But, yes, the population in itself, I always give these numbers. They might be a little bit less or more, but it's generally still accurate that about 20% of the Israeli population are Arabs, and then 2% out of the 20 are Christians. Whether all different kinds of denominations that are here in Israel, 18% of the remaining 18% of the Arab population are predominantly Muslims, and then 80% are Jews. And and so as Arabs, we are a minority. As Christian Arabs, we are another minority. And then as born again evangelical believers, we are then again a third minority within the country that we live in. And I know that I don't have, again, the years and numbers, but over the years there have been many who have left the country, left here, especially Arabs, because they wanted to seek a life in a country where they would be treated more as equals than just being minorities. But for us, we know that the Lord has us here, he put us here, we were born here, and this is the ministry. This is our mission to reach out to the people who are here. And this is one of our greatest challenges, actually, in a sense, because Israel being the country as it is with all of the religious emphasis that it has of Judaism and Christianity and Islam and other ideas or religious ideas that are also coming into the community with a lot of immigrants and different people coming from different countries in the world, the focus becomes so difficult to keep because everybody wants to make sure that his religion is being preserved.


Saleem: [00:13:15] Whereas the question is, what is the true religion or where is the real God out of all of those religions? And that is one of those challenges that we have to face, being a minority within a minority and within a minority. And then then they come and say, okay, who are you? Why do you think that you have the right answer? And that's where we need the Spirit of the Lord and His strength to guide us, to help us, to show Christ more than to preach about him, to show him in our daily life and in our daily walk, so that people will be able to recognize that there is something different about this group of believers who call themselves followers of Jesus. And in many different names, let's say.  But the Arab population, Yes. Continues to be that. And out of that number, I mean, that the 2% we're talking about 130,000 in number. And the evangelical born again believers today, probably between us in the Arab side were about six or 7000. On the Jewish side, they also have a good number of born again Jewish believers. There are a number is probably about 30,000 out of the 80% of the Jewish population in Israel. So both sides have a lot of work to do. 


Larrie: [00:14:41] So roughly overall, right around 80% then of the population are considered Jewish. And I'm sure there's some breakdowns within the Jewish religion there. And about 14% is non-Jewish, which would be or excuse me, 14% of or so would be Muslim, and then the rest would be sort of this, this Druze, Christian and other mix of about five or 6%. Now, Druze is a. Could you just share with us what that is? We actually ate at a Druze restaurant. Tell us a little bit about the Druze People Group.


Saleem: [00:15:21] Well, they the information that I know about them, first of all, they are in a certain sense, they are a secret group, secret religiously more than anything else. But geographically, they came from the north of the country, from Syria and Lebanon. And some of them, after the independence, after the 1948 war, they were living in the northern parts of Israel. And so Israel offered them to stay. And they offered their allegiance, let's say, to the state of Israel, even to say that we will be your citizens of the country to the full, we will serve in the military and all of that. But they still have parts of the parts of their families in Syria and in Lebanon.  Mostly They live up in the north of the country. They are faith wise, they are closest to Islam, but they also have their own prophet. So again, it's like it's like one of the groups of it's like it's considered, in a sense, a muslim group or a muslim faith, but they have their own prophet, not only Mohammed. And so they most of their faith and the things that relate to their faith, faith are are secret. One of the things that is very interesting about them is that if, let's say Americans come, they are more open to hearing the gospel from foreigners than they are from local people. So it's difficult for us to approach them. And it's not because of who we are and they are. It's just because of how they receive from foreigners more than they do from us. 


Larrie: [00:17:05] Interesting. So it's safe to say that 2% of the population of Israel are Christian, which kind of puts them into an unreached people group category. Yeah. It's interesting.


Saleem: [00:17:16] In a sense. Yes, in a sense, yes.


Larrie: [00:17:18] Now, the your team I want to talk a little bit about the team because what are the nationality or what is the nationality of the Galilean team?


Saleem: [00:17:31] Well, I'm laughing because this is one of those questions that is always difficult to answer, and many times it's easier for persons to answer that individually than for it to be something that is generalized above all. But if I want to talk about just clearly out, we are all Israelis in the sense that we were born in Israel. We are Arab Israelis because we are Arabs. We come from an Arab background, we speak Arabic. We have the Arabic tradition. And if I may take you back in a sense to Acts chapter two, that on that day it says that there were Arabs out of the people who were amongst that group of amounts, the crowds, and who were there hearing and and witnessing what happened on the day of Pentecost. And so whether these Arabs are from Saudi Arabia, from the Arab Peninsula, or where they're from, you know that that takes us way back into history. But we always tend to to make it clear because again, being our nationality is Arab politically, we are citizens of the state of Israel. We carry Israeli IDs and Israeli passports. Some the whole idea of Palestinians is is a matter that takes us into venues that are very open to discussion on different levels, whether they are political, whether they are social, I mean, on the social level. We're all Palestinians in the sense that this is where we came from and our ancestors came from. And they were part of that state, the country of Palestine, before there was a state of Israel. But then after the State of Israel, they were given the choice of either remaining here or going into other surrounding countries. So we as a Galilee team, basically we are Arab-Israelis or who are living in the Galilee, but we always put our faith And so the definition would be that I am a Christian, Arab, Israeli, or I'm a Christian I'm a Christian Arab living in Israel, one of those two. But it's important for us to identify ourselves, first of all, by our religion. That is one of those things that makes a big difference here in the country. 


Larrie: [00:20:01] Right,  Well, because you all serve Christ. One thing is for sure, you're all citizens of the kingdom of God. Yes. And so that's the that's the beautiful thing. Well, we're running out of time. But I do want to, first of all, invite you back, as you just described, just with that one question, it's it's complex to try to unpack that in such a short period of time. And I have so much more that I want to talk to you about. But could could you share with us some of the struggles that you're going through?


Saleem: [00:20:36] Well, I mentioned one of those struggles that as a team and as believers in the country, whether these struggles, whether they are social or whether they are denominational or religious because of the minorities of who we are. And it always presents a challenge before us to even amidst other Christian denominations. Why are we different? And I'm not saying that other Christians are not Christians, but one of the facts that I don't think many people know, at least that characterize religious belongings, let's say, here in our country, is that you are you belong to the religion of the family that you were born into. It's not a matter of choice. You don't choose it. And so when we come and talk about giving your life to Jesus or maybe even changing your your faith and your beliefs, that word change or the idea of change is something that is very difficult for people to accept and comprehend because it's not part of that of the culture. So that is one of those challenges where living out the life of Christ with the people without necessarily preaching it to them is one of those main challenges that we have to face every day, in a way.


Larrie: [00:21:56] Well, I.


Saleem: [00:21:56] Know also other challenges. Yeah.


Larrie: [00:21:59] I was just going to say, I know there's there's problems that. How should I say this, that that American Christians can cause for believers in Israel? And I want to save that topic for our next podcast. I really want to unpack how do we as American Christians sometimes cause problems for the believers there in Israel and for your team? That's a whole I think a podcast in itself. Can you promise me that? We'll talk about that next.


Saleem: [00:22:32] I will promise you. I will need I will need to be ready for that. I mean, I'm ready for it. But it's something that is it's sensitive. But I thank you for opening that up. And I would be glad to talk about it because it is very important for the believers here and I and it's equally important and this is one of the things that the Lord has in his own way asked me and called me to do is to help increase, let's say, the awareness of our brothers and sisters in the West as to who we are and how we can build our relationships in a way that will better uphold the Kingdom of the Lord that we are all part of. So, yes, I will gladly talk about that.


Larrie: [00:23:15] Well, as we wrap up today here, I tell us, I mean, maybe the 30 seconds or so, how can we how can we pray for you and your team?


Saleem: [00:23:26] Well, we're coming up on summer. And this next Monday is the first day is the day that one of our first VBS starts. And so we are preparing in different places our locations. The VBS is one of those summer programs where we reach out to children and through them, to their families and to the older, younger, older, young people. And so this is one item that we really need prayer for, that the Lord will just give that fruit and also provide strength for all those working in them. Another challenge continues to always be a financial challenge, which we also ask for your prayers. But if I may, maybe I can put it in a different way that I would like to ask you anybody who is hearing this as well, of course, to give us 3 minutes of your time. And what do I mean by those 3 minutes, one minute to pray for the team and for the ministry for this year, brothers and sisters here in the land and what the Lord is doing in us and through us and in the in the in the community. The second minute would be to what you heard today, maybe even tell somebody about us and encourage them that if we to learn more about the believers and specifically the Christian Holyland Foundation team here in the Holy Land. And then the third minute, if I may ask, would be to maybe give us a minute of your minutes worth of your month salary just to support the work that the Lord is doing here and Israel. I think that would be very encouraging in many ways. If you give us those 3 minutes and just keep us in your prayers all the time.


Larrie: [00:25:06] Well said, my friend. Well said. And we will certainly promote that. And I want to let everybody know that you can go to our show notes and we'll include links to the Christian Holy Land Foundation's website. You can learn more about what they're doing. Also, keep an eye on our mission trips. We are planning to go to the Holy Land. I would say more in the coming year than any time we've we've done in the history of CCV. So we're planning on putting a lot of trips together to go over will visit the Holy Land team there. You'll see first hand you're going to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. So keep an eye on those trips because we are excited about our relationship with the Christian Holy Land Foundation, with Saleem and Andera, and we want to continue to do that. Well, thank you, my friend, for joining us today. And we look forward for our next podcast, but I look forward more to visiting with you and your lovely wife, Andera, in the near future.


Saleem: [00:26:05] Amen. Thank you very much, my brother. Thank you. And and to you personally and maybe to all others. But John Samples gives you his greetings and Matt Nance, who is our CEO now. Also bless you with everything that you are doing for us as well.


Larrie: [00:26:21] God bless.


Speaker2: [00:26:22] You. This has been let's go 360 your visibility into what God is doing worldwide as we talk with those living out the great commission inspired by the great commandment so that we'll stand with the great multitude before the throne when the mission of God is complete. May God bless you as we go and send those here near and far. Thanks for listening.