Twenty years of twinning
This year we celebrate 20 years of twinning with Baptist churches in Israel, writes David Ronco. They take time, but have been a blessing to all churches involved
Initiated by the former Bedford Baptist Association in November 1999 Baptist Twinning in Israel now works with the support of the Central and South Eastern Baptist Associations.
Our purpose in twinning is to advance the gospel of our Saviour Jesus Christ by encouraging each other in prayer, fellowship, mission and practically, as the Lord enables. We aim to link churches here with local congregations in the Association of Baptist Churches in Israel (ABC). A fellowship of 17 Arab churches with a community of 3,000 people, they are the largest group within the small evangelical community of about 5,000.
They feel their smallness as a “minority within a minority within a minority”. As Arab-Israelis they are a minority within a majority Jewish state; as Christians, a minority within the majority Muslim Arab-Israeli population; and as Evangelicals, a minority within the majority traditional churches. They seek to build good relationships with the various groups of Messianic believers and also maintain informal contacts with churches in the West Bank and Gaza.
At times they have felt forgotten by the thousands of Christians who visit the Holy Land and return home totally unaware of their fellow believers living and witnessing there. Baptist Twinning in Israel has sought to be a voice for our brothers and sisters in Christ and to raise their profile and encourage more informed prayer and support.
One significant way of doing this has been to encourage twinnings. These take time to establish and develop but over the 20 years they have been a great blessing to all the churches involved. Currently there are six active twinning partnerships - Ampthill with Shefa’amr; Walsworth Rd, Hitchin with Tura’an; Leighton Buzzard with Haifa; Tring with Cana; Stondon and Creech St Michael with Eilaboun; and Battle with Ramallah and Ramla.
Each relationship is different but the key to an effective partnership is personal contact. Having visited the Tura’an church a couple of times, the Hitchin church this summer paid for Pastor Ziad and his family to visit them. The Ampthill church runs a programme to send a small group of their older young people each summer to Israel and the Battle church has now sent three all age teams to help run their twinned church’s holiday club (inset). These visits have strengthened the partnerships and proved life changing experiences for all involved.
Twinning opportunities are limited so we have tried to introduce UK Christians to our fellow believers in Israel in other ways. We have sponsored visits by Arab pastors to around 40 churches and to hundreds of pastors at several Ministers’ conferences. Three Pastors’ Study Tours led by Stuart Davison (SEBA Team Leader) have offered church leaders a unique opportunity to engage with ABC pastors and churches. Regular Introductory Tours led by David Ronco (Hertford) have given many church folk a unique Holy Land experience, walking where Jesus walked and seeing how he is at work there today by meeting local Christians. The next tour is in November 2020 – see www.baptisttwinningisrael.org.uk
One special encouragement has been our involvement in the establishment of Nazareth Evangelical College. Since 2006 this small college has grown to become the key Arabic training centre for church leaders in Israel. In addition to training many lay folk it has trained 16 of the 36 current pastors in evangelical churches in Galilee. Under the dynamic leadership of Azar Ajaj, the college continues to shape and strengthen the churches and impact the wider community - see www.nazcol.org
We thank God for this encouraging story of partnership and the various opportunities to introduce many to our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Holy Land. Please pray for them as they continue to live and work for Christ in their deeply divided land.
The Revd David Ronco is Chair of Baptist Twinning in Israel. More details here: www.baptisttwinningisrael.org.uk