Discovering Life Together at the Dead Sea

by Dr. Bruce Hebel

“I’ve been to enough of these conferences. Nothing ever changes afterwards. Why should I come to this one?” The previous “reconciliation” meetings in Israel between Messianic Jews and Believing Arabs had consisted of each side airing their grievances and wanting to know what the other side was going to do to resolve them. Since the resolutions offered were never satisfactory, forgiveness was not ever truly granted. Pastor Tony Sperandeo, who organized the event, responded to this question, asked by both his Arab and Messianic friends alike, “I’ve heard this message. It’s different. Please give it one more chance.”

As a result of Pastor Tony’s faith, on March 22-24, 2017, 85 believers, evenly divided between Arabs and Jews,  gathered at a resort near the Dead Sea. At the beginning, the participants seemed to be “politely guarded”. We sensed an “I’m here, but I am not convinced yet” undercurrent.

As we began to unpack the Forgiving Forward message, we sensed the attitudes shift. The Mandate message always produces a bit of shock and recalibration as people begin to see the harsh consequences of unforgiveness.  Everyone was sober minded as they headed to dinner. During Session 2, as we helped them understand that forgiveness stands apart from reconciliation and that forgiveness is based upon the blood of Jesus, not the offending party, we felt the guardedness begin to fade. We have found that whenever people understand that the question of justice was settled on the Cross, their spirits and hearts tend to relax. The night ended with a call to repentance of the sin of devaluing the Cross through their unforgiveness.

The next morning we taught the Protocols of Forgiveness and released everyone to pair off and help each other forgive.  It was beautiful to watch men help men and women help women to forgive the deep wounds they carry. Many had struggled with deep historical wounds. Some of history’s most horrific events have been perpetrated against these two groups. The shift occurred when the realization began to spread through the room that if forgiveness does not work in the extreme, it doesn’t work in the common. The blood of Jesus is enough for everything. The rest of the day was given to forgiving, testimonies of forgiveness, and Q & A.

The last day was a call to living out the oneness that Jesus has already declared to be true of us. Unity began to break out. There was public repentance of unforgiveness. Heartfelt blessings, prayers and hugs were passed between the two groups. We stood in the back and just wept, amazed at God’s grace in letting us be a part of this historic event.

After the conference, we shared lunch with the key organizers of the event.  One of the leaders said, “What are we going to do to spread this to our congregations?”  So right then and there, the pastors got their calendars out and scheduled a meeting in May when the Arab churches will join a Messianic congregation in Northern Israel for a day of fellowship and unity. To our knowledge this has never happened before. ONLY GOD!

This week we celebrate the truth that in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God is satisfied with the blood of His Son as payment in full for the sins of the world against Him. What our new friends at the Dead Sea now realize is that God expects us to be satisfied with Jesus’ blood as well. It was in making that choice that they found the way to live together in peace.

Amy Smithwick