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Patterson recalls meeting with Yasser Arafat

ISTANBUL, Turkey (BP)–The Muslim call to prayer echoes through a window of a downtown hotel where only days before anti-American demonstrations filled the streets.

A few feet inside the window of the same hotel sit Paige and Dorothy Patterson, considering the need for peace in the Middle East.

That peace will come only with the reign of Jesus Christ, said Paige Patterson, the president of Southeastern Seminary.

At an early age, Patterson became intimately aware of the detrimental impact the Middle Eastern crisis had on its citizens. When he visited Jerusalem almost 40 years ago with his family, a homeless Palestinian boy named Mohammed followed them and won over their hearts. They brought the 14-year-old Mohammed home to Texas and he chose to change his name to “David.”

David, whom Patterson said he is “as close to as if he was a natural brother,” is now a successful businessman and living with his family in Amman, Jordan.

Through the years, David has prompted his American Bible-preaching brother to seek out ways to help the peace process. As a result, Patterson has been able to speak with key Middle Eastern diplomatic leaders.

“I have been able to visit with four different prime ministers of Israel, with Chairman (Yasser) Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, President (Nursultan) Nazarvaev of Kazakhstan, and former President (Abdurrahman) Wahid of Indonesia.”

Through these political contacts, Patterson said he is better able to understand and appreciate the perspective of each group.

“I have been able to talk with them openly about the great advantages afforded to a society by absolute religious liberty,” Patterson said.

But each visit with the various political leaders posed a dilemma that Patterson believes every follower of Christ faces when ministering to people of different faiths.

“The dilemma is that of maintaining absolute truthfulness on one hand and on the other hand respecting the dignity of those who have views other than our own,” Patterson said. “In this regard, Paul’s famous sermon to the intellectuals on Mars Hill is an example of the way to proceed.”

Paul was a student of the culture, Patterson said, and understood the beliefs of those among whom he labored. “He found that bridge within their faith which would enable him to present the claims of Jesus Christ,” Patterson added.

Patterson used Paul’s approach when he spoke to the leaders.

“I never found any of these leaders who were offended by this approach,” he said.

During a private interview with Arafat, which was prompted by David in Baghdad almost a decade ago, Patterson offered a remedy to the Middle Eastern conflict: Peace through Jesus Christ.

“I began by asking him [Arafat] if he held out any hope for peace in the Middle East,” Patterson said. “He replied that ‘one must always hope.’ I told him that I wanted to read him some good news from an eighth century B.C. Jewish prophet named Isaiah.”

Arafat’s full attention was upon Patterson when he read from Isaiah 19:23-24.

“The prophecy in which Isaiah speaks is that there is a day coming that there will be a ‘highway’ that will run from Egypt to Assyria,” Patterson said. “Isaiah says on that day, the Lord will say ‘blessed be Egypt My people, Assyria, the work of My hands, and Israel, My inheritance.’

“I explained to Chairman Arafat, as I have also to Israeli prime ministers, that that day could only come when Christ ruled and reigned on the earth. But the same principle also applies to bringing peace to the heart.”

Balancing love for two opposing factions is imperative to Patterson, who said he recognizes the “necessity of the Jew learning to love the Arab and the Arab learning to love the Jew and the mandate that I love all.”

In the early 1970s, Patterson was able to meet with then-Israeli Prime Minister Begin in Jerusalem to discuss peace initiatives.

“Although I applaud diplomatic efforts at various peace initiatives, I have every reason to believe those will never be entirely successful,” Patterson said regarding the current Middle Eastern crisis. “Consequently, it is important to me that common people establish permanent friendships and contacts among the various people groups in the Middle East. It is apparent to me that only in the process of meeting needs wherever we find them, and in demonstrating the love of Christ, is there any real hope to achieve lasting peace.”

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  • Kelly Davis