EDITOR’S NOTE: BP Ledger carries items for reader information each week from various Southern Baptist-related entities, and news releases of interest from other sources. The items are published as received.
Today’s BP Ledger contains items from:
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
WORLD News Service
Morning Star News
Association of Christian Schools International
Mohler begins Q&A podcast:
‘Ask Anything: Weekend Edition’
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) — “Ask Anything: Weekend Edition,” a new weekly segment of R. Albert Mohler Jr.’s “The Briefing” podcast, launched Saturday, Feb. 1, bringing back a popular feature of the former “The Albert Mohler Program” radio show that allowed listeners to pose questions to the theologian, author and broadcaster.
“Ever since the end of the Albert Mohler program, I’ve received many requests for a return to something like ‘Ask Anything Wednesday,'” said Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
The “Ask Anything Wednesday” feature was held each week during Mohler’s former daily, live radio show, which aired nationally 2004-10 over the Salem Radio Network. He discontinued the radio show to begin in 2010 “The Briefing” podcast, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview perspective.
Mohler noted the callers’ questions on “Ask Anything Wednesday” were wide-ranging and “it was a lot of fun.” Although “The Briefing” podcast — together with his interview podcast, “Thinking in Public” — “serves our constituency better” than live radio, “I missed ‘Ask Anything Wednesday,'” Mohler said.
“I am looking forward to doing ‘Ask Anything: Weekend Edition,’ and I am looking forward to the questions,” he said after recording the first episode in which he answers questions about “word of faith” teaching, social media obsession, dating denominationally, surrogacy and the doctrine of election.
Each Saturday, Mohler will answer questions posed by listeners who call 877-505-2058 to record queries about theology, the Bible or current events. Each episode is expected to air three to six questions from listeners, and will total about 18 minutes in length, which is comparable to the length of “The Briefing.” Subscribers to “The Briefing” will automatically get “Ask Anything: Weekend Edition.” Mohler’s podcasts are available via iTunes, RSS feed and e-mail.
Mohler’s other podcast, “Thinking in Public,” features occasional interviews with leading intellectual figures in the fields of theology, history, politics and culture. Guests have included former president Jimmy Carter, professor Harvey Mansfield and author Charles Murray.
Mohler’s podcasts are available on his popular website, www.AlbertMohler.com, where his widely read blog also resides. According to a recent analysis of the “100 Top Christian Blogs,” Mohler’s blog is the sixth most popular.
Snow, acts of kindness
blanket Samford campus
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Samford University) — Random acts of kindness were everywhere on the Samford University campus Jan. 28-29 as the university responded to an unexpected winter storm that dumped several inches of snow on the Birmingham area.
Early predictions for a “dusting” of snow proved wrong. Snow began falling about 9 a.m., and by 11 a.m., university officials had closed the campus for the day. Snow and ice, coupled with traffic gridlock across the metropolitan area caused several hundred Samford commuting students and employees to be stranded on campus.
Samford’s emergency response team worked throughout the day to provide services for the more than 2,000 residential students and those who were stranded.
An emergency shelter was set up in the gym in Seibert Hall with mattresses provided by the residence life office and towels for showers provided by athletics.
Campus Dining, Inc., the university’s food service vendor, worked with university officials to provide meals for stranded employees and students.
Facilities and public safety crews worked well into the evening on Tuesday and began again about 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday to clear campus roadways, building entryways and sidewalks. As of early Thursday, the Alabama Department of Transportation was advising motorists to stay off roadways to allow crews to treat and clear.
“Under the circumstances, I think we can be proud of the way the campus has responded,” said Harry B. Brock III, the Samford vice president who convenes the emergency response team.
Throughout the day Tuesday and into Wednesday morning, the university community responded to needs in a variety of ways, many of which received extensive coverage on social media:
* Residence life staff and resident students collected sleeping bags, pillows, linens and extra toiletries and delivered them to stranded employees and students staying in offices and campus buildings.
From Twitter: RT @Sports_Biz_Prof: @SamfordU students are AWESOME — many offered blankets, sheets, etc to stranded faculty & staff cause of surprise sno…
Also from Twitter: RT @mossrenie: Thank you @SamfordU students for walking around campus to offer extra blankets and pillows to stranded employees tonight!
— On-campus resident students invited stranded students to share their rooms and bathrooms for the night. Some employees even took advantage of their sons and daughters who live on campus to unexpectedly share their rooms for the night.
— Students provided snacks for motorists stranded along Lakeshore Drive, the state highway that fronts the campus.
A Twitter post: RT @bradradice: @PatrickClaybon Samford students giving snacks to folks on the road…pretty cool.
— A prospective student visiting from Nashville, Tenn., got an unexpected overnight stay in the university’s “show room,” a prototype in Pittman Hall that normally is only shown on campus tours for prospective students and their families.
— Movies were shown in the law library and other places on campus to provide entertainment for those who were stranded.
— Music faculty and students provided an impromptu midnight jam session in Brock Recital Hall. http://t.co/qCtJCvk0kx
— Several employees and students who became stranded yesterday after leaving campus reported being helped by other Samford employees or students.
— Nursing school faculty assisted several who had medical emergencies. Other employees helped stranded employees who had low or no supplies of regular medications.
Samford officials said students and employees are making the best of the situation. “The spirit on campus has been good, and people continue to be cooperative and patient as we work through this emergency,” said Randy Pittman, Samford’s vice president for advancement. “It is just another example of the strong Samford community.”
Other messages and updates, as well as images from campus, are available at http://social.samford.edu.
The Great Divorce
Actor-director Max McLean brings C.S. Lewis to stage
By Stephanie Perrault
ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WORLD News Service) — It takes a good deal of cunning to “steal past watchful dragons,” but Max McLean’s stage production of The Great Divorce rises to the challenge, raising questions of eternal significance with disarming ease, showcasing McLean’s commitment to creating culture from a Christian worldview.
The 90-minute show, now touring nationally after its December launch in Phoenix, is the second Lewis adaptation from the Fellowship for the Performing Arts. It follows in the footsteps of The Screwtape Letters, which met with wide acclaim from both sacred and secular critics.
While Lewis’ devilish satire focuses on the principalities and powers that seduce our minds and hearts, The Great Divorce puts flesh on the “great cloud of witnesses” cheering us heavenward.
In order to recreate Lewis’ abstract allegory, McLean’s creative team utilized cutting-edge videography and set design. Three actors — Joel Rainwater, Tom Beckett, and Christa Scott-Reed — share the narrator’s role and do a fantastic job transforming into more than a dozen different characters with simple, yet effective costume changes and a variety of accents ranging from the twang of a cynical carpetbagger to George MacDonald’s Highland brogue.
Though the plot was condensed to keep the story moving, the play follows the book almost verbatim. It is consequently dialogue heavy. This could easily have bored the audience, but Lewis’ wry humor was paced perfectly throughout, lightening the mood just enough for the mind to absorb the story’s deep theological truths.
While some may quibble with the directorial edits or the use of the word d–n (most of which is straight from the book), it’s hard to argue with McLean’s vision to offer world-class theater that “engages the imagination and stimulates the intellect” from a Christian worldview.
“The [secular] entertainment bar is very, very high,” McLean said. “If you don’t meet it, you’re immediately dismissed. Christians don’t want their faith in that category. They’re looking for something that will express their faith in an appealing, multilayered, convincing, and imaginative way.”
McLean accomplishes that by finding the best actors, designers, and producers in the country and uniting them under a “thoroughly Christian aesthetic.” Not only does this accomplish the goal of creating outstanding art, it builds a platform of mutual respect in an industry that simultaneously mocks and dismisses orthodox Christianity.
While The Great Divorce is traveling the country, eventually hitting the bigger markets like L.A., Washington, D.C., New York, and Chicago, McLean’s creative team will be working on a new project, tentatively called Luther on Trial, which examines the lightning-rod reformer from various perspectives.
It’s a look at the positive and negative aspects of Luther’s legacy — the magnificent solas, but also the fact that he splintered the church, opened the door for secularism, and paved the way for anti-Semitism, McLean said. “[It’s] kind of a ‘what hath Luther wrought?'”
You may not care for his subject choice, but McLean knows that art leads cultural change, and to have a redemptive impact in the marketplace of ideas, he has to tell grand stories and ask big questions. The stakes are too high not to.
“Look at the arc of history and at what was considered absolutely unacceptable 30 years ago and what is commonplace now,” McLean said. How did that happen? “The arts led the way because it captured the imagination.”
McLean said that in recent history the church has not supported the arts, discouraging their youth from careers in theater, music, writing, and the visual arts. “Our best minds don’t go into the arts, whereas in the secular world, the best liberal minds go into the arts and the media. I don’t think [people in the church] understand the impact,” he said.
Nevertheless, McLean sees change happening and is hopeful. “There are a lot of thoughtful Christians that want a Christian worldview—a Christian voice—in the arts that is multilayered, that is appealing, that shows the length and breadth of what Christianity is.”
The trick is to spend less energy critiquing culture and more energy creating it. “We have a lot of culture critics,” McLean said. “We need culture makers.”
ACSI Announces international
school events for 2014
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Association of Christian Schools International) — The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) announced the 2014 international events. ACSI’s Global Department works with approximately 200 international schools in nearly 70 countries. The staff serves nearly 40,000 children of international Christian worker families, international business families and national families.
ACSI’s Global Department hosts professional development opportunities for educators and staff serving in the international school context. ACSI is uniquely positioned to promote professional development and networking among its broad constituency around the world. The international events were created in response to requests from our constituents.
April 27–30, 2014 International Administrator Conference — Europe
Held on the beautiful island of Malta, this conference is designed with school leaders in mind to provide professional strengthening at a high level and spiritual encouragement for leaders.
June 8–11, 2014 International Boarding Conference
This conference being held in Taichung, Taiwan, at Morrison Academy is designed for professional strengthening and spiritual encouragement for those who serve in the ministry of boarding—boarding home parents, resident assistants and administrators.
June 21–July 4, 2014 Pre-Field Orientation
This two-week annual conference in Houghton, New York, is designed for teachers, boarding parents, administrators and their families that are heading to international Christian schools.
October 20–24, 2014 21st International Recruiting Fair
This annual event being held in Southern California connects international school representatives and sending agencies with potential hires.
November 26–29, 2014 International Christian Educator Conference 2014—Asia
This conference in Daejeon, Korea, on the campus of Taejon International Christian Academy is designed to provide professional development and spiritual encouragement for international school teachers and leaders.
Tim Shuman, ACSI Regional Director for International Schools says, “When ACSI’s international school educators get together, something special happens. Many conference delegates come from dry places — I mean that both figuratively and literally. By the time they arrive, often involving great distances and great expense, they’re hungry for the challenges and encouragement that ACSI provides. Every ACSI international conference features spiritual fellowship, professional networking and targeted training for professionals often serving far from home.”
ACSI, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colo., comprises nearly 24,000 member Christian schools in more than 100 nations. ACSI is a leader in strengthening Christian schools and equipping Christian educators worldwide, providing services through a network of 28 regional offices. The organization accredits Protestant pre-K–12 schools. Learn more at www.acsi.org.
Jews for Jesus worker recounts deportation from Israel
By Middle East Correspondent
CAIRO, Egypt (Morning Star News) -– As Barry Barnett’s plane lifted off from Tel Aviv, Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport last month, he sat torn with emotion. Over the prior two weeks the British citizen had been harassed, arrested, interrogated, locked in jail and deported from a country that he had loved deeply since childhood.
Born to a German Jewish woman who escaped the Holocaust as a girl, Barnett – who believes his faith in Jesus completes his Jewish identity – had been away from London for about a month and was happy to be returning to the safety and comfort of home. At the same time, though his faith was telling him everything would be OK, as he felt the ground underneath him getting farther away he knew there was a chance he might never see Israel again.
Still, he was filled with an unquenchable desire to continue doing that for which Israel had deported him –- proclaiming Christ to his fellow Jews.
“When I got on that plane, I was sad. I really was sad, because I didn’t want to go on the plane,” Barnett said. “I really wanted to stay in Israel.”
A worker with Jews for Jesus U.K., the 50-year-old Barnett was arrested on Nov. 20 near Beer Sheva in southern Israel by immigration enforcement officers while volunteering in Jews for Jesus’ “Behold your God Israel” outreach to Israelies. The officers singled out Barnett from his Israeli counterparts and held him in jail for four days while he waited for an immigration judge to hear his case. In the end authorities told Barnett that telling others about his belief in Jesus was “illegal missionary work,” released him on a 5,000 shekel (US$1,440) bond and ordered him to leave the country by Dec. 3.
Barnett told Morning Star News that he was in turns angry, afraid, depressed and lonely during the “surreal” ordeal, but that eventually a sense of resolve that God was with him replaced all negative emotions. Now, as Jews for Jesus tries to get the deportation order rescinded, Barnett is confident that it the Ministry of Interior (MOI) will strike it down or a court will overturn it.
But he knows the stakes are high. If the deportation order stands, not only may Barnett never set foot in Israel again but, more importantly, it could set a legal precedent to limit missionary work or other forms of religious expression by foreign visitors.
On the day Barnett was arrested, he was holding up a banner with the phrase, “Jesus = Salvation” printed in Hebrew on it, along with a phone number for people to call who wanted more information. The group also went to public places and handed out leaflets.
“Some of the secular Jews and Arabs are quite open to hearing more, but it’s only a few,” Barnett said. “But when someone is open, we can have a good conversation with them and encourage them to read the New Testament.”
Barnett estimated that for every 10 to 20 people that passed by their group, one stopped and was “spiritually open to the gospel.” At the same time, members of a hard-line, anti-Christian group, Yad L’Achim, had been following members of the outreach through the Negev for days. Yad L’Achim members were doing their best, as is their custom, to cause problems between the missionaries and those talking with them.
“I remember a few days before I was arrested, I was with a team outside a shopping center in Beersheba, and we were giving out leaflets, and then Yad L’Achim came,” Barnett said. “They caused a huge fuss – shouting and screaming, and a crowd gathered.”
Eventually, Yad L’Achim caused such a problem that the Jews for Jesus team had to call police.
It was unclear who called immigration officers to the site where Barnett was arrested, but he suspects Yad L’Achim. Barnett said he wasn’t doing anything that would even vaguely justify detaining him. Members of Yad L’Achim were present in the vicinity that day, trying to block the phone number on the banner by holding another banner over it.
“There was me and three Israelis, and we were holding two banners,” Barnett said. “We were at a road junction near Beer Sheva, and we had been there for about 45 minutes, and then a big van arrived and parked near us. About six officials, we didn’t know who they were, got out and walked toward us and started asking us questions. ‘
His friend told him they were from immigration. The men asked Barnett what he was doing in Beer Sheva. He told them he was holding “a banner with a message of peace and love.”
“They just said, ‘Come with us, we want to ask you more questions,'” he said. “I can’t remember what I said exactly, but I didn’t know if they had the right to do that or not, and I said, ‘I am calling the police.’ Then I started to call the police, and they said, ‘Come with us now or we’ll handcuff you.'”
Barnett was ushered into a van.
“I felt intimidated when they didn’t give me a proper reason why they were taking me away and where they were taking me to,” he said.
Barnett’s wife, Alison, wasn’t present at the arrest. Once in the van, he was able to call the Israeli branch of Jews for Jesus, but Alison Barnett had no idea her husband had been arrested until a friend asked for his passport.
“I thought he was playing a joke,” she told Morning Star News. “He said, ‘No, Barry got arrested,’ and I said, ‘That is very funny.’ And he said, ‘No, he really has been arrested, and we need the passport.'”
The 10-minute trip to the immigration office in Omer was silent. Barnett spent the time talking on his cell phone, trying to get help.
Immigration personnel questioned Barnett in two sessions of 30 minutes each, but he said it felt more like four hours. Two men interviewed him under the supervision of five others.
“They were asking questions like, ‘What was your purpose for coming to Israel? Where were you working? What did you say to immigration when you entered the country?'” Barnett said.
The immigration officials had picked Barnett up ostensibly on grounds that observing religious duties such as missionary activities under a tourist visa is “work” and therefore illegal. Dan Sered, Israeli director for Jews for Jesus, said the deportation “was done without a real legal cause.”
“The reason for his deportation, according to the state of Israel, is because he was doing missionary activity and not regular tourist activity on a B2 tourist visa,” Sered said. “But the global ethics code for tourism, which the state of Israel signed and even advertises on its own Ministry of Tourism Web page, states that tourism for the purpose of exchanging religious beliefs is not only valid but also should be encouraged.”
The second questioning session, Barnett said, became very intense.
“They were intimidating me to try and make me say that I was working,” he said. “They kept saying, ‘Stop playing games,’ and they were very angry a lot of the time.”
One of the officials, who was wearing a kippah (or Yiddish, “yarmulke”), a head covering worn by observant Jews, “just lost it” and jumped from behind his desk up to Barnett’s face, Barnett said.
“He got out of his chair, came around to where I was sitting and starting bellowing in my ear in Hebrew, in fast Hebrew,” he said. “I felt scared. I just moved away from him, a few inches away from his mouth. I put my hand up to show that I was scared … I think he could have happily killed me at that point.”
The official stormed out of the room. Before another van took Barnett to a detention facility, one of three guards, whom he described as a “bully boy,” demanded his cell phone.
“They stood right over me and said, ‘Give me the phone.’ And I thought I would give it to them, because I didn’t want to be beaten up,” he said.
One of the officers laughed as he told him upon departure, “You are going to prison.”
‘Who do you say I am?’
Barnett grew up in a reformed Jewish home where he went to synagogue on a regular basis, observed Jewish holidays and went to Israel often. When he was in his 20s, he lived in Ashkelon, Israel, where he studied Hebrew and did community service activities with children.
His British father is Jewish. His mother is a “Kinder,” one of the adult survivors of a group of some 10,000 children of Jewish parents who were rescued from Europe in 1939 to save them from Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
Barnett started to believe that Jesus is the Messiah after a difficult divorce led him to seek God more deeply. His search eventually led him to read a copy of the New Testament, and he started to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. To those who oppose Messianics, this fact alone means Barnett is no longer a Jew. For them, belief in Jesus eliminates one’s ethnicity, self-identity, history, ancestry and culture.
Most Israelis aren’t this extreme and treat Messianics with tolerance or view them as a curiosity. But the leaders and adherents of hard-core Orthodox sects in Israel tend to view Messianic believers as either cult victims or traitors. They call them “Christians” knowing that in light of Jewish history, this word brings up images of pogroms and death camps in the minds of many Jews -– to the dismay of many Jews who believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah.
Barnett said he doesn’t mind being called a Christian, and that arguing over the label misses a bigger point -– the debate among Jews shouldn’t be whether or not to call Messianics “Christians,” but whether –- after examining the facts -– to call Jesus “the Christ.” It is a question Jesus himself put to his disciples, and the reason members of Jews for Jesus say the organizations exists.
“Throughout history, Jewish people have been told that if you convert to Christianity, you are leaving Judaism and the Jewish people, and you are betraying them, and you are becoming a different religion and a traitor, but that is not true at all,” Barnett said. “It is not a conversion, but it is a completion –- that is a really important word; it is a completion of being a Jew, because you are recognizing what is already there, which is Jesus is the Jewish Messiah. So if you stay as a Jew, you become a Messianic Jew.
“The question isn’t, ‘Can you be a Jew and believe in Yeshua?’ The question is, ‘Is Jesus the Son of God, the Savior of the world?'”
Barnett arrived at the jail at midnight the day he was arrested, having no idea what to expect.
“It was quite weird -– I went through processing when we entered the prison, where they did the fingerprints and the photographs, and they asked me to take off my clothes,” he said. Officials let him keep his underwear on.
During the prior questioning he had felt indignant, but during processing, when his anger and fear should have been at their worst, faith came and melted them away, he said.
“My anger went, and I just felt resigned –- not giving up –- but resigned to what God was doing,” he said. “It was a bit like being outside of myself looking at the situation.”
Barnett was placed in a holding cell during processing and, after a second round of fingerprinting and a brief medical examination, moved to the main cellblock with other detainees. There was a table, a sink, six bunk beds, a squat toilet, a basic shower and 10 other prisoners.
Most of the inmates there were of either African or Asian origin and were all dealing with immigration problems like him, he said.
“They were very friendly,” he said. “They were sad and depressed and just waiting to hear about their cases, and I got on very well with them during the few days I was there.”
Meals consisted of vegetables, rice and bread. Though Barnett said he never went hungry, he did lose 12 pounds.
Barnett’s mobile phone had been confiscated because it had a camera, but some of the other detainees were allowed to keep their cell phones and let him borrow them.
“That was fantastic, you cannot imagine how good it was to speak to Alison after going through the first few hours in prison,” he said. “Alison told me a few hours into the first day, when I was already feeling vulnerable, that there were hundreds and maybe thousands of people, who were praying for me, and I just cried. I cried with relief, because I knew that I was covered and I was safe with all these lovely people praying with all their love for me.”
After being locked up for 24 hours, though, Barnett said he started to have a “crisis.” His initial sense that he would be released in a few hours or at most a day was shattered the next day when a lawyer secured by Jews for Jesus told him that the judge said he wouldn’t review his case until Sunday -– four days away.
“The inmates there were saying that they had been there for weeks and months, so I was getting scared,” he said. “I really thought I could be there for a long time. I had to really trust God and hang on to him and hear him and really get courage from him. But I clung on to what I know from the Bible, how God is my refuge, He is my strength, and he loves me always and He will look after me.”
Soon after this low point, Barnett’s faith was answered. He met a pastor from Nigeria with immigration problems who happened to be in the center.
“He introduced me to five other Christians there that afternoon, and I felt so much better,” he said. “They were the only people smiling in prison. I was smiling. I felt safe. God had a plan for me and the other Christians in the prison.”
The pastor also arranged for Barnett to get a New Testament.
“I never grasped and clung to the New Testament so much and so strongly in my life,” he said. “I was so happy. I had 24 hours by now without a Bible. So, it was really great that he gave me the New Testament.”
Better yet, he said, the New Testament was in six languages -– English, French, German, Spanish, Arabic and Russian.
“That was great, because then I realized that God is going to use that for witnessing in my cell -– in my cell there was a Ukrainian who spoke Russian, and a guy spoke Arabic and another spoke French, and people spoke English,” he said. “So I used the Bible to witness in my cell, which was wonderful. Some people were interested, some really didn’t want to look at the Bible. Some were happy for me to say a short prayer for them.”
Barnett said the Christians in the center meet every day at 2 p.m. to pray. They also fast every Friday, and while there he joined them.
“The prayer time on that Friday, I really felt God encouraging me through the story of Daniel and his friends, and their trust in God with their life, and the next day was great with the other Christians as well. I was praying with them again,” he said. “I played a little chess; one of the Christian people was a chess player, so that was good. And I prayed with them again on Sunday.”
Government Treatment of Messianics
The government’s response and policies toward Messianic Jews has been less than stellar. Agencies such as the Ministry of Interior, the department that ordered the deportation of Barnett, routinely discriminate against Messianic Jews, according to the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2012.
“MOI officials continued to revoke citizenship or deny services (such as child registration, social benefits, identity cards, and passports) to some citizens based on their religious beliefs, according to the JIJ [Jerusalem Institute of Justice]. This included cases of individuals who immigrated under the Law of Return as Jews but were discovered to hold Messianic or Christian beliefs,” the report states.
According to the Law of Return, which regulates who can immigrate to Israel, anyone who is a Jew, the child of a Jew or the grandchild of a Jew can immigrate with their spouse and children. Descendants of Jews qualify for immigration regardless of their religious beliefs, according to the law, but officials from the Ministry of Interior routinely ignore these rules and deny entry to Jews who believe in Jesus.
“Prospective immigrants routinely face questioning about their religious beliefs to determine their qualifications for citizenship,” the State Department report states. “While Jews who are atheists or who state their adherence to other religions are conferred immigration benefits, Messianic Jews are routinely excluded, despite the Supreme Court repeatedly upholding the right of Israeli Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah to retain citizenship.”
In 2012, JIJ had to petition the Israeli Supreme Court on behalf of a Jewish woman whose family had been killed in the Holocaust. They denied her request in 2011 for citizenship because she was Messianic. In July of the same year, the Ministry of the Interior rescinded its decision and granted her citizenship.
Yad L’Achim and groups like them are well connected to the Ministry of Interior, according to press reports in Israel. In a major investigative piece in 2011 by Channel One News, Yad L’Achim member Rabbi Naria admitted in a televised interview to connections between the organization and the Ministry.
“We get information about people, sometimes through the Internet, about missionary work, and we make sure this information gets to the Ministry of Interior,” he said.
In the same piece, an administrator with the Ministry of Interior confirmed the relationship to a reporter with a hidden camera.
“We turned to Yad L’Achim to find out if they had any information,” the woman said, mistakenly adding that Yad L’Achim was part of the Ministry.
In another part of the program, Calev Myers, founder and chief counsel of JIJ, produced documents proving that officials at the Ministry had handed over the immigration files of one Messianic couple to Yad L’Achim for review.
Perhaps most telling, in another segment of the program, when talking about “friends” the organization has, an unnamed Yad L’Achim activist said, “At the Ministry of Interior, in the army’s elite Oz units -– we are friends with them all.”
This activist has been seen at many locations where Yad L’Achim has harassed and tried to intimidate Messianic Jews. He was present at the outreach Barnett was a part of and is pictured on the Yad L’Achim website trying to block the sign held by Jews for Jesus volunteers.
The “Oz” Unit is a task force created in 2008 within the Population Authority under the Ministry of Interior. It replaced the immigration police and has arrest power only over foreigners. “Oz” is the Hebrew word for courage. It is the unit that arrested Barnett.
The Israeli court system has historically been a bastion of protection for Messianic Jews. It has come to the defense of Messianic Jews against the Ministry of Interior and against quasi-governmental religious organizations that, despite not being a direct part of the government, nevertheless wield considerable power in Israeli society.
There are approximately 20,000 Messianic Jews living in Israel, according to the U.S. State Department. According to a 2011 report of the Central Bureau of Statistics in Israel, there are 7.9 million people living in Israel, of which, 76 percent are Jews, 19 percent are Muslims, 2 percent are Christians, and the remaining 3 percent are Druze, Bahai, Samaritan or Karaite. Of the Jewish population, 9 percent said they were ultra-Orthodox, and 10 percent said Orthodox; 15 percent described themselves as “traditional and religious,” and 23 percent “traditional, not so religious;” 43 percent described themselves as “nonreligious/secular.”
Barnett appeared in front of a judge on Nov. 24. The hearing was conducted in Hebrew, and the judge had ordered that a lawyer for the Ministry of Interior appear –- a rarity, according to Barnett.
“It was all in Hebrew; nobody explained to me in English what was going on,” Barnett said. “Nobody asked me questions. Even the judge didn’t ask me any questions. Then half an hour later, he said, ‘That’s it’ and closed the hearing. I had to ask the lawyer as we were walking what happened.”
According to Barnett, the attorney for the Ministry of Interior was unable to give a reason for the arrest. But according to his deportation order, the Ministry expelled him for “illegal missionary activity,” though what constitutes illegal missionary activity in Israel is very specific. According to the State Department report, “Proselytizing is legal for all religious groups. A 1977 law prohibits offering a material benefit as an inducement to conversion. It is also illegal to convert a person under 18 years of age unless one parent is an adherent of the religious group seeking to convert the minor. Despite the legality of proselytism, the government generally discourages proselytizing and encourages the popular perception that it is illegal. The MOI occasionally cites proselytism as a reason to deny student, work, and religious visa extensions, as well as to deny permanent residency petitions.”
The judge did not strike the deportation order. According to Bennett, he actually didn’t have the power to do so. He set a security bond of 5,000 shekels (US$1,440) and allowed Bennett to be released as soon as the bond was posted.
Barnett said he still loves Israel in spite of his jail experience, but he is still angry about the deportation order.
If it stands, the deportation order means that it will be unlikely Barnett will ever set foot in Israel again. It also means he will be essentially black-listed; getting entry visas to other countries will be more difficult.
“It’s completely unjust and unfair, and it’s my country, Israel,” he said. “How dare they treat a fellow Jew that way? How dare they treat a British citizen that way? And how dare they treat an innocent man that way? I am angry. I am angry with the enemy, the devil. That is the main anger -– because he is the one trying to keep us out of Israel.”
More importantly than what happens to him, Barnett said, the deportation could be used as legal precedent to keep out other missionaries –- one of the goals of Yad L’Achim.
“That’s what they are trying to do,” he said. “These people are fighting hard to keep missionaries and Christians out of Israel.”
Sered, the Israel director of Jews for Jesus, said that the branch is working to overturn the order on Barnett’s behalf.
“Our lawyers have written letters to the Ministry of Interior asking for a reversal of the expulsion order, and we are waiting for a response,” Sered said. “Right now we are still hoping that Israel will see the injustice that was caused towards Barry, and that they will reverse the expulsion order. We do not have an appeal date.”
Sered said if the order stands, the effects could be even more serious not only in terms of religious freedom in Israel, but for Christians around the world and even for the Israeli economy.
“This is important because any Christian who comes to Israel could be deported for simply expressing his faith,” he said. “For example, there are pastors who come to Israel with tour groups and preach at different religious sites. Now Israel is saying that these pastors are going against their received B2 visa and they are doing something wrong. This might hurt tourism to Israel, not to mention that as the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel should be an example of religious freedom and freedom of speech.”
Deportation orders in Israel are notoriously difficult to overturn, but Barnett said he will fight it all the way to the Supreme Court of Israel if necessary. He said he will prevail in the end.
“There was no reason to deport or to expel me; I haven’t broken the law,” he said. “I had every right to be holding a banner and to be giving out leaflets, because there is no law against that. I am confident. The lawyers are very confident that there is no real case against me.”
He added that he expected God would use the case to create greater religious freedom in Israel.
“I am absolutely confident that God will bring us back to Israel. And actually I expect that God will make this case an important case, that we’ll win, and the Jews for Jesus lawyers will win it in order to make the gateway open for Christians to come to Israel on a tourist visa and share their faith in any way that they want to.”
“I have faith in my country and in the court system,” he said. “I think that the Israeli courts will see the long-term damage that a ruling against us will have on the state of Israel.”
The most important lesson from the arrest, questioning and incarceration, Barnett said, was that he felt God through it all.
“That is the most important thing, that God is using this,” he said. “We don’t always understand what God is doing till sometimes much later or sometimes never, but I really trust God has a plan for this. It’s good to be bold, to share the gospel. I don’t think as Christians we should be afraid to share the gospel. We should be bold. A few days in prison? That’s nothing comparing to what others went through; there are others that suffered far more.”