JERUSALEM, Sept. 3 — The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) led the largest African-American Pentecostal group in the United States on its first – ever trip to Israel recently, heralding a new era in Christian support for Israel.
Twenty – one top ministers of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC) from around the U.S. participated in the group’s first – ever Israel trip, which ran from Aug. 24 – 31 and was conducted in association with the Ministry of Tourism. Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of The Fellowship, accompanied the church leaders throughout their trip.
“The Church of God In Christ cares about Israel and the peace of Jerusalem and all of the Middle East,” said Bishop P.A. Brooks, a member of the group and COGIC’s second – most senior leader. “We thank Rabbi Eckstein and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews for hosting us, and we look forward to a lasting friendship and enduring partnership as we seek peace together.”
“We were deeply inspired to host our friends in the church as they experienced the beauty and power of the Holy Land for the first time,” said Rabbi Eckstein. “The pastors reminded us that the Jewish people and the State of Israel do not stand alone. Today, we envision a new era in bridge building between the African-American Christian community, Israel and the Jewish people.”
Before the group arrived in Israel, Eckstein toured a series of African-American Pentecostal and other Evangelical churches in the U.S. as part of a new Fellowship outreach campaign to build and strengthen support for Israel. At the time, Pastor E.L. Branch, of the mega-church Third New Hope Baptist Church in Detroit and a member of The Fellowship’s African American Advisory Council, reminded his congregation of the rich history of the black-Jewish relationship, urging them “to stand with Israel even as the Jewish community stood with us during the Civil Rights movement, as we seek peace for all people in the Middle East.”
COGIC is the fourth largest Protestant group in North America, with 12,000 churches nationwide and 6.5 million congregants in more 60 nations. Rabbi Eckstein said the delegation visit marks a new era of bridge building between the church movement, Israel and the Jewish people.
The COGIC ministers – half of whom had never been to Israel before – visited Christian and Jewish holy sites including the Wailing Wall and Old City of Jerusalem, the Mount of Beatitudes and the Sea of Galilee, as well as biblical archeological sites such as Caesarea, Mount Tabor, and Megiddo. The group also experienced Israel’s Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, and met with Father Gabriel Naddaf, president of the Israeli Christian Forum and a leading figure in the movement to enlist Palestinian Christians in the Israel Defense Forces.
The African-American church group also connected with Ethiopian-Israelis and migrants from Africa who benefit from Fellowship-funded social programs. The group visited Mesila, a refugee-assistance organization in Tel Aviv, where the ministers met families from Eritrea and Sudan and provided their children with knapsacks for the new school year. They also and toured the Lifeline for the Old in Jerusalem, a nonprofit providing employment and social services to elderly citizens from Ethiopia and the FSU; visited a spiritual center for Ethiopian Israelis in Netanya; and saw a high-tech training center for Ethiopian Israelis at Kibbutz Nachshon.
Participants in the African-American church group included Bishop P.A. Brooks; Bishop Edwin Bass; Minister Faithe Brooks; Bishop Michael Cole; Pastor Deedee Coleman; Pastor Michael Copeland; Minister Sarah Verne deBourg; Pastor Nick Sherman Edwards Jr.; Bishop Elijah Hankerson III; Bishop Vincent Mathews; Dr. Judith McAllister; Bishop Carlis Moody Sr.; Bishop Brandon Porter; Pastor Glenn Plummer; Bishop J. Drew Sheard; Minister Karen Clark Sheard; Pastor Don Shelby Jr.; and Minister Derrick Starks.
About The Fellowship
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein founded The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (The Fellowship) in 1983 to promote better understanding and cooperation between Christians and Jews, and build broad support for Israel. Today, The Fellowship is the world’s largest organization of Christians actively working with Jews to support Israel and the Jewish people. Since its founding, The Fellowship has raised close to $1.25 billion for this work. The organization has offices in the U.S., Israel, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and South Korea. For more information please visit ifcj.org.