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Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is Senior Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Lake Forest, California. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in September, 1995. He is married with two adult children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to United Christian Broadcasters , a British Christian radio station. His stories for ASSIST News may be viewed at ASSIST News Service Michael's writing activities are a sponsored ministry department -- Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) -- of Artists in Christian Testimony (ACT) International where you can donate online to his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.'

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

'Christ at the Checkpoint' to Build on First Global Evangelical Conference in Palestine

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

BETHLEHEM (ANS) -- Bethlehem Bible College will host the upcoming international Christ at the Checkpoint conference, "Hope in the Midst of Conflict," to be held from March 5-9, 2012 in Bethlehem.

This conference will build on the success of the first Christ at the Checkpoint conference which was held in March 2010.

Attendees at the first Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem in March, 2010
(Photo courtesy Bethlehem Bible College).

Last year, the first global evangelical conference to take place in Palestine, "Christ at the Checkpoint: Theology in the Service of Peace and Justice," completed its work in Bethlehem, organized by the Bethlehem Bible College in partnership with the Holy Land Trust.

More than 250 participants representing twenty nations came together between March 12 - 17, 2010 and listened to challenging and powerful presentations spoken by some of the leading voices of the evangelical movement (Palestinian, Messianic and international), and were a direct witness to the current realities on the ground.

The conference addressed different understandings of how the Evangelical Church, both in the past and currently, deals with scriptural understandings of theology regarding those who live in the Holy Land and how that either promotes war and violence, or promotes peace and justice.

Some of the themes of the conference included a biblical critique of dispensational theology and repudiation of an exclusive theology of the land that marginalizes and disenfranchises the indigenous people. The conference affirmed the strategic role of the Palestinian Evangelical Church in justice, peacemaking and reconciliation. The conference speakers repudiated both Christian Zionism and Anti-Semitism.

So far, more than 120 attendees have registered for the 2012 Conference.

Organizers say there is still time to register and, as an incentive, they are offering a registration reduction: if you register before January 10, 2012, the fee will be $400; after that date, it will increase to $450.

An exciting new component of next year's Conference is the addition of a young adult/student experience which will take place March 2-12. Student delegation members will have a chance to experience the Holy Land and develop relationships with their peers who understand the unique challenges of being a voice for their faith in their own community.

Organizers say they are especially excited to announce that Shane Claiborne, who will be giving a keynote address at the conference, will also join the student delegation on a day-trip to the troubled city of Hebron in the West Bank. Check the "Student" tab under "Register" on the Conference website for more information.

Shane graduated from Eastern University, and did graduate work at Princeton Seminary. His ministry experience is varied, from a 10-week stint working alongside Mother Teresa in Calcutta, to a year spent serving a wealthy mega-congregation at Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago. During the recent war in Iraq, Shane spent three weeks in Baghdad with the Iraq Peace Team.

'Hope in the Midst of Conflict' will be the theme for the 2012 Conference.

According to the Conference website, the aim of 'Christ at the Checkpoint' is to provide an opportunity for evangelical Christians who take the Bible seriously to prayerfully seek a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation.

The conference will also empower and encourage the Palestinian church; expose the realities of the injustices in the Palestinian Territories and create awareness of the obstacles to reconciliation and peace; create a platform for serious engagement with Christian Zionism and an open forum for ongoing dialogue between all positions within the Evangelical theological spectrum; and motivate participants to become advocates for the reconciliation work of the church in Palestine/Israel and its ramifications for the Middle East and the world.

The website also says the Conference sessions and activities will have varied formats. They will include lectures, interviews, open discussions, field visits, workshops and small group discussions. There will be also praise and worship, gospel choirs, and a series of short videos created specifically for the conference.

The conference will cover the following themes and topics, plus many more:

.Bible Study -- Each day will start with a Bible study from John Ortberg on the theme of Hope in the Bible.

.Palestinian Christian Perspectives -- Palestinian Evangelical leaders will speak about the history and contemporary situation of the Palestinian Church. International leaders will reflect on this situation in keeping with the theme of Hope in the Midst of Conflict.

.Engagement with Biblical Zionism -- Palestinian Christians, Christian Zionists, Messianic Christians, and international leaders will engage each other on the topic of Christian Zionism bringing different perspectives into conversation.

.Biblical Justice -- The conference will explore the notion of Biblical justice in the context of the Middle East and its recent revolutions.

.Nonviolence and Peacemaking -- Organizers will focus on Christian perspectives on nonviolence and peacemaking in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with a particular view towards the contributions of Palestinian Christians.

.Reconciliation -- A focus on reconciliation and how is it manifest among Christians in the Palestinian-Israeli context.

.Action -- Learn and explore how to become agents of change towards peace and reconciliation.

Among the speakers will be Alex Awad, pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church. He and his wife, Brenda, have been missionaries with the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church since 1989. He is Dean of Students at Bethlehem Bible College, Director of the Shepherd Society, and a board member of the Council of Local Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land. His second book, "Palestinian Memories: the Story of a Palestinian Mother and her People," was published in 2008.

Also speaking will be Bishara Awad. In 1948, during the height of the Arab/Israeli conflict, Bishara's father fell victim to a stray bullet, and Bishara became a refugee along with his mother, three brothers and three sisters. His mother managed to practice nursing and keep a family home by placing her children in boarding schools on an interim basis throughout their elementary and secondary school years.

Following his high school education, Bishara attended Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, SD, USA from 1960-1964 and earned a BA in mathematics and a minor in chemistry. He then taught high school for several years from 1964-1970. From 1968-1970 he attended evening courses at Missouri State College and received his MA in education in 1970. From 1981-1982, he attended Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary in Fresno, CA for a one year, special program.

After the birth of his first son, Sami, in 1972, Bishara joined the Mennonite Central Committee as a volunteer at Hope School in Beit Jala, Palestine. He served as principal for ten years. He and Salwa had two more children, Samir, born in 1973, and Dina, born in 1977. (All of their children are married; Bishara and Salwa are grandparents to 3 boys and 5 girls.)

In 1979, Bishara felt led to start Bethlehem Bible College and, with the support of other Christian leaders, began this ministry during evening hours at Hope School in Beit Jala. From 1979 until the present, Bishara has served as president of Bethlehem Bible College. Today, Bethlehem Bible College is a fully accredited institution that enjoys its own campus and serves over 100 young men and women each year. Extension satellites operate in Nazareth, Ramle, and Gaza. Graduates of Bethlehem Bible College are serving their communities as pastors, Christian educators, counselors and tour guides.

Bishara has been very active in his career, in particular in the development and expansion of Bethlehem Bible College. He has traveled widely in the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the United States. In 1999, he was the recipient of the Bob Pierce Award for Christian Service, bestowed by World Vision, International. Bishara desires for Palestinians to find hope and peace in their lives through reconciliation to God and to their fellow man.

Gary M. Burge (PhD, King's College, Aberdeen University) is a professor of New Testament in the Department of Biblical & Theological Studies at Wheaton College and Graduate School. He has authored a number of books, including 'Who Are God's People in the Middle East?'; 'What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians'; and the first two volumes in the 'Ancient Context, Ancient Faith' series: 'The Bible and the Land' and 'Jesus, the Middle Eastern Storyteller'. Gary specializes in the Middle East, its churches, and its history in the Hellenistic period.

John Ortberg is an evangelical Christian author, speaker, and senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in Menlo Park, California, an evangelical church with more than 4,000 members. Ortberg has published many books including the 2008 ECPA Christian Book Award winner When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, and the 2002 Christianity Today Book Award winner If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. Another of his publications, The Life You've Always Wanted, has sold more than 500,000 copies as of 2008.

Lynne Hybels and her husband, Bill, started Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois in 1975, with an interest in addressing the needs of "the whole person in the whole world". For years, she has been involved with Willow's ministry partnerships in under-resourced communities in Latin America and Africa. She is the author of 'Nice Girls Don't Change the World', and co-author of 'Rediscovering Church' and 'Fit to be Tied'. She has recently collaborated with the Willow Creek Association to produce 'Hope and Action', a DVD and participant guide that helps churches and small groups address the AIDS pandemic.

Ronald J. Sider (Ph.D., Yale) is Professor of Theology, Holistic Ministry and Public Policy and Director of the Sider Center on Ministry and Public Policy at Palmer Theological Seminary and President of Evangelicals for Social Action. A widely known evangelical speaker and writer, Sider has spoken on six continents, published thirty-one books and scores of articles. In 1982, The Christian Century named him one of the twelve "most influential persons in the field of religion in the U.S." Sider is the publisher of PRISM magazine and a contributing editor of Christianity Today and Sojourners. He has lectured at scores of colleges and universities around the world, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and Oxford.

Dr. Salim Munayer is a member of faculty at Bethlehem Bible College. He is also the founder (1990) and director of Musalaha Reconciliation Ministries for Israel and Palestine. He is involved in leadership training for pastors in the Galilee and Jerusalem areas. He has edited several books, and written articles on the subjects of reconciliation, the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and Christian Palestinian identity.

Tony Campolo, professor emeritus at Eastern University, is the founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, an organization that develops schools and social programs in various Third World countries and in cities across North America. He is the author of 35 books, his latest three being, "Letters to a Young Evangelical," "The God of Intimacy and Action" and, most recently, "Red Letter Christians: A Citizen's Guide to Faith and Politics."

All registration is being done through the Conference website, www.christatthecheckpoint.com. Note that this site also has information about post-conference options. While visiting the website, also check out the video testimonies from Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Church, and Shane Claiborne, which promote the conference.

If you have additional questions or would like more information, please do not hesitate to email conference@bethbc.org

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