CHRISTIANS OPEN CELEBRATION OF SUKKOT IN JERUSALEMPublished on: 13.10.2011
By: ICEJ News
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem launched its annual celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem on Thursday night with an Opening Gala featuring the traditional Roll Call of the Nations. More than 6,000 Christians from over 80 countries have arrived in Israel to mark Sukkot with a full week of festivities, culminating in the Jerusalem March next Tuesday afternoon through the streets of the capital.
The opening event roared to life this evening with the Feast orchestra, choir and dance team leading pilgrims from around the globe in a dynamic worship experience from a colorful stage designed to resemble a large Menorah – in keeping with this year’s Feast theme of “Israel: A Light to the Nations.”
“We welcome all our national delegates from across the globe to the City of the Great King, the city of Messiah,” said Dr. Juergen Buehler, the ICEJ’s newly installed Executive Director. “We also welcome the rich presence of God in our midst, as this is indeed ‘the Feast of the Lord.’”
Rev. Malcolm Hedding, the predecessor to Buehler as ICEJ Executive Director, delivered the main address on Opening Night.
Earlier in the evening, a stream of pilgrims representing some 80 countries paraded across the stage with their national flags, ending with a local Israeli bearing the blue-and-white Star of David, drawing the loudest cheers from the packed hall at Jerusalem’s Convention Center.
This year’s attendees include large delegations from Australia, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Norway, Russia, South Africa, Thailand and the United States. Pilgrims were enthused about being in Israel for this biblical autumn feast.
“There are about 200 Chinese at the Feast this year, which is a record for us,” said Deborah, a first-time pilgrim from Beijing. “Many churches are praying and working to help Israel. You would be amazed how many Chinese people’s hearts are being prepared by the Lord, and they love Israel. They’re on fire for this country!”
“It’s been beautiful! It’s a great honor to represent India,” said Sujanta. “In India, people are very pro-Israel, especially the Christians, not so much the government. But I hope that will change soon because of the growing influence of the Christians.”
“I love to be in Israel, to be in Jerusalem,” said Marilyn from Cuba, on her second visit to Israel.
“Most of the Christians in Latvia are pro-Israel, but the people need to be educated and we’re working on that,” said Rosa from Latvia, here for her fourth Feast.
“I came here to Jerusalem for the Feast because I know that God is fulfilling His promises to Israel,” said Rev. Eloka Otto Zachee from Gabon, a country currently on the United Nations Security Council and maintaining a surprisingly neutral stance so far on the Palestinian petition for statehood.
Besides their interest in the on-going diplomatic struggle involving Israel at the United Nations, the Christian visitors are also following closely the breaking news of a phased prisoner release that will hopefully see abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit returned home by next Tuesday.
Responding to news of the Schalit deal, ICEJ media spokesman David Parsons said, “We will not be weighing in on the specific terms of the prisoner release now underway, as we respect the right of the Israeli people to decide the price they will pay for the return of sons and daughters called to serve in a citizen’s army. But this is actually a good time for our Christian pilgrims to be here, to see up close the very difficult and even painful issues this nation has to constantly wrestle with, like no other nation on earth.”
The Feast will wind up on Tuesday with the annual Jerusalem March through the streets of the Israeli capital, just as Schalit is expected to arrive home to his family in northern Israel.
The colorful event is once again the largest solidarity mission to Israel this year as well as the nation’s largest annual tourist event, injecting an estimated $15 to $18 million into the local economy.
“This year’s gathering is again underlining our message that Israel is not isolated but has millions of Christian advocates and admirers worldwide. Large delegations from some exciting new countries show this support is growing, and we all look forward to celebrating the joyous festival of Sukkot with our Jewish friends,” concluded Dr. Buehler.
On Friday, the featured speakers will include Angus Buchan, a South African farmer-turned-evangelist whose inspiring story is told in the book and movie, “Faith Like Potatoes.” Also appearing will be Pastor Werner Oder, the son of a Nazi war criminal from Austria who is today a Christian minister in England and an outspoken friend of Israel.
The Feast then moves down to Ein Gedi for a desert celebration along the shores of the Dead Sea on Friday night. A greeting from Minister of Tourism Stas Misezhnikov will encourage the pilgrims to vote for the Dead Sea as one of the new seven wonders of nature.
By week’s end, a number of other Israeli dignitaries will also address the Feast gathering, including Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, MK David Rotem, Chairman of the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, and Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat.
The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was founded during the very first public Christian celebration of the Feast in September 1980, at a time when the last remaining thirteen national embassies had just left the city for Tel Aviv. In response, some 1,000 pilgrims from 40 nations decided to open a Christian Embassy in Jerusalem as an act of comfort and solidarity with the 3000-year-old Jewish claim and connection to this city.