Envision Tour witnesses Hamas brutality, Israeli resiliencePublished on: 9.2.2024
By: David Parsons, ICEJ Vice President & Senior Spokesman
The ICEJ’s Envision solidarity mission to Israel ended last week with some 70 pastors and ministry leaders from 18 nations deeply impacted by what they heard and saw while visiting a Land still caught in a tense war with radical Islamic terror militias in Gaza and on other fronts.
Israel was drawn into this conflict four months ago when thousands of Hamas terrorists breached the Gaza border fence in numerous places and carried out brutal massacres in over 20 Israeli communities and at an outdoor music festival. The human toll from that dark day of carnage on October 7 came to more than 1,200 Israelis dead (mostly civilians), thousands more wounded (with some even raped and mutilated), and over 250 taken hostage back into Gaza.
The ICEJ has hosted two Christian solidarity missions to Israel in recent weeks which have allowed participants to see the death and destruction up close, to hear from Israelis still reeling from the onslaught, to encourage the people as they soldier on in this battle, and to assess what more they can do to pray, give and stand with Israel.
Those who joined last week’s Envision tour were challenged on the opening night by ICEJ President Dr. Juergen Buehler to arise to our position and calling as “watchmen” for our families, churches, communities and nations, as well as for Israel.
The first full day featured a tour of the Gaza border area, where the group gained special permission to visit a car lot with 1,300 burned-out vehicles collected from the roadsides and villages near Gaza in the days after October 7. They also toured the devastated community of Kibbutz Nir Oz, where over one-quarter of the residents were either murdered or kidnapped by Hamas. [Read more on that solidarity visit here]
The next day, Envision delegates received excellent biblical teachings on Israel and the Church from Prof. Gerald McDermott, an Anglican theologian and scholar who has written several acclaimed books on Christian Zionism.
Later that day, they enjoyed a tour of the Knesset and heard from Israel’s Minister of Intelligence Gila Gamliel and Knesset Member Amit Halevi, as well as from Rachel Goldberg, whose 21-year old son Hersh Goldberg-Polin remains a hostage in Gaza. She shared about her long ordeal in waiting for the return of her son, who lost half of his left arm from a grenade explosion when he was abducted. Rachel also expressed thanks that Christians had come to show their support.
“You have shown up,” she said. “You don’t just talk the talk. You walk the walk. You got on the plane, and you came here. And we appreciate you!”
That evening, several relatives of other Israeli hostages came to share their stories of missing loved ones. Shelly Shem Tov, the mother of Omer Shem Tov, spoke of her painful longing to see her son again. She is especially concerned that he has asthma and celiac disease and does not have access to his urgently needed medicines.
“It has been a long nightmare for 118 days. No one in this planet can tell me how he is doing now. Please pray with us!” she pleaded.
“Omer is our youngest. We call him our sunshine. He’s a good boy who went to a festival to dance,” the mother told the pastors. “I hope you will go home and tell your community our story. I hope this nightmare will end and I will hug my sunshine.”
Shelly and the other hostage family members then handed out metal identity tags and yellow ribbons to all the Christians in attendance as a point of contact to remember to pray for the safe return of Omer and all the remaining hostages every day.
The final day of Envision revolved around a visit to the northern border area to learn more about the daunting threat from Hizbullah in Lebanon. The outing focused on the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, located only 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the Lebanese border. The ICEJ is in the process of renovating and upgrading the town’s 65 underground public bomb shelters to help protect its 22,000 residents. Mayor Arkady Pummerantz was on hand to welcome the Christian visitors and to thank the ICEJ for renovating the shelters, which had fallen into neglect and disrepair ever since the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
The group also heard from Gideon Bayer, a German Christian whose son Urija Bayer had volunteered to serve in the Israeli army and was killed while fighting in Gaza in December. He explained how the family had moved to northern Israel decades ago in answer to the Lord’s calling to come work with Holocaust survivors, an act of obedience that had now cost him a son.
“The path for us is difficult, but we still choose the path the Lord has for us,” said Gideon Bayer.
As the Envision tour neared its end, several delegates spoke with a reporter from the Religion News Service about what they had seen and heard.
“I’d seen most of the October 7 videos,” Prof. McDermott told RNS, but nothing prepared him for encountering the scenes of carnage at Kibbutz Nir Oz and the home of the kidnapped Bibas family. “You see all the blood on the walls, the bullet holes, the baby’s toys. What we saw in living color was the hatred that Satan himself has for the Jewish people.”
Pastor Lisa Powell, from California, said this was her 38th visit to Israel, but she came this time “to really see what I could do for the people here and pray about how we can be a blessing in a more tangible way.” Because the group stayed in a Jerusalem hotel that is hosting dozens of evacuee families from Sderot, Powell had the opportunity to sit with them and learn about how they are coping with loss and displacement.
“That really pulled on my heart,” Powell said. “I’m a grandmother of 18 and also a great-grandmother. Entire families are staying in one hotel room. They are in a state of trauma, but they are strong, strengthened by being together as a community.”
Nick Hansen, a pastor from Denmark who heads the ICEJ branch there, was in Israel on October 7 to celebrate the Feast of the Tabernacles, and now felt compelled to come on this solidarity mission to see the carnage for himself.
“Sitting in Europe and watching the news, we wonder whether Israel is going too far,” he said. “But being here, you understand the sheer evil of October 7. It was a celebration of death, a brutality that doesn’t exist even in nature.”
PLEASE NOTE: You can still register for the online Envision package, which will allow you to watch all the sessions and videos of the outings on demand, until July 2024. Go to: envision.icej.org