When the Israeli town of Nazareth is mentioned, most people immediately think of Jesus. It’s where he came from.
But when Nathanael, one of Christ’s first disciples, heard that the Messiah was from Nazareth, he responded rather sceptically with the question: _“Can anything good come from there?” _(John 1.46)
The same question is sometimes asked today as the Galilean town is now an entirely Arab community with very few Christian believers.
Step in the Sakhnini family. Although part of the town’s minority Christian-Arab population, there was a time when being ‘Christian’ merely described their culture – it just meant that, unlike most of the Arab world, they were not Muslims.
That is until 2007 when Bishara, a barber and head of the family, was betrayed by a close friend – and soon afterwards received news that his sister-in-law was dying of cancer, with only a month to live. In the midst of it all, his wife Sarah was found to be expecting their fourth child.
A pastor from Haifa then befriended Bishara and began to share what the Bible teaches, especially about forgiveness. As a result, Bishara forgave his friend and received true forgiveness for his own sins.
Not only that, but his whole family, including his three preteen sons, agreed to fast for three days as they prayed for their stricken relative, who subsequently walked out of hospital completely healed! And Sarah had a healthy baby soon afterwards despite an initial scare.
Having witnessed such miracles, including the power of fasting and forgiveness, the family’s transformation sent shockwaves through the community. But they were scorned by their Arab neighbours, just as Jesus had been at the hands of the Jewish religious leaders.
And their world understanding was further rocked when some Jewish believers came to visit. They hadn’t even realised Jesus was Jewish, let alone that an increasing number of Jews believed in him. Now they worship together with their Jewish brothers on a regular basis.
“Seeing us sing and dance together as we worship the same God,” writes Shani Ferguson in Maoz Israel’s January report, “was mesmerizing to outsiders and always elicited questions.”
She adds that “there is no greater testimony to unbelieving Jews that Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) has power over all than when Arabs embrace them as the people of their Saviour.”
It’s a little known fact that Arabs and Jews are meeting together at an increasing number of fellowships all over Israel, demonstrating the truth of the gospel that true peace and reconciliation can only be found through what Jesus has done on the cross.