With high-profile Christian speakers from the United States and Jerusalem, a sold-out Israel Summit Conference drew 1,700 Bible-believing supporters to Colorado this week while launching a ministry that organizers predict will grow into a global solidarity movement of Jews and non-Jews.
Israel-loving Christians and Messianic believers from the United States, Brazil, Pakistan, Sweden, Australia and India filled Resurrection Fellowship Church's worship auditorium in Loveland as FIRM, the Fellowship of Israel Related Ministries, launched. A global online audience also joined the conference.
FIRM formed in 2014 with 20 Christian leaders signing on as board members under the leadership of Jerusalem-based pastor Wayne Hilsden. He, current Resurrection Fellowship Senior Pastor Jonathan Wiggins and Resurrection Fellowship's former pastor, John Stocker, forged friendships around Israel and the congregation Hilsden leads, King of Kings Community in Jerusalem.
Hilsden introduced the new ministry on the opening night of the Loveland conference, calling the summit "historic." Wiggins and other leaders echoed the sentiment, saying FIRM's formation and plans represent "history in the making."
"FIRM," Hilsden said, "is a global fellowship of biblically grounded believers committed to cultivating Messiah-centered relationships to bless the inhabitants of Israel (Jew and non-Jew) and the Jewish community worldwide."
Hilsden told the audience—a mix of young and old—it was several years ago when he sensed that Israel and the Jewish people had entered a time of "shaking on many levels, both externally and internally."
"Growing forces are attempting to delegitimize and stigmatize the nation of Israel," said Hilsden, who titled the first message of the conference "Dare to Be a Daniel."
"Many Jews are predicting the end of the Zionist dream. And the historic solidarity of evangelical Christians with the nation of Israel is undergoing a shaking as well," said Hilsden, who is witnessing unparalleled prayer among believers for Israel's physical and spiritual restoration.
FIRM's leadership, which includes 20 pastors and the endorsement of the Reverend Billy Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, intends to raise global support for Israel from cheerleading to action.
Citing the heroism of the biblical prophet Daniel in standing with Israel, Hilsden quoted Daniel 11:32 which reads, "The people who know their God will be strong and take action." The pastor also introduced a new prayer focus for Jerusalem.
Called the One Percent Initiative, the focus calls for 14 minutes of intentional prayer for the peace of Jerusalem each day. It is one component of FIRM's appeal to current and future supporters, which it hopes to add beyond the inaugural conference.
Acknowledging there's disagreement among Christians on doctrine, Wiggins, Hilsden and other FIRM leaders say they themselves don't approve of Israel's every action, which is one point of contention for Palestinian supporters who accuse Christian Zionists of blind acceptance of Israel.
"Consistent with the God I know is a worldview that values the human rights of Arab Israelis as well as the Palestinian people," Wiggins says. "Every life matters to God and should matter to me, too."
Offering as proof of its support for Palestinian human rights, FIRM enlisted a Jerusalem-based attorney and activist, Calev Myers, in forming its board of directors.
The founder of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, Myers advocates for Palestinians in Israel and conducts seminars on college campuses throughout the West by engaging students in dialogue about human rights for all of Israel's citizens, Jews, non-Jews, Arab Christians and Muslims.
Myers and his 15-year-old daughter, Noam, traveled to Colorado for the conference and Calev Myers also spoke at the University of Denver on Thursday afternoon, when he was part of a Palestinian human rights panel discussion.
FIRM's leaders hope the new initiative bolsters future generations' support of Israel, which is viewed by justice-focused millennial Christians as an aggressor nation that disregards the underdog, the Palestinians.
Israel supporters like Liv Hicks, who traveled from Idaho to attend the summit, is a Jewish believer in Jesus Christ in her late 60s. She's like many Christians who have an affinity with the Jewish state and its diverse faith traditions.
Having lived in Israel for two years and in two European countries, Hicks applauds FIRM's leaders for seeking support from new a generation of believers that will stand in solidarity with the land and people she loves.
About 500 students and 90 young evangelists-in-training will be immersed in the Jewish roots of their Christian faith by participating in conference sessions on Friday, the final day of the summit. Resurrection Christian School and Youth With A Mission students will join discussions led by Myers and other FIRM leaders.
Rabbi Jonathan Bernis, a FIRM board member and founder of Jewish Voice Ministries International, is one of six board members who spoke at the conference. Others include Dr. Jack Hayford, founder of the King's University; Dr. Kerry and Sandy Teplinsky, a cardiologist and attorney and author, respectively.
In his two sessions, Bernis shared that, growing up as a Jew, he didn't believe in the God of the Bible and lived a life of rebellion that included drugs and loose living until friends began praying in earnest for him. Upon coming to faith in Jesus the Jewish Messiah, Bernis says his spiritual eyes were opened to see that everything he read in the Old Testament pointed to Christ.
Bernis also spoke about growing anti-Semitism in the world, the roots of which he says are demonic.
A small group of pro-Palestinian advocates braved cold and snow to protest the conference. The pro-Palestinian opposition groups—We Hold These Truths, Coloradans for Justice in Palestine and Project Straight Gate—have conducted similar protest campaigns at 105 churches since 2002, according to Charles Carlson, a former Southern Baptist who now opposes Christian Zionism through his books, videos and boycotts.
We Hold These Truths, founded by Carlson, conducted the first anti-Israel demonstration 13 years ago in Scottsdale, Arizona.
The firm website launched and went live Friday night. Please visit firm.org.il
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