The initiative, promoted by Pastor Yohanes Kramer of the Rhema Church in Linz and Amit Barak, a consultant on Israel's relations with Christian communities in Israel and abroad, grew out of a meeting last November during one of Barak's trips to evangelical communities in Europe. Barak and Kramer decided to provide Christmas packages.
Within a few weeks 250 community members had donated money, bought presents and chocolates, wrapped them and sent them to Israel, together with holiday messages of support.
Kramer said the program was the first time Christian-Israeli soldiers received presents from a community abroad, just like Jewish soldiers who often get presents from Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
"We decided that from now on we will send gifts every year for Christmas. Next year we will collect more money and will be able to send more care packages," Kramer told TPS. "We believe we should help Arab Christians integrate into the army and into Israeli society."
According to Barak, there are no priests in Israel who publicly recommend that Christian citizens serve in the army, so it is important for them to receive support from religious communities in other parts of the world.
"The community (in Linz) sends a letter with each package with a message of religious and moral support for volunteering to serve the army," said Barak to TPS.
Evangelical churches have been deeply connected with Israel for many years for a variety of theological reasons, including Old and New Testament prophecies about Israel's role in the end of days, the belief that Jews are God's "chosen people" and God's promise to Abraham that He would "bless those who bless you, and he who curses you I will curse" (Gen. 12:3), and His assurance that Abraham's descendants would inherit the Land of Israel (Gen. 15).
"The community of Rhema has organized 40-50 trips to Israel; We believe the State of Israel belongs to the Jews because God promised it to them," Kramer said.
The gifts were facilitated by "Brit Ahim (Fraternal Union) – Christians Proud to Integrate," an organization that integrates Arab Christians into the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), the Border Police and civilian national service. Karmelin Eshkar, a resident of the village of Fassuta near the Lebanese border and a founder of Brit Ahim, said the program is an important "shot in the arm" for Christians serving in the IDF.
"I went to the houses of many Christian soldiers to deliver the nice package we received, most of the soldiers live in the North, not far away from my house, so that it was possible for me, said Eshkar, whose children have served in both the IDF and civilian national service programs.
Barak said that in addition to the Rhema Church program, other European communities have expressed interested in adopting Christian soldiers, including one family from Hamburg, Germany that has offered to host soldiers on leave or who travel to Europe following the completion of their service.