JERUSALEM — An outdoor Christian worship event set to be hosted by the Empowered21 Global Congress in Manger Square, Bethlehem on Friday was abruptly cancelled by the Palestinian Authority governor of Bethlehem, Abdel Fattah Hamayel, due to "significant political and religious pressure."
The event, which was supposed to be a time of praise, prayer and preaching focused on the coming of Jesus in Bethlehem, which now forms a part of the West Bank, was initially greenlit by the office of Bethlehem Mayor Vera George Mousa Baboun, according to co-chair of the Empowered21 global Spirit-empowered movement, William Wilson, who is also president of Oral Roberts University.
"We received an official letter from the mayor of Bethlehem's office confirming our event in Manger Square for tomorrow night guaranteeing both space and security. We planned our schedule for this week to honor Shabbat in Israel while at the same time seeking to share God's love with the Palestinian people into tomorrow night's event," explained Wilson in his run-up before breaking the news to thousands of attendees at the Empowered21 Congress at the Jerusalem Pais Arena on Thursday night.
"Due to significant political and religious pressure, the governor of the Bethlehem area decided today to cancel tomorrow night's event just as our staging was going up in Manger Square," he continued.
"I spent the afternoon in Manger Square trying to find a way to further support our Christian brothers in there, including considering the possibility of other alternative venues. Saturday morning we will have an outreach in the Bethlehem area to minister to hurting families. None of the venues available to us tonight were sufficient for our needs. This cancellation surprised us. It's beyond our control but it's not beyond God's control and we trust him fully in all of this," Wilson added before asking the conference participants to pray.
He further revealed that just last week, the group which is pushing for every person on Earth to have an authentic encounter with Jesus Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit by Pentecost 2033, faced similar opposition from the government of Jordan.
"Last week we had a similar circumstance in Jordan. Where the Jordanian government refused to give us a permit to hold our Middle East, North African celebration of the Holy Spirit in a public venue. We moved the event to a church facility and after all was said and done we had over 1,000 people from 15 nations involved and God's spirit visited us mightily," he said. "I believe God is gonna use this moment to just fill us and fill us again here in Jerusalem."
During a press conference before the opening session of the Empowered21 Congress, movement co-chair George O. Wood, who is also general superintendent of the Assemblies of God Church (USA) and chairman of the World AG Fellowship, declared: "We're a non-political movement and we love all people. And that's why we are here to express the love of Jesus to everyone."
In discussing the group's general position on Israel, he said: "We choose not to take a political position, rather our focus is on Jesus and his love for all people (no matter their) gender or the color of their skin or language."
In discussing the group's theological view on Israel, Wilson said: "There is diversity of thought in the movement. But I think you would find unity across the movement."
Wood further explained the relationship the Empowered21 group has with not just Israel but other groups in the area without being explicit.
"There is a connection with the Jewish people because it is from the Jewish people that the Gospel of Christ emerged. The New Testament emerged out of a Judaic context so there is also a heart connection. But there is also a heart connection to people who are living in this land, and all lands, who are made in the image of God and created after His likeness and for whom Jesus Christ came to live his life and die on the cross for the sins of all people and rose again on the third day," he said.
"That's the message that we deeply believe and hold to. Therefore we know that the Lord loves everyone, regardless of their background or ethnicity," he added.
Bethlehem, according to Sacred Destinations, is recognized as the childhood home of the biblical King David. It is also popularly known as the birthplace of Jesus Christ and has been a major site of Christian pilgrimage since the construction of the Church of the Nativity in the fourth century A.D. Since 1995, Bethlehem has been under the control of the Palestinian National Authority.