A conference held last week in Bethlehem between March 5-9 brought together more than 600 international and local Christians to discuss the future of Palestinian Christians and the ongoing Middle East conflict.
"Christ at the Checkpoint" addressed how to keep hope and faith in Christ amid the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, and discussed biblical ways of viewing the issues that have historically divided the two communities. It was hosted by Bethlehem Bible College, an organization of Palestinian Evangelical Christians.
Although a lot has been written in recent times comparing the current Middle East situation to prophecies highlighted in the Bible, the conference leaders wanted to steer the discussion away from End Times talk and encourage the evangelical community to join Palestinians in following Jesus in the prophetic pursuance of justice, peace and reconciliation.
Some of the other goals of the conference included seeking ways to empower and encourage the Palestinian church; expose the realities of the injustices in the Palestinian territories and create awareness of the obstacles to reconciliation and peace; create a platform for engagement with Christian Zionism and motivate participants to become advocates for the reconciliation work of the church and its ramifications for the Middle East and the world.
The conference, which was also held in 2010 and 2011, was described as having "exceeded all expectation" by organizers.
One of the main topics that were discussed was the state of Palestinian Christians who demonstrated their renewed hope to continue to stand against occupation nonviolently, while at the same time acknowledging the right of the State of Israel to exist. The 600 attendees, from more than 20 different nations, were reportedly moved by the testimony of Palestinians who shared the pain and suffering they experience on a daily basis caused by the continuing occupation.
Speakers included John Ortberg, Bishara Awad, Chris Wright, Doug Birdsall, David Kim, Tony Campolo, Lynne Hybels, Munther Isaac, Shane Claiborne, Joel Hunter, Ron Sider, Salim Munayer and Colin Chapman.
Bethlehem Bible College explains that its mission is to train and prepare Christian servant-leaders for the churches and society within an Arab context who model Christ centeredness, Godly humility, biblical wholeness, creative mercy and justice in their jobs and ministries as life-long learners. Founded in 1979 by local Arabs, the college usually enrolls 135 students who are interested in Christian service in the Middle East.