Chosen People Ministries and Talbot host conference on Middle East crisis

The Israel, the Church, and the Middle East Crisis conference is meant to help Christians engage in thoughtful conversation with Jews about the Middle East and understand different perspectives about the crisis.

Lena Smith and Lena Smith

Since the reestablishment of its borders in 1948, the State of Israel has engaged in physical and political combat with its neighbors on the global stage. How can a nation of approximately 7 million people incite the loyalty and animosity of nations around the world? On March 23 and 24, the Israel, the Church, and the Middle East Crisis conference will explore the prophetic truths and political nuances that fuel the tense landscape of the Middle East.

A look at the different perspectives in the Middle East

According to Chosen People Ministries president and Talbot School of Theology graduate Mitch Glaser, the purpose of the conference is to engage not only in biblical prophecy, but in a broad understanding of how the church should respond to the complex political and religious relationships of the region.

“The way we see things is colored by our culture and where we are in life. [Through this conference] we’re trying to bring the Middle East to the Biola campus,” Glaser said.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim perspectives will be addressed throughout the conference by Glaser and other experts from various ministries. In addition to Glaser, attendees will hear from New York Times best-selling author Joel Rosenberg, Walter Kaiser of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Chosen People Ministries’ Michael Zinn and Iran Alive Ministries founder Hormoz Shariat.

“While Israel will be a primary focus of the conference, acknowledging this broad spectrum of views is intended to be “a clear demonstration that Jesus died for all,” according to Glaser.

Addressing role of the church

Shariat is looking forward to discussing the church’s role in reaching every Middle Eastern country. Shariat was born into a Muslim family in Iran before immigrating to the United States and converting to Christianity. Referred to as “the Billy Graham of Iran” by Rosenberg, Shariat’s experience in both his conversion and ministry will provide the foundation for discussions on how to reach the Muslim people.

While the physical conflict may reside in the Middle East, the events taking place in the region influence much of the the world.

“We here on the Pacific coast of the Western Hemisphere seem on the far periphery — but technology, communication and transportation force us to be immediately and powerfully impacted by the dramatic events that are shaped in this region, … the region that God has designed to be the pivot of global power and world history,” said political science professor Paul Rood.

Engaging Jews and Muslims in fruitful conversation

Both Glaser and Shariat expressed that one of the most profound ways in which the Western church is impacted is by the opportunity to reach the people groups at the very center of the political conflict in their very own communities. Southern California hosts thriving Jewish and Muslim populations.

“We really want people to have an understanding of what’s happening in the Middle East so that they can be more effective in reaching their Jewish friends and neighbors in Southern California,” Glaser said. “Between San Diego and Santa Barbara, you have almost 1 million Jewish people. That is the second largest concentration of Jewish people in the United States.”

In addition to the Jewish evangelism training seminar held during the conference, Glaser believes a better general understanding of Middle East current events will open doors for the church to engage the Jewish population and create a fruitful dialogue.

“The Jewish people are very interested in what’s going on in the Middle East. If Christians are better informed, then they’ll have more to talk about with their Jewish friends,” Glaser said.

Southern California also boasts an ample population of prospective Muslim converts. While there are no formal statistics indicating the exact religious demographics of the region, Sherrel Johnson of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asserts that there are approximately 1 million Muslims in California.

Shariat believes that engaging the Muslim population in the United States is one of the most effective ways the church can reach the Middle East.

“If you reach out to Muslims here, you are reaching out to Muslims in their homeland,” Shariat said. “An example is me. I came to Christ [in the United States] — and now the Lord has used me to reach out to my homeland in a major way with television and church planting [ministries]. Maybe other people like me, if you reach out to them, will become the point person for their own cities and their own countries.”

Shariat believes this conference will spur the church in the West not only to greater understanding, but to action, both at home and abroad. As the political climate becomes increasingly tense, he asserts that the window of opportunity for outreach to an often volatile region runs the risk of being missed by the church.

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