I smiled to myself in the backseat of the car as we rolled through the darkness down the sloping path that winds through the hills from Bethlehem to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. I could barely make out the shapes of the trees that lined the road just outside of Jerusalem, but I had traveled this route so many times, day and night, that I knew they were there.
Our inaugural three-week session of the Jerusalem Institute of Multicultural Studies had just come to a close. We had already seen the last of our students off the night before despite flight delays due to a snowstorm affecting the New York/Philadelphia area. It seemed that regardless of the destination country, almost everyone had been impacted. And now there was just a handful of us on our way to the airport—mostly staff. I found myself marveling at what the Lord had just done and the path that had led there. It was nothing short of a miracle.
We had spent three incredible weeks in the Holy Land with students and staff from six countries, of all ages and backgrounds, leading them through an intensive hands-on study program. In class, our university-level instructors and guest lecturers had taught sessions on Middle Eastern biblical culture, history, and geography in addition to taking an in-depth look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in both a historical and modern context. We had even spent time learning basic conversational Arabic and simple Hebrew greetings so that our students could practice with the locals.
From our home base in Bethlehem, we had hit the road virtually every day after classroom time to “experience” the biblical and historical sites we had just learned about. Our travels took us down to Hebron and all the way up to the Galilee (and to everything in between). Though I have been there many times, I always see new things through the eyes of first-time visitors who are standing in awe as the Bible comes to life for them. It’s one of my favorite parts of leading teams through the Holy Land.
It all had unfolded just as planned, and it was evident that everyone had embraced and enjoyed the new adventure that each day promised. To the students, the most impactful part by far was visiting the homes of the precious people who live in the Land—talking, laughing, and crying together . . . sharing stories . . . and ultimately finding common ground despite their apparent differences. These were largely relationships that I and others had cultivated over the years. They were people I had come to love and to have others be able to spend time with these dear friends was priceless.
I could see walls coming down all around us. Preconceptions, stereotypes, and biases shattered over a cup of tea or an impossibly strong cup of coffee. Each time we visited locals—Arab Christians, Jews, Muslims, Messianic Jews, and Christians living in the Land—there was always excited conversation that went late into the night.
“I didn’t even know there were Arab Christians living in the West Bank!” more than one student had exclaimed. “They treated us like family . . . I thought they hated Christians!” another proclaimed with wonder after an incredible lunch at a Muslim home near Beit Jala.
But I also began to see the same kind of cultural exchange happening among our international students after just a short time! THIS, I thought, is what it’s all about. As the students returned to their home countries, profoundly changed by the work the Lord had done in their hearts, I knew they would share their stories and cast the vision into their spheres of influence. THIS, I thought, can change the world!
Today, in addition to the Jerusalem Institute of Multicultural Studies, the ministry reach of The Father’s House International extends to Zimbabwe, Ukraine, Guatemala, India, and of course, Bethlehem. The story that follows is the prophetic journey that got us there, focusing on the”37 Chairs,” which I fervently believe birthed our very foundation in a small, forgotten basement chapel in Jerusalem through the prayers of 37 precious souls who filled each of its chairs during those God-ordained days.
With that said, I dedicate this book to each one of them:
Jo Anna Watson
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."