The Word:   And it came to pass, when the priests came out of the holy place, the cloud filled the House of the LORD, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the House of the LORD. (1 Kings 8:10, 11)

The festival of Shavuot arrived, and the believers all gathered together in one place. Suddenly there came a sound from the sky like the roar of a violent wind, and it filled the whole House where they were sitting. Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire, which separated and came to rest on each one of them. (Acts 2:1-3)

*      Pointers for prayer:  Although later than normal, Shavuot/Pentecost is almost upon us.  Please cry out to the LORD God that Israel would experience a mighty move of the power of the Ruach ha Kodesh throughout her Land over this period and beyond. (I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Ezekiel 37:14; I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Ezekiel 36:27).  As you read through this and other issues in this week’s report, do pray into these issues.

Shavuot 2016 (part one)    With Shavuot around the corner, and a bank holiday weekend behind me which allowed the opportunity to do some hill climbing in our beautiful countryside, I’ve spent many hours pondering life, and where I’ve come from and where I’m going – you know – the important things in life.  Thirty two years ago, back in 1984, God clearly laid Israel upon my heart.  Oddly enough, even before I was saved, I had had a strange revelation about the Jewish people.  At the time, I was unaware that this might have been God speaking to me – but as I didn’t believe there was such a thing as ‘God’ before that moment, I shrugged it off as just being ‘an odd experience’.  Not long after, in late autumn ’84 and I found myself chatting to a lady outside an old Anglican Church who, with sweeping brush in hand asked me, “Are you a Christian?”   Well, of course I was a Christian, I was born in England, and anyone born in England was a Christian weren’t they? Or so I thought!  And I was what many would call a ‘Protestant’ or ‘Proddy’ as the Catholics would call me, though I didn’t really understand the whole Catholic/Protestant issue, or just why they actually didn’t get on. 

As a young child I remember Dad telling us stories about when our descendants came to England that our name was changed (Sokel to Soakell)… but “so what?” I thought.  I simply didn’t ‘get’ religion – in fact – I still don’t.  I’ve never wanted religion.  A relationship with God – now that’s different!  Back in the 60s, having had an argument with another boy my age which ended in a bloody nose, I can remember going to my Father and asking, “Dad… what’s a ‘left footer’… this boy told me I wasn’t a left footer cos I was a Proddy?”  The question was of course relating to Catholics.  'Left Footer' is a derogatory term, applied to Roman Catholics, which I believe has military, rather than agricultural origins. “Oh it all lies in folklore…” was my Dad’s answer.  “Oh I see!” I replied… but never understanding.  Boy was I in for a shock when I did some ancestral research!  I do remember that conversation with the lady outside of the church though.  That lady ended up being my church Bible group leader, and that Church ended up being my fellowship for the first 10 years of my new found faith and the place where I would end up marrying my wife Julia in 1989. 

As a failing sales rep before I got ‘saved’, I remember those dark days of my life, of driving through County Durham trying to make my sales during the Thatcher years with the miner strikes in full swing.  I also remember working in Tyneside and that strange encounter I had in Bensham in Gateshead that really ‘blew me away’.  I’d not made one sale all morning as I’d trundled around the shops in Newcastle upon Tyne.  It was lunchtime, and so, flask at the ready, I pulled into what I thought was a quiet street in Gateshead for a break.  However, I hadn’t realised that this was the Orthodox Jewish part of Bensham, Gateshead.   Today, Bensham remains a busy suburb for families who work in and around Tyneside and beyond and it houses a community of anything up to 5,000 Orthodox Jews (although the numbers fluctuate due to the transient yeshiva-based student population. However, as I mentioned, Bensham is home to the Gateshead Jewish community which is comprised of ultra-orthodox families supplemented by over 2000 Rabbinical and seminary students.  There is also a small Jewish Messianic fellowship that meets once a month and has a bi-annual conference under the name of Beit Yeshua. Yet in those dark days of the 80’s, when I thought that being born in England made one automatically ‘christian’ (even though I didn’t really believe there was a God), I had no idea of the Jewish connection to Bensham, nor my past, nor what the future would entail. 

And so, there I was, a failing sales rep with a failed life, one lunchtime, and flask at the ready, having pulled into what I thought was a quiet street in Gateshead for a break.  Suddenly a bell went!  I mean, literally… not a bell in my head or a ‘lightbulb moment’… no, a literal bell started to ring.  It was only then that it dawned upon me that I’d parked my car near a school – though this was no ordinary school.  Before me, I was suddenly in what can only be described as some type of Pied Piper of Hamelin story.  Of course, the Pan Piper is the subject of a legend concerning the departure or a great number of children from the town of Hamelin, Germany, in the Middle Ages – not exactly the same. Yet before my eyes were all these Jewish children being led out of school.  They were all full of life, as the teacher tried to control this large group of kids, pushing, dancing, speaking loudly… just like any typical school, except they were all boys, and they all wore a ‘yarmulke or kippah’ upon their head.  

Suddenly, I felt as if I was in labour.  Okay… I know, I’m a bloke… how can I know what being in labour is like.  But these pains within my kishkes (insides/gut) were real.  And although I can’t imagine what it must be like being pregnant, I felt as if something moved within me, in the way a baby might turn or kick in a pregnant mum-to-be.  And I was so excited!  Why was I so excited?  It made no sense.  Yet all the way home I was ‘buzzing’ with excitement.  Was this a move of God within me?  But hang on, I didn’t believe in God then, and I certainly wasn’t ‘saved or ‘Born-again’ nor made any confession of faith.  Yet in the same way as I had a sudden love for Anne Frank at the age of 12 (that’s another story) here I was, on a day that would turn out to be one of my last as a sales representative (as I was sacked soon after), I felt as if some type of Kesher (Hebrew for ‘connection’) was being made in my soul and to a distant past.

Before that late encounter of autumn of 1984, after I found myself chatting to the lady outside the old Anglican Church who asking me “are you a Christian?”… I realised that none of this was of my own doing.  I can’t remember anyone ever telling me the gospel.  But I can remember being in a drunken stupor, which became a regular habit in my dark days.  And I can remember smoking my last cigarette and realising I had no job, no car, in a lot of debt, with a wasted life.  No faith, no hope; just this failed wretched mess of a man who had screwed up people’s lives along with his own, that had ran out of money, booze, weed and fags. So was it a desperate cry?  “Jesus… if you are really real, I sure could do with a helping hand”.  No, I don’t believe it was a desperate cry… although even if it was, that cry was created within my inner-man by the same Spirit of God who spoke and created the universe.  That same Spirit of God was poured out upon the Temple in Jerusalem in 1 Kings 8:10, 11.  That same Spirit of God spoke through and inspired David in the Psalms. That same Spirit of God was unleashed at Shavuot (Pentecost) – poured out upon all those who believed whist worshipping God on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (recorded in the second chapter of Acts in the New Testament). 

According to the Bible, God does speak to those who have ears to hear. It was the Lord God who spoke and called Israel (Isaiah: 43:1). However, the Jewish people over the centuries, along with the modern nation of Israel, have often been the target of scorn. They have been ill-treat, suffered anti-Semitic attacks, and even today, suffer terrorist threats daily and are verbally attacked simply for being back in the Land God promised them.  Yet it is that same Spirit of God who has called Israel back, and it is for the purpose that the nation of Israel would once more take review of their ‘calling’.

As I’m writing this report, Shavuot is once more approaching in Israel.  It will start on Saturday, June 11 and ends in the evening of Monday, June 13.  Shavuot is of course known as Pentecost within the Church.  With this in mind, I’d like to quote one website I found recently: “Pentecost is a ‘Christian’ observance commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus Christ’s disciples, according to the Christian Bible. Many Christians in the United Kingdom celebrate Pentecost, which is also known as Pentecost Sunday…”   Isn’t it amazing when people take a Jewish festival, and apply it purely and only for the purpose of the Church. Could it be for this reason that when many Christians look at Israel, they see no connection (Kesher)? Shavuot is probably one of the most important holy days in the Bible. How we need an outpouring of the Spirit of God at this time. As I have said for the past few weeks… the battle is hard, and I feel it’s only going to get harder. So do pray for ministries such as Christian Friends of Israel, that God’s hand of protection would be upon us (and Israel), and that as the Ruach ha-Kodesh (the Holy Spirit) came down and anointed both Solomon in the Temple, and anointed the early Church at Shavuot (see above Scripture) – that He too would continue to anoint those who serve Him in this precious work with Israel.

A breakthrough against BDS?   After many organisations that stand with Israel, including ours, have become increasingly vocal against the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ issue (BDS), and of course much prayer, could it be that we are slowly seeing a breakthrough?  In response to widespread efforts to isolate Israel spearheaded by the international BDS movement, a number of universities around the world have taken a stand this past week in support of the Jewish state.   On Monday, it was reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that Italy will bring its largest ever delegation of academics to Israel in what Italian officials say is a move aimed at countering BDS. The joint academic initiative comes hot on the heels of a petition signed by some 300 Italian academics who called on Italian universities to cancel agreements with their Israeli counterparts.

Meanwhile, in Canada, over 150 professors from Montreal’s McGill University signed an open letter condemning BDS, the Canadian Jewish News reported on Friday. The informal letter came after a statement by McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier denouncing the passage of a BDS motion at the Students’ Society of McGill University Winter 2016 General Assembly in March. Fortier said the BDS movement “flies in the face of the tolerance and respect we cherish as values fundamental to a university. It proposes actions that are contrary to the principles of academic freedom, equity, inclusiveness and the exchange of views and ideas in responsible, open discourseWe all need to affirm our commitment to fighting bigotry of all kinds, even when masked behind human rights rhetoric or even if allied with political positions we might support. We fail when our students don’t feel genuinely safe in our university – and the BDS movement has made McGill students feel unsafe, unsupported, and unwelcome in their and our academic home.”

Even though in Scotland, the Scottish Green Party are still demanding boycotts against Israel, the Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) Trustee Board declined to adopt a BDS motion passed in March by the school’s Student Council. In a statement released by EUSA last week, the Trustees announced that “the BDS motion as it is written cannot be legally implemented by EUSA.”  The University of Edinburgh’s Israel Engagement Society (IES) praised the EUSA’s decision, saying in a statement, “IES strongly believes that BDS is a dangerous, divisive and discriminatory campaign tactic that risks undermining peace talks and cohesion on campus, and made this clear in its representations to EUSA in conjunction with other groups of concerned students.”   

Another interesting story I heard this week about the BDS issue was that while the anti-Israel BDS campaign aims to hurt Israeli companies, the BDS movement’s actions have actually had the opposite effect, at least according to the head of a major Israeli company. Daniel Birnbaum, the CEO of popular home soda-maker SodaStream, said that when people ask him whether there is a correlation between BDS and his company’s profits, his answer is always yes. Birnbaum stated, “The more active the BDS movement was in a certain market of ours, the more successful we have been… In the course of the last six to seven years, when BDS was attacking SodaStream, we grew from a $90 million revenue company to more than $400 million. I encourage any company that wants to grow its sales to be attacked by the BDS movement.”  Though the BDS machine is still causing many problems in many circles of life, we can praise God that prayers are being answered, but do keep praying regarding this.

Do the Palestinian leaders really want a state?    As I wrote in last week’s report, the Palestinian Authority (PA/PLO) rejected a suggestion by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to hold direct talks in Paris regarding the issue of a ‘two-state solution’.  This week, Netanyahu’s announcement on Monday evening that he remains open to discussing the so-called ‘Arab Peace Initiative” has been largely ignored by Western and Arab governments. However, UN special envoy Nickolay Mladenov issued a lone statement welcoming the remarks. “I welcome yesterday’s statements by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defence Minister [Avigdor] Liberman on the Arab Peace Initiative,” he said. “This can help advance negotiations on achieving a two-state solution.”  However, the question should be asked, do the Palestinian leaders really want a state?  Well according to Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, and an expert on Middle East conflicts, no they don’t.  On May 28, 2016 Gatestone Institute published a new video in which Colonel Richard Kemp discusses what the Palestinian leadership really wants. Click here to view:

Meanwhile, a summit planned to be convened in Paris on Friday to discuss alternative plans for the region of Israel is going forward, with representatives from 30 governments – but guess what – the representation doesn’t include Israel.  Imagine if you were a land owner and had a large house.  Imagine if this land was legally yours and had been in your family for over three thousand years.  Imagine you employed staff to maintain the land and house.   Now imagine the government having a special meeting to decide what they should do with your land and house, but didn’t invite you.  Whatever happened to true democracy?

What Irony! Arab Palestinian Museum opens with no exhibits   Apart from the fact the many Palestinian Authority leaders are living in a lap of luxury in mansions with fine dining and fancy living, the general consensus for the Arab Palestinian people is that Israel stole their land and now most Arabs have to live in squalor, and many more even have to live in ‘refugee camps’.  The PA will then go to the United Nations asking for even more money, whilst according to many reports by the Palestinian Media Watch and UK newspapers such as the Daily Mail, the PLO president Abbas gives huge amounts of money to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails.  Now however, it has been revealed that the Palestinian Authority have built and opened a Museum of Palestinian Art, History and Culture – with absolutely nothing in it.  The museum is actually named the Palestinian Museum and it cost $24 million.  The building is modern and beautiful, it has an outdoor amphitheatre, its garden is terraced – yet it is like a white elephant – with no exhibits.

This should come as no surprise however to anyone who has studied history, for they will know that Palestinian Arab history goes back only a few decades. It started, in fact, with the abrupt "founding" of the "Palestinian people" in 1964, as stated in the Palestinian National Charter of 1964 when the Palestinian Liberation Organization was founded.  An inaugural show entitled "Never Part" had been planned, concentrating on the lives of "Palestinian refugees." However, the inaugural exhibit was suspended after the museum director was ousted by the museum's board. Still, the show must go on, and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas will be present for the opening ceremony. Abbas, incidentally, is now in the 12th year of his four-year term as president of the PA. 

David Soakell  

(CFI Church Liaison Officer (UK) & WoZ News Report Correspondent)  Tweet me @David_CFI

Sources: Unless stated, personal sources throughout Israel, Christian Friends of Israel UK & Jerusalem, Israeli Embassy London, The Jerusalem Post, & Israel National Radio