They're Israel's best unofficial spokespeople around the world, creating monuments for Jews, aiding in bringing Jews to Israel and campaigning to defend Israel's international reputation after such events as the deadly raid on Gaza-bound flotilla. They are some 600 million evangelical Christians who believe salvation will come only after the Jewish people return to their homeland – Greater Israel.
Recently, some 1,500 tourists visited Israel as part of an annual seminar organized by the Word of Life protestant organization. At first glance their schedule resembles any other tourist timetable: A tour of Jerusalem, a dip in the Sea of Galilee, Shabbat at the Western Wall.
But the visit is in fact a week-long seminar training the group's members towards their PR task that awaits them in their 35 countries of origin.
We meet the group at the lobby of a hotel in Jerusalem. "Since its establishment in 1987 the organization's aim has been to stand by Israel's side," Dr. Ulf Ekman, a Swedish Protestant pastor who heads Word of Life says.
"As a Christian, identifying with Israel is a basic tenet. It is part of our culture and commitment. When one reads the Bible it's simply impossible to be against the Jews. All these reasons make me a Zionist," he proclaims.
Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity (Archive Photo: Reuters)
Ekman established the organization after a visit to Israel. It now consists of thousands of members, 12,000 of whom are active in the PR front.
"They come to see the places they defend with their own eyes," Roar Sörensen, who organized the tour, says in fluent Hebrew. "They study the Bible, hear lectures about the political situation and Israel's interior affairs. They also do Kabalat Shabbat in the Kotel," he adds.
The future ambassadors also visit the Dead Sea, Masada and Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.
Sörensen says that he's addicted to Israeli media and shows us an iPhone application which allows him to tune into Israeli radio stations anywhere in the world. He has also recently completed an official Israeli PR course given by the Foreign Ministry.
"We encourage our members to go out there, send letters to newspapers and generally engage in a Zionist discourse," Dr. Ekman says.
The group also helps Jews make aliyah. Since 1992, some 18,000 Jews immigrated to Israel with the help of Word of Life, which for a number of years also operated a ship transporting thousands of Jews and their possessions to Israel.
"In the recent war in Georgia there were 30 Jews who got stranded in the war-torn district of Abkhazia," Ekman relates. "They contacted us and begged us to help them. We held negotiations with both the Russian and Georgian governments until the Russians yielded and gave us six hours to evacuate them."
According to the evangelical denomination, Jesus will be revealed to his followers and carry them to heaven after the biblical war of Gog and Magog. Jews, however are not part of the plan. Apart from a small group which will recognize Jesus' divinity, all humans will be annihilated. The vision can only occur after Jews return to Greater Israel, which explains why they're so set on helping us.
"Granted, we are mostly evangelicals, but we don't deal with what the future will bring but with how to help Israel now," Dr. Ekman explains.
"What I know now is that every Jew has the right to be here and no one has the right to tell you 'you don’t belong here.' All Christians are indebted and grateful to Israel in their hearts. Bible-loving Christians are your best friends in the world," he proclaims.
- Follow Ynetnews on Facebook