From Susan Norman, National Advocate of Graduate Students and Faculty Ministry, May 27th, 2014.
“I am an ex-religious Muslim. I am searching for God but He does not show Himself to me. How can I find Him? – a Technion student.
“The Koran tells me all I need to know about Jesus. He was a prophet.” – a young Muslim in a Bible study who, despite his opening statement, said he would like to come again.
“I used to be a Christian but I don’t want to follow a lot of rules.” – a medical student
Good questions! Fascinating discussions! I, personally, rarely find such open, serious search for religious truth in Canada. A pastor here told me, “In Israel, everyone believes there is a God. Everything else [what He is like and how we can know Him] is a matter of intense debate and division.” Of course, there are many secular Israelis, but there is a consciousness of Him here, where three major religions co-exist in a somewhat tenuous relationship.
A week ago, after the student conference, we ventured onto seven Israeli campuses in five cities, all feeling a little nervous, more than a little uncertain, but very excited to learn what campus life is like and welcoming the opportunity to go deeper in the friendships we formed at the conference. We stayed with families, in dorms, in student apartments, on the floor of a local Messianic congregation – great ways to mix.
Perhaps the biggest surprise has been our discovery that students here are much the same as friends and classmates back home. They have the same longings: to get a good education and find a place in the adult world, to find purpose and meaning beyond themselves, to enjoy the good things that life offers, to know others and be known by them, to love and be loved. Like Canadian students, they may seek for these things in all the wrong places: in drinking too much and indulging in casual sex, in materialism and academic success, in the idols of fame or instant gratification which cannot deliver on their false promises.
We have had great discussions with students with different shades of religious belief: Arab Israeli Muslims, nominal Arab Israeli Christians, Messianic Believers (the word here for Jews who believe in Jesus), practising Jews who don’t accept Jesus and who are suspicious of Christians, lots of secular Jews – who are atheists and agnostics or dabbling in Eastern mysticism. We have joined them in barbecues, Bible studies, discussion groups, for coffee and dessert. We have had the great privilege of visiting in their homes. One student took his new Canadian friends to his village where about 150 of his relatives live in close proximity. They went from house to house feasting, talking in at least two languages, and getting a taste of Arab hospitality!
Benjamin, David, and Sarah on campus at he Technion University in Haifa.
I was about to write “The highlight for me was . . .” but then I realised there were many highlights! One was the regular Christian gathering at the Technion, which is one of the world’s leading universities in advanced technology. They have a small group of seven or eight who attend regularly but their invitation to “come meet our Canadian friends” attracted new people, including several Muslims curious about Christianity. We had to keep expanding our circle of chairs. We shared our stories of coming to faith and talked about the difference in Canada between nominal faith and genuine, life-transforming belief in Jesus. The questions were good; the one-on-one conversations afterwards were even better!
The following night, some of our Technion friends joined with the Christians from the University of Haifa for a delicious barbecue on the beach. We watched the sun set over the Mediterranean, sang songs in Arabic and English, and again talked about life and faith. Another highlight was a trip to Akko at the College of Western Galilee. We went with Rasha, who is the staff worker for all of the Arab students in this region. She had been asked by some of the students from the college to start a Bible study. We sat on the grass on the lovely campus and studied the story of Jesus healing and forgiving the sins of the paralysed man. That miracle happened a short distance from where we were sitting. According to Rasha this was the first ever Bible study on this campus. When the lively discussion ended, everyone said they wanted more. Please pray for Rasha and other staff workers, who move effortlessly from Arabic to Hebrew to English, who reach out with truth and grace to newcomers and inquirers.