“Divine Encounters” - My Testimony
Michael Eker spent most of the month of March, 2016, with BBC in Bethlehem. His gentleness, sense of humor and humble faith was an encouragement to all whom he encountered. After a bit of cajoling, he graciously wrote his testimony for us. We publish it here, in hope that it will also be an encouragement to our readers. Thank you, Michael, for reminding us all that it is never too late to take a new step of surrender with God!
I was born in Sheffield, England, in 1932. My parents and all four grandparents were Jewish; from Lithuania and the Ukraine. My father rebelled against his strict Orthodox upbringing; so my sister and I were brought up with neither spiritual nor moral values. I had a happy childhood, but always felt that something was missing. It wasn’t until I met Ruth in 1958 that she gave me my answer: “You’re looking for God in your life.” It was totally unexpected; I had never given God a moment’s thought, but deep down, I knew she was right.
Within a year we were married, and my search began. At the time, I had no desire to explore my Jewish roots. Even though we started attending various churches, I could not understand Christianity. I found it baffling and irrelevant. Instead we turned to Eastern philosophies like theosophy, but this too failed to satisfy.
A Series of Divine Encounters
By this time, we had two children and were living near London, where I started leading a very selfish and immoral life, which I tried to cover up by doing “good works.” And now God took a hand for the second time! Each morning I took a train to London for work, and one morning I was surprised to be greeted by a stranger sitting across from me: “You know, there’s something wrong in your life; you need Jesus Christ.” I dismissed her politely, but every few weeks she would appear and say exactly the same thing.
My whole world began to cave in around me. My marriage was in trouble; and I was facing other challenges. The stranger appeared yet again. She asked me to meet her the next day at Westminster Cathedral in London, and I agreed, feeling at rock bottom. We sat down in a quiet part. She said nothing, but without any warning, I found myself in floods of uncontrollable tears. Repentance, she called it. Then she left me. After the tears had subsided, I walked out, but as I approached the big front doors, I was hit by the most inexpressible feeling of love and compassion for every living soul around me. When I got home, Ruth said immediately, “Something’s happened to you, hasn’t it?”
I am sad to say that although Ruth and the children became committed Christians, I fell back into my old immoral way of life again…Now fast forward 20 years, to Christmas, 1995, when a letter arrived from Edinburgh, from a lady whom I had never met. She explained that she had met Ruth 4 years earlier, and the Lord told her to pray for me. She had done so ever since. Now He had instructed her to write to me, quoting Ezekiel 3:18-19. I knew immediately I had to give my life to Jesus. I joined Ruth’s church and began reading the Bible, beginning with the book of John. When I got to verse 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me,” it was as if I’d been hit a tremendous blow between the eyes. It became blindingly obvious why my experience 20 years ago had come to nothing – because Jesus was missing! I had neither known him, nor wanted to do so. Now the old tears of repentance came surging back; I was asking God to forgive me again, but now I knew with absolute certainty that He had already done so, because of what Jesus had done for me on the cross. I knew that I had been “born again,” (John 3:3), and was now a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). Through Him my marriage was wonderfully restored.
A Visit to Israel
Two years later, Ruth and I went to Israel. As a Jew, I felt I needed to find out if the Holy Land would have any effect on me. And whilst we covered much of the land where Jesus walked and preached, with an Israeli guide who knew his New Testament “inside out,” I came away feeling empty and a little disappointed without knowing why. After I returned home, I began to explore Israel and Palestine from all sides; from the biblical arguments for the restoration of Israel to the injustices that the Palestinian community was experiencing. I have always hated injustice, and the more I read, the more I became persuaded that Palestinians were trapped by harsh regulations laid down by the Israeli Government which penalised all sectors of society, irrespective of the security risk posed by each individual. Jesus’ Greatest Commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” – and – “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-40) surely needed to be obeyed by both the people of Israel and Palestine. It was on this basis that I began to support Bethlehem Bible College.
Waiting on the Lord
In May of 2012, my dear Ruth died of cancer. But despite my emptiness, God had not finished with me yet. He was about to present me with another “Divine Encounter.” In one of my communications with BBC, I received a very nice reply which ended “Yours…In Christ Alone.” The signatory was “Flora Al-Qassis.” I was intrigued by the way this lady had ended her letter and this was the start of a very special email correspondence.
Flora was a wonderful ambassador for Christ who willingly answered my many questions. The more she told me about day-to-day life in Bethlehem, the more I felt drawn to finding out for myself. In 2013, I joined a pilgrimage to Israel with a group which was focused on meeting Jewish believers and Arab Christians. I recall our brief “stop-over” for lunch and a talk at BBC. It was a lovely uplifting experience, but I came away feeling that I had hardly seen anything of “the other” Israel, – i.e. Palestine and the West Bank.
And so I began to make serious enquiries of BBC to find out how I could volunteer my services (for what they were worth at my age)! In 2014, my plans to visit were thwarted by the terrible war in Gaza, and I was advised by BBC to postpone any visits. I remember writing to Flora, suggesting that the Lord would have to paint it in the sky in neon lights if He really did want me to go. This prayer was answered through another “Divine Encounter.”
One year later, I was at a prayer retreat, quietly communing with the Lord with my eyes closed, when I became aware of a lady’s voice next to me saying one word that hit me powerfully: “Palestine.”
I said to her, “Excuse me, I’m a bit deaf, but did I hear you say the word, “Palestine?” Yes, she had. Hearing this word out of context while deeply in prayer seemed more than coincidence. After discussing this matter with trusted friends, I became convinced that it was confirmation — as if the Lord had indeed flashed the word in giant neon letters. I felt that it would have been outright disobedient not to go.
An Adventure in Bethlehem
I knew that another “Christ at the Checkpoint” Conference was to be held in March, 2016. I had no idea what the Lord had in store for me, but I just knew I had to go. My children were quite worried and thought I was developing first signs of dementia—to go to alone Bethlehem at the age of almost 84! “Don’t go out on your own, and never go out at night.” (I did both).
The Conference removed every negative criticism I had stored up in my mind. Speaker after speaker emphasised our calling to act as Christ, to follow the Greatest Commandment and to use non-violence to fight injustice. The phrase which stayed with me most was: “Build bridges, not walls.”
I decided to stay at the BBC Guest House for an extra ten days after the Conference, volunteering with the Shepherd Society and getting to know the local Christian community. My stay at the college was a “Mount of Transfiguration” experience with an overwhelming feeling of warmth and love which I had not experienced before. I met some lovely people from different countries, but you Palestinian Christians are in a different league! Maybe it is because of what you suffer on a daily basis; particularly the cruel restrictions and the Checkpoint where men and women are treated like caged cattle. (It was only by witnessing this for myself that the full humiliation and dehumanization hit me and has stayed with me ever since).
When I first became a Christian, before I had barely opened a Bible, the Holy Spirit gave me these two Scriptures: Proverbs 3:5-6:”Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.” And Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house the builders labour in vain…..” These verses remain with me to this day, as well as another which has become a foundation of my life; the way He is teaching me to view everything in this world: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jesus, John 15:5).