Arlene Bridges Samuels
The Eclectic Evangelical @InEssentialsUnity

“Amazing Grace:” not just a hymn at the GPO’s Christian Media Summit

GPO Christian Media Summit members from 40 nations posing at the Knesset
GPO Christian Media Summit members from 40 nations posing at the Knesset

Israel’s Government Press Office hosted its second Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem October 14-17. Media professionals representing an estimated reach of 1 billion Christians-from Korea to Indonesia, Kenya to Finland, US to UK and Australia to Philippines-all arrived with a deep interest, a desire to learn more, and unwavering support for Israel. The welcoming warmth expressed by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, President Reuven Rivlin, and GPO Director Nitzan Chen were evident from the moment they stood at their respective podiums in different venues. The summit also included addresses by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Jerusalem’s mayor Nir Barkat, and many leading experts and panelists. The GPO also offered four day-long tour options highlighting Israel’s culture, economy, agriculture, or visit to Judea and Samaria. The GPO wove our days together in a tapestry of excellence and education. I’m a Christian Zionist and have traveled to Israel many times. Yet, each time, I learn more about this small nation, its citizens who teem with vibrancy and celebrate life despite the ever-present shadows of terror. This trip was no exception.

In the coming weeks, I’m writing a series of blogs about the Christian Media Summit and this is my first one.

Three moments stood out to me as pictures of the clear-cut friendships and ease between Jewish leaders and their Christian media guests. On our first night, the GPO welcomed us with a Gala feast, music, dance, and remarks from PM Netanyahu and Ambassador Friedman. Nitzan Chen as emcee declared, “We need Christian media because we know that you love us from the bottom of your hearts…” The Prime Minister commented, “You are ambassadors of truth. You’re not merely the greatest ambassadors that Israel has in the world – you’re champions of truth. You are standing up for Israel…and we stand up for you.” Afterwards he engaged in a Q and A.

The first moment that caught my attention occurred when the Prime Minister requested a chair after his remarks at the Gala so he could sit right there on the stage for Ambassador Friedman’s greetings. It was as if he was saying, “I’m among friends, I can relax.”

Bibi makes himself at home on the stage while enjoying Ambassador Friedman’s remarks.

The second moment occurred at President Rivlin’s residence a few days later after we ate lunch on the lush, beautiful grounds. While we awaited the President’s arrival to speak to us, Nitzan suggested we sing several Jewish songs and asked Author Norma Zager from the Beverly Hills, CA Jewish community to lead out. Afterwards, he looked around asking for Christian songs. Having sung professionally in my younger days, I stood up and led our Christian media to sing “Amazing Grace.” It was the first hymn that popped into my mind since it is one our most beloved ones. Nitzan told me afterwards that he thinks, “It’s the first time a hymn has been sung in the President’s home.” He wants me to return to the next GPO to lead several Christian songs. A precious moment indeed!

Amazing Grace’s first verse: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost and now am found, t’was blind but now I see.” It’s estimated that this hymn is sung 10 million times a year!

The third moment also took place at President Rivlin’s residence. Jerry Johnson, CEO of National Religious Broadcasters, made inspiring remarks which represented all of us in the room. National Religious Broadcasters (NRB), an American organization, is the largest Christian media organization in the world. Johnson thanked President Rivlin for speaking up for religious minorities in Israel, including Christians and then read NRB’s 2018 Resolution supporting Israel.

President Rivlin had spoken earlier about his 8-generation family of Jerusalemites who first arrived in 1809. Jerry referenced Rivlin’s father’s love of poetry and went on to recite a portion of the poem, “Jerusalem.”

Bring me my bow of burning gold; bring me my arrows of desire; bring me my spear; O clouds unfold! Bring me my chariot of fire! We shall not cease from battle strife, nor shall the sword sleep in our hand, ‘til we have built Jerusalem in this fair and pleasant land.” All of us in the room could identify with the poem composed by William Blake.

The three moments I have described are a far cry from the distrust between our two communities over the centuries. I’ve been directly involved in the pro-Israel Christian movement for almost twenty years and observed a loosening of caution and a building of trust which has grown exponentially. During the Second Intifada, when tourism tanked amidst the terror, enough Christian groups decided to come to Israel anyway. Anecdotally, I think it meant something to Israelis that we came like friends to stand with friends during a crisis.

A few years later in 2005 the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) initiated outreach to the Christian community. As a result, when Christians began attending AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. to help build relationships with members of congress, the Jewish community was surprised to see us. And even a little cautious. When they learned that we cared about bipartisan work with Congress to strengthen the US-Israel relationship, understandable caution grew into many close relationships over the last 13 years. Christians United for Israel came along in 2006 displaying the commitment of its Christian members with its numerous “Nights to Honor Israel” all over America. I often comment when speaking to the Christian community that God has given us a second chance to demonstrate our goodwill and commitment to the Jewish people.

The synergy  that continues to develop between Jews and pro-Israel evangelicals is timely. Increased threats against Israel- born of hatred and intransigence- have given our Christian community opportunities to add actions to our heartfelt prayers. I daresay thousands of large and small organizations, ministries, and individuals are part of a tapestry of help to Israel. We are indeed stronger together.

And the hymn “Amazing Grace?” Here’s the historic back story. When slave ship Captain John Newton penned the hymn “Amazing Grace” in 1772, his words in the first line conveyed a powerful message of sorrow and repentance for his heinous wrongs against African peoples. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” When GPO Director Nitzan Chen requested a Christian song from the 180 media professionals gathered at President Rivlin’s home on October 16, the hymn took its place as an emblem of unity symbolizing a Christian community dedicated to reversing history’s horrific anti-Semitism. Blending both Jewish and Christian songs reflected the ripened warmth and strength between the two faith communities.

And like John Newton whose life took a transformational turn against evil, God has given the Christian community an opportunity to turn the tide of the past with prayers matched with actions to express our love and commitment to the Jewish homeland and the Jewish community worldwide.

About the Author
For almost two decades, Arlene Bridges Samuels has held pioneering positions with Israel Always, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, (AIPAC) and International Christian Embassy Jerusalem's project, American Christian Leaders for Israel. Traveling to Israel since 1990, she is now an author at the Times of Israel, contributor to The Christian Broadcast Network and speaker, consultant, and networker. Her articles have appeared in Philos Project, The Institute on Religion and Democracy, Southern Jewish Life, ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem, Mercy Ships, and Concerned Women for America. She shares her devotionals, The Eclectic Evangelical, on Facebook and is an active member of a small Anglican church. After attending Winthrop University in her home state of South Carolina, Arlene earned her Masters degree at the University of Alabama.
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