Looking to Jesus—the Author and Finisher of Our Faith
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.
—Psalm 113: 3 (NIV)
The most humbling experience of my life is to be serving God in the little town of Bethlehem. Never had I imagined that the Lord, in good planning for my life, would lead me to be a missionary in such a unique place! Born and raised in Egypt to a Christian family, I received the Lord as my personal savior at the age of 14. My love for God grew with every day; I felt eager and passionate to know and serve God at a deeper level. When I immigrated to the United States at the age of 22, God confirmed a calling upon my life to serve—and since then, many doors have opened for me to tell others about God’s amazing grace and gift of salvation
The yard of the East Jerusalem Baptist Church in Palestine projects a peaceful image in
contrast to the conflicts and troubles outside its walls. Photo by Alex Awad
Ordering the Steps
Three years ago I met a different “Grace,” who was also full of God’s grace. She has become my wife and ministry partner. Grace is a Palestinian Christian who loves the Lord and serves God in her hometown, Bethlehem. It was upon my first visit to Israel/Palestine in 2014, when Grace accepted by proposal and we became engaged, that I sensed a huge spiritual need in this land. Prior to my first visit here, I couldn’t imagine what life in Bethlehem was like. But upon my arrival, I could see mountains that needed to be moved and chains that needed to be broken. I could sense a spirit of animosity and hatred, injustice and vengeance all around. My heart broke to see that the very place where Christianity started had become a highly volatile war-torn land.
A boy stands in front of a wall covered with graffiti along a street in Bethlehem.
Photo by Paul Jeffrey
God directed my steps to serve in this humble place. Of course, leaving a country as free and open as the United States was not the easiest of steps, after spending more than 10 years there; but following God’s guidance is surely the most rewarding way forward. For the last couple years, I have felt the Lord speaking to my heart continually concerning God’s heart toward the land and its people. This has become the focus of my prayer; “Lord give me your heart so that I can serve you faithfully in your land.”
The day after a neighboring house was destroyed, residents of Bethlehem replant olive trees that were ripped
out of the ground by Israeli tanks. Israeli soldiers entered the city the night of in November 2006 and destroyed
the house, which contained the apartments of four families, searching for a man they claimed was a militant.
Photo by Paul Jeffrey
In the middle of the many complexities of life that one experiences here; it is only God’s light that can penetrate through any darkness. The Lord calls many to witness. Among the dwindling Christian population, of less than one percent now, God seeks to convey a message to all people through us, God’s ambassadors. I have found encouragement in serving as the chaplain at Bethlehem Bible College. Twice a week, as faculty, staff, and students meet for a time of praise, worship, and devotions, we are reminded afresh of the reason for our existence in this place: It is Jesus, the shepherd of this land, who unites us and gives us the courage to boldly speak his name and witness his signs and wonders. Only Jesus can bring forth rivers of living water in dry desert land.
Bethlehem Bible Students
As I serve among students who come from near and far—from different places in the West Bank, Jerusalem, and other parts of the country—I know in my heart that God will somehow use these vessels for the spread of God’s kingdom. The Bible tells us that the kingdom of God is “like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened” (Luke 13:20). I have deep faith to believe that students have great potential to go out and share the good news of the kingdom with their neighbors, to soar beyond the wall and reach out to their friends and families and anyone they encounter, be they Christian, Muslim, or Jewish.
Many of our students have had to overcome heavy obstacles to study at the college; not only physical checkpoints and barriers, but also social challenges and traditional stereotypes. They could be anywhere else, studying anything else, but they have chosen to devote themselves to studying the living word of God. Obtaining a theological degree carries huge responsibilities; yet God is a God of love, justice, and faithfulness.
Much has been placed on their hearts to carry out the purposes of God in this place—to pursue God’s greatest plans for their lives.
In this land, freedom is restricted, opportunities limited, doors often closed, attitudes negative, the future unclear, expectations disappointing, but our God works miraculously through every situation. As I spend time with the student body at Bethlehem Bible College, I have no other intention but to point them to the author and finisher of our faith: Jesus Christ, who helps us in our most difficult times, who listens to us when we cry out, who is the defender of the weak and the weary, and who shows no favoritism. There are so many good seeds to plant in their young (and some older) lives. This semester, as we spend time focusing on the miracles of Jesus during our morning chapel devotions, my prayer is that God will use these souls to make an impact on their societies and churches so that we can see practical and spiritual miracles, one step a time, one life at a time!
With God, all things are possible. Through Jesus, who gives us strength; we can achieve all things and conquer the forces of darkness. Yes, I do wish that these precious young people will experience all kinds of freedom in their nation, but ultimately, a freedom through which they know who they are in Christ, and where their hopes and dreams are grounded in God’s plan for their lives in this very special place.
Lord, set our eyes toward the goal, help us to say boldly that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, today and every day.
Michael Arteen is a US citizen raised as a Christian in Egypt. He immigrated to the United States as a young man. He served as a pastoral assistant for Arabic churches in Florida and Texas. His missionary placement is with the Bethlehem Bible College as chaplain and director of spiritual life. His wife, Grace Al-Zoughbi, also teaches at the college.
Copyright New World Outlook magazine, November-December 2016 issue. Used by permission. Email the New World Outlook editor for more information.
*The Rev. Michael Arteen leads chapel devotions at Bethlehem Bible College.
Photo by Michael Arteen
A boy lights candles in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, inside the occupied Palestinian West Bank.
Photo by Paul Jeffrey