(Jerusalem, Israel) — Over the last few months, my Joshua Fund colleagues and I have been working on a new report concerning the “State of the Epicenter 2017.” Working with pastors, ministry leaders and experts in the region, we carefully examined the question of how many followers of Jesus Christ currently reside in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and in the five Arab neighbors around Israel.
It was the first time since my wife, Lynn, and I founded The Joshua Fund in 2006 that our team has drilled down into the data — and the trend lines — to assess the health and growth (or decline) or the church, country by country.
Personally, I found the research fascinating, and the results encouraging. At the recent Epicenter Conference held in Orange County, California, I shared those results with the attendees. Now I’d like to share the results with you
“I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.” – The Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18, ESV)
Many in the Epicenter are being shaken as perhaps never before in human history. Syria is imploding. Iraq is convulsing. Lebanon and Jordan have been overrun by millions of refugees. Egypt has undergone multiple revolutions. Israelis and Palestinians, meanwhile, have faced repeated waves of violence.
The Church has also been deeply shaken. Many followers of Jesus Christ throughout the region have been horribly persecuted and targeted by terrorists. Church buildings have been bombed, set ablaze, and riddled with machine gun fire. Christians have been captured, enslaved, tortured, and beheaded. Some have even been crucified.
Yet even amidst such darkness, we can rejoice and give thanks because the Holy Spirit is on the move to advance Christ’s unshakeable kingdom. “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe.” (Hebrews 12:28)
Consider these encouraging facts:
- News of such wars, persecution and suffering has unleashed a great movement of prayer by believers around the world for the Church and the lost in the Epicenter.
- Followers of Jesus in the Middle East are boldly and creatively communicating the Gospel to their people using satellite television, radio broadcasts, the Internet, Bible distribution, literature distribution, and their own personal witness – indeed, they are reaching more people in the region than ever before.
- Millions of Jews and Muslims are now able to hear, read and consider the Gospel message in their own heart languages – just as remarkable, many are open to considering the claims of Jesus for the first time in their lives.
- As a result of so much prayer and faithful seed planting, pastors and ministry leaders throughout the Epicenter report signs of hope – after centuries of spiritual drought, the Church in the Middle East is bearing fruit again. Jews and Muslims are coming to faith, and are being baptized and discipled. There is much to do, but real progress is being made.
In some ways, the current environment is evocative of the First Century. Amidst tremendous hardship and persecution, believers are reaping a harvest by God’s grace.
- “The news about Him [Jesus] spread throughout all Syria, and….large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan.” (Matthew 4:24-25)
- “When the Gentiles heard [the Gospel], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region.” (Acts 13:48-49)
- “After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many ten thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed….” (Acts 21:17-20)
To be sure, one must be careful with numbers. Some Western ministry leaders and local pastors can, at times, be tempted to exaggerate progress to friends and donors. Likewise, Radical Islamists and Jewish anti-missionaries can report to their compatriots and donors inflated numbers of Jews and Muslims coming to faith in the Lord Jesus in an attempt to exaggerate a perceived “threat” to their communities.
That said, interviews with a wide range of Arab and Messianic pastors and ministry leaders in the region, and a review of relevant articles, books and studies, provide a useful, if imprecise, snapshot of the state of the Church in the Epicenter.
- 25,000 to 30,000 born again believers attend Messianic congregations in Israel.
- 4,000 to 5,000 Arab Evangelical Christians openly worship Jesus in Israel….
[To read the rest of this report, including the most recent estimates of followers of Jesus in Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq — including detailed end notes — please click here.]
NOTE: Please share this report and the Epicenter Conference videos with family and friends on social media.
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