Light in the Darkness
Marty Shoub

It's a beautiful, bright, winter morning, the sort of clear day that is rare in Israel. As I look north, I see the Jezreel Valley, verdant and growing. I can see clearly across the valley to Nazareth, Afula and the Galilee hills beyond them. Directly behind me is a more somber view: tall, grim concrete walls, razor wire and steel gates. I am standing in front of an Israeli prison, preparing to go with the House of Light team into this house of detention.

The House of Light is the ministry of Anis and Nawal Barhoum, Arab Christians who live in the Galilee and reach out to prisoners throughout Israel. For over seven years Anis and Nawal have been traveling to twenty two prisons, from Tiberius in Galilee to Beer Sheva in the Negev. Prison rules require they only contact prisoners who identify themselves as Christians, but within these guidelines they minister not just to Arab men but to prisoners from every background, from Russian immigrants to African migrant workers who have overstayed their visas.

When Anis started ministering in the prisons he would find himself sitting in a room on his own. But with patient faithfulness, Anis now has more opportunities than he can meet. He and his team have earned a reputation for integrity and compassion with inmates, guards and prison authorities.

After the mandatory security checks, we are let in through reception to a small room within the cell block area. Slowly, a small group of mostly Russian and Arab men shuffle into the meeting room. Nawal, who speaks Arabic, Hebrew and English, has memorized a few Russian worship songs and is leading us with the Russian version of "This is the Day that the Lord has made," Anis is handing out Bibles and Christian literature.

Anis and Nawal
Anis' van is loaded up with books in Arabic, Russian, Hebrew, even Chinese! House of Light tries to provide literature for inmates from every ethnic background (House of Light stores literature in 12 languages). Anis told me, "When I started visiting the prisons there was another fellow who used to pack around a pile of books. I used to ask him, 'Why do you only bring books, why don't you bring some sweets for the prisoners?' He answered me, 'Anis, this is the sweetest thing I can bring them, the Word of God.' Now I say the same thing!"

This is not a happy place and these men are far from the most attractive audience, but Anis and Nawal and their volunteer team serve them with loving tenderness and respect. Anis and his teammate, Pastor Emad, give a couple of short words of encouragement from the Bible, taking turns interpreting for each other from Arabic into Hebrew and then it is time to pray. We huddle together arm in arm and begin to pray; one young man breaks down in tears and Anis gently ushers him into the hall to sort out some of his painful circumstances.

Nawal used to bake Arabic specialties for the prisoners but according to new regulations only merchandise sold at the prison canteen can be given out to the men. Each one gets a bag loaded with goodies and Anis promises he will be back. Then we are off in the van to the next prison down the road.

Pastor Emad with Anis and Nawal
This jail is just as imposing as the last, a sprawling network of walls, towers and wire. It sits just across from ancient Megidddo, the scene of the Book of Revelation's climatic battle at the end of the age. Again, we go through the security checks and into the main population center. We are led into a meeting room and are soon joined by a half dozen men divided equally between Arabs and Russians. This time Nawal is interpreting into Hebrew for the Russian prisoners and again Anis and Emad bring hopeful words from the scriptures.

Anis encourages the men to accept this gift of God's love and timidly each man raises his hand to receive the eternal life Yeshua has promised them. We pray together and again the team passes out the goody bags. One young man tells Anis that he is from Netanya and Anis asks him if he attended a congregation there. The young man protests that he did not know there was a congregation of believers in Netanya and Anis assures him there is. The young man's mother still lives in the city and he gives her phone number to Anis to contact her. Anis assures him he will do so and will put her in touch with the Messianic pastor there.

Nawal and Anis loading up with
literature for the inmates
Later Anis tells me how important it is to not just to connect with prisoners but also with their families. "In the beginning we were only looking for the prisoners but the Lord showed us to also look for their wives and families, they are also suffering. As we gain the trust of the prisoners they give us permission to contact their families. We help them with physical and spiritual support and connect them to local congregations."

House of Light reaches even further out, beyond prisoners and their families. They seek to build up families in a variety of ministry endeavors. Nawal teaches a discipleship course for single mothers and every morning offers counseling to women in need. In the afternoons the Barhoum's run youth and children's programs.

Every six weeks they run a special youth program, "King's Kids" that brings together Messianic Jewish and Arab Christian young people. Together they assemble drama, music and dance programs to express their faith and unity in Messiah. I could sense Anis' passion as he shared with me about his heart to build bridges between the Messianic and Arab Christian believers. "It is not an easy thing to do, but slowly we are building trust between us. We believe we have unity in the Lord and He will help us."

Emad, Mary, Ruth, Anis and Nawal
So the Lord keeps opening doors and Anis, Nawal and their team keep walking through them. Anis: "Our biggest need is for workers, we have more opportunities than we can manage." Anis nodded towards Pastor Emad and continued, "I first met Emad twenty five years ago when I saw him, a young man preaching to patients in the Nazareth hospital. We have built a strong friendship over the years and he is the kind of man I can trust. We want to bring Pastor Ehmed on full time but we do not yet have the funds to do so."

When we were with the inmates, one of the songs we sang was the direct Hebrew translation of John 3:16, "Kee coh ahav Elohim et haOlam ... For God so loved the world ..." As we repeated these familiar lines I was struck by the power of these words. Here in a dark place we were declaring the light; here at the edge of the future great judgment we were remembering that "God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." John 3:17

Anis, Newal and the House of Light team are shining in many dark places with the light of the Gospel and the love of God, healing broken hearts, proclaiming liberty to captives and opening the prison to those who are bound.


For further information contact holight@netvision.net.il or go to www.houseoflight.net

 

By Martin Shoub



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Comments:
17:05 21Apr08 Denis -
I was an inmate for a year in a Canadian prison. I always looked for the visit with the Chaplin and visiting evangelists. Keep up the good work in the jail house ministry.

Also in this issue of the newsletter:

Dan Juster: The Tragic Death Of Benazir Bhutto
Moshe Morrison: Ygal
David Shishkoff: Close Encounters Of An Israeli Kind
From Kibbutz To The Kehilah: Tal's Testimony