Aussies at the Gaza Border

By ICEJ staff

Aussie Christians visit parking lot following attack on October 7

The 2024 Envision Pastors and Leaders Conference was also a special mission of unanimity to a hurting Israel in the wake of the October 7 attack. This solidarity mission:

  • Allowed the Christian participants, including our Aussie delegates, to see with their own eyes the evidence of death and destruction.
  • Heard from Israelis still reeling from the onslaught.
  • Encouraged Israelis as they soldier on in this battle.
  • Assessed what more they can do to pray, give and stand with Israel.

“What we saw was horrendous, a manifestation of darkness and evil, defying logic.” Said Marlene Matthews of Australia who, with her husband Walson, attended the Envision Conference that included 70 pastors and ministry leaders from 18 nations.

“We saw the face of radical evil,” said Anglican theologian and scholar Dr. Gerald McDermott who was one of the speakers during the conference.

The first full day featured a tour of the Gaza border area, which include touring the devastated community of Kibbutz Nir Oz, where over one-quarter of the residents were either murdered or kidnapped by Hamas. The community remains largely abandoned from the vicious assault by some 150 well-armed terrorists. Nearly four months later, the Christian visitors found the kibbutz dining hall still strewn with broken glass, slices of mouldy bread were left in a basket, and the unplugged Nestle freezer was filled with long-melted ice creams still in their wrappers.

The sight of the bank of residents’ mailboxes outside the kibbutz’s dining room impacted Marlene. “Each had sticker on,” she recounts, “the red ones were on the boxes of residents who had been murdered, the black for those abducted, the blue for those returned. There were two blue.”

The guide that took them around the heartbreakingly empty, burned and ruined family homes had grown up in the kibbutz but had moved to Australia in recent years. Leaving his family, he immediately returned to Israel and his former community. His brother was murdered, family and close friends still among the abducted. He told of his and others’ despair at feeling so let down by the army and government on October 7. He told the participants, “You have brought heart back to us, you have brought hope.”

Nir Oz also is home to the Bibas family with their two red-headed boys that have captured the world’s attention. The front courtyard of their house is a heart-breaking scene, with a baby bouncer and car seat belonging to one year-old Kfir Bibas, and the bicycle and play toys of his four year-old brother Ariel.

Please pray daily for the release of hostages. 

Baby bouncer of Kfir Bibas at the family’s home in Kibbutz Nir Oz.

“What ICEJ is doing is historical and remarkable,” said Marlene after hearing of some of ICEJ’s projects and the deep gratitude expressed for not only the practical and financial help, by the friendship it represented. But one stood out. They visited the head offices of the Sderot Negev Regional Council to witness the ICEJ’s donation of 113 Motorola radio transmitters which will enable emergency response teams in the region to send instant, encrypted multiparty alerts. The Christian Embassy has now donated 366 of these highly-effective communication devices to every regional council along the Gaza border. They heard from a community leader where these devices helped local security teams to swiftly muster and defend several communities during the Hamas massacres, thereby sparing thousands of lives.

The Christian visitors were welcomed to the Knesset where its workings and history was explained and MK’s spoke of the importance of Christian support. Rachel Goldberg, whose 21-year old son Hersh Goldberg-Polin remains a hostage in Gaza shared about her long ordeal in waiting for the return of her son, who lost half of his left arm from a grenade explosion when he was abducted. Rachel also expressed thanks that Christians had come to show their support. “You have shown up,” she said. “You don’t just talk the talk. You walk the walk. You got on the plane, and you came here. And we appreciate you!”

That evening at the conference venue, several relatives of other Israeli hostages came to share their stories of missing loved ones. Shelly Shem Tov, the mother of Omer Shem Tov, spoke of her painful longing to see her son again. She is especially concerned that he has asthma and coeliac disease and does not have access to his urgently needed medicines.

Rachel Goldberg addressing ICEJ Envision delegates
Shelly Shem Tov addressing ICEJ Envision delegates

The final day of Envision revolved around a visit to the northern border area to learn more about the daunting threat from Hizbullah in Lebanon. The outing focused on the mixed Jewish-Arab town of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, located only 7 kilometers (4 miles) from the Lebanese border. The ICEJ is in the process of renovating and upgrading the town’s 65 underground public bomb shelters to help protect its 22,000 residents. Mayor Arkady Pummerantz was on hand to welcome the Christian visitors and to thank the ICEJ for renovating the shelters, which had fallen into neglect and disrepair ever since the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

The group also heard from Gideon Bayer, a German Christian whose son Urija Bayer had volunteered to serve in the Israeli army and was killed while fighting in Gaza in December. He explained how the family had moved to northern Israel decades ago in answer to the Lord’s calling to come work with Holocaust survivors, an act of obedience that had now cost him a son. “The path for us is difficult, but we still choose the path the Lord has for us,” said Gideon Bayer.

Marlene and Walson stood on behalf of Australia at the Envision Solidarity Mission to bless & comfort Israel at her time of need. But all of us in Australia can join them in spirit. After what they witnessed, Marlene could say, “your prayers are powerful, pray strategically, your giving is significant and goes a long way.”

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