The following article originally appeared in The Evening Light and was written by Stephen E. Smith, General Overseer of The Church of God.
A few weeks ago on our way to visit Church members in Turkey and attend the National Convention in Southern India, my wife and I had the joy of visiting Israel. It was an opportunity to walk through biblical history, to see the very places where the Old and New Testament events took place. We saw the valley of Jezreel, where Gideon and his 300 soldiers won the battle against the multitude of Midianites, and the caves of Ein Gedi where David hid from Saul. We walked the streets of Jerusalem, and saw the Garden of Gethsemane where it is said of our Lord, “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). We visited the Sea of Galilee and its coastal cities where Jesus worked most of His miracles and preached so many of His sermons.
Space will not permit sharing all we experienced while in Israel, but two events especially stand out in my memory. One was our visit to the Western Wall, the retaining wall of the second temple, built by Herod the Great. This wall is also called the “Wailing Wall” because the Jews come here to lament the loss of their temple. Each day hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people write out their prayer requests on paper, fold them, and place them in the crevices of the stones. While standing before the wall I felt compelled to place a small Church of God flag in one of the crevices, and left it there after praying for the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Israel.
I asked our tour guide what would become of the flag. He said every few days they remove all the prayer requests and other items and bury them on top of the Mount of Olives. It was a blessing to me that this one “banner of truth” rested temporarily in the Western Wall and would find its final resting place at such a renowned site. The Mount of Olives is where Jesus answered His disciples’ questions concerning the upcoming destruction of the temple, the sign of His coming, and the end of the world (Matt. 24). While answering their questions Jesus said, “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come” (v.14). One of our All Nations flags has found its final resting place on top the Mount of Olives from which Jesus made the declaration that the gospel He left with His Church would indeed be preached in all nations.
During our stay we were blessed to see the Church of Prophecy Marker Association markers that are in Israel. We saw the Beatitudes marker, located outside the Garden of the Catholic Church on the Mount of Beatitudes, which says, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). We visited the Golgotha marker which points to the place of the crucifixion where Jesus died for the sins of the world, and to purchase The Church of God. The scripture on this marker comes from John 19:16-18 and reads, “Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away. And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst.”
As much as these blessed us, my heart was set on finding the marker on Mt. Hattin near where Jesus organized His Church. We were blessed to have two excellent tour guides, Michael O’Donell from the United States and Amos Davidavich, a native of Israel; but neither had heard of this marker or knew nothing of its whereabouts. Our guides knew where Mt. Hattin was, and, after I shared pictures of the marker, we headed that direction. As we drove along a four-lane highway that runs along the base of Mt. Hattin we saw what appeared to be the marker up on the mountain-side. We then found the road that headed toward the marker. It was a dirt road that had evidently not been maintained for years, as it was washed out and full of ruts and pot-holes. It was difficult to get to the marker without damaging the vehicle, but we were at last successful. It was a special blessing to walk through the gateway of the wall that surrounded the “Church Foundation Memorial Monument” and read the scriptures concerning Jesus organizing His Church. What a joy to be standing at that marker commemorating the very Church Jesus said He would build, the Church that received the Great Commission to evangelize the whole world with the whole gospel, the Church He will perfect and soon rapture to the marriage of the Lamb, the very Church so many of us are members of today – The Church of God!
Mt. Hattin, though not normally visited by tour groups, is part of a “National Park” that attracts people to the area. The scenery from the top of the mountain is spectacular, overlooking the Sea of Galilee and various cities where Jesus ministered. While we were at the foundation marker a group of perhaps thirty hikers walked by on their way back to their bus which awaited them below the marker. It is obvious that people visit the marker, as empty drinking bottles and food wrappers cluttered the area. Though the monument is suffering from neglect with some of the surrounding walls crumbling, grass growing inside the walls, and debris scattered about, the message of God’s Church is still legible, speaking to all who come by. Who knows how this marker may yet be used to speak to sincere searchers of the truth, and they will fulfill their part in prophecy, “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (Isa. 2:3).
Leaving Israel, we made our way to Marmaris, Turkey, to visit with the only two members of The Church of God in that nation. Have you ever thought what would it be like to be a Church of God member living in a country dominated by the Muslim religion; to live where it is illegal to witness on the streets or pass out tracts; to live where people advertise “free Bibles” to draw Christians out so they can murder them? Evangelist Ray Jones could tell the story of living for seven years under these circumstances, and without the privilege of attending Church services or fellowshipping with the saints in the Body of Christ. He lives with his wife and daughter. After a great deal of time spent witnessing to his daughter and teaching her about Christ and the Church, he was filled with joy when she turned from the Muslim religion and gave her heart to Jesus Christ and later joined The Church of God. Jeanie is hungry to learn all she can about Jesus Christ, His Word, and The Church of God. Because it wouldn’t be safe for her to have a Bible to read at work, Brother Jones took his Bible apart and photocopied it page by page so Jeanie could take a few sheets of copied passages at a time and read on her breaks and lunch hours without it being recognized as a Bible. Oh, how we take for granted our Christian privileges and don’t take advantage of our ability to open and safely read God’s Word without retribution. Our visit with these two members/missionaries was wonderful, as we shared the things of God with one another. On Sunday we held service in their home and felt the presence of God bless as my wife taught the Sunday School lesson and I preached the Word of God. I watched tears of joy trickle down Brother Jones’ face as we all sang from the Banner Hymns some traditional songs he had not enjoyed for years. What a wonderful meeting!
On the following day, we took a drive to Ephesus and walked through the same theatre spoken of in the book of Acts where the lives of the apostle Paul and other members of the Church were endangered as the multitude shouted “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” for about two hours. On that very stage my wife stood and sang “How great Thou art! How great thou art!” to the Lord Jesus Christ. The false goddess, Diana, is no more—and never was! None pray to her or sing her praises. Like all false gods, she has passed quietly from the scene. She is nothing but a vague memory in the rubble of that decaying city. But our God lives forevermore and will be worshipped through all eternity, for He is the true and living God and there is salvation in no other!
Remember evangelist Ray Jones and his daughter, Jeanie, in your prayers. They have been working with certain souls for some time and are seeing progress. Pray that God will give them souls and we will soon see the Lord’s Church established and flourishing in the nation of Turkey.
From Turkey we made our way to Trivandrum, India, where our National Overseer Isaac Thomas picked us up and took us to a motel for a much needed rest. Afterward we went to his home where his wife, sister and aunt prepared a feast of good things for us to eat. All of them, including Brother Thomas’ two children, Ann and Aaron, were a special blessing to us. The next day we traveled about six hours to the town where the National Convention was to be held. There were perhaps 250 in attendance, and the people treated us with that special love we find everywhere in the Body of Christ. On one day we were privileged to visit one of the local churches near Kudappanakkuzhy. I was blessed to see the ministry and membership rejoice as I spoke about biblical salvation, sanctification, baptism with the Holy Ghost, and the one true Church of God. Even though the language barrier made communication difficult it was obvious that many of them have a revelation of God’s program and are overjoyed to be a part of it. The Church of God flag was on display on the outside of Brother Thomas’ home, and at the speaking table during the National Convention, on the front of the local church where the Convention was held, and on the outside of the church home we visited. Praise the Lord for our Church flag. As we made the drive back to Trivandrum we had to make our way through a protest march of the Communist party. They were waving their red banners everywhere. Later we saw another party waving green banners as they promoted their cause. However good these may consider their causes to be, what are they when compared to the cause for which we wave our banner? Our banner is not about political policies, or what type of civil government runs our countries. Rather it is about the love of God that brings salvation to eternal souls, and what kind of government rules in our hearts and directs the spiritual affairs of The Church of God. Praise the Lord for our Church flag and the doctrine for which it is displayed! “Yes, we’ll hoist our banner high, from the earth up to the sky, and we’ll shout our praises to the blessed King; For the flag we understand, means the Church in every land, May we feel the Christ it honors as we sing!”
God bless Brother Isaac Thomas and all the membership in India. They are about 500 strong now and we pray they will soon be 5,000 strong as they continue to share the love of Christ and preach the message of the Church.
March is World Mission month in The Church of God. Dear saints, support this—the most important work being done on earth – with your prayers and finances. God will reward you richly, and you will have great satisfaction in knowing that your efforts are helping get the work of world evangelism accomplished.