This article was first written for the Zionist Organization of America Philadelphia.
Blog for ZOA-Philly
Dr. Mike Stallard
Director of International Ministry
Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry
I remember the day as if it were yesterday. My family was on vacation visiting my grandparents in Virginia. The date was June 5, 1967. I was only 13 years old. The television news coverage spent quite a bit of time on the nation of Israel’s so-called pre-emptive attack upon Egypt in what would later be called the Six-Day War. I was mesmerized although I understood little of what was going on. Why was I attracted so much to this event? The answer may be surprising. My parents had given me a Bible years before, a common cultural practice in the southern United States. I had started to read it off and on. One thing that stood out was that the word Israel was mentioned hundreds of times. I was not Jewish, but I had respect for Israel because it was in the Bible! That is simplistic to some people, but it was a starting place for a young man who had made no final decisions about worldview. One thing I knew – I did not hate Jewish people!
Fast forward seven years. As a senior in college I became an evangelical, born-again Christian believer. The local church that I joined taught the Bible in great detail. As part of the teaching, I was boldly told about God’s plan for Israel throughout history and that God had a plan for Israel’s future that was positive and wonderful. Although I had studied about the pogroms and the Holocaust in college classes, I now began to look at these atrocities through the eyes of a biblical worldview. How could anyone do such heinous things against other human beings? The issue became more than just academic to me.
After graduation from college, I began a career as a computer analyst and engineer working on things like missile defense systems. A few years into my work, my heart was drawn to go into the ministry so I went to seminary where I studied, among other things, biblical Hebrew. As I progressed, I decided to move to Dallas, Texas (1981) to work toward a Ph.D. degree in theology at a Zionist seminary. However, I needed to work to pay for the school bill and provide for my new wife. So I applied to work at General Dynamics in Fort Worth which at that time was making F-16 jet fighters. When I received the offer letter from the company, joy filled my heart since the letter noted that my first project would be working with the Israel Defense Force. Israel at the time was procuring many F-16s which they still fly today. I worked for about five years as an avionics engineer on one of the cockpit computers. For about four of those years, I rubbed shoulders with military men from the IDF. For almost a year, I was a classroom teacher on software for them. We had a colonel and his wife eat dinner in our home. We were invited to celebrations of Israeli Independence Day.
However, the highlight of those years working on F-16s for IDF was a free trip to Israel! I spent the month of July 1982, during the First Lebanon War (Peace for Galilee), in Israel working with Israeli soldiers. I did not get to do much touring of the country, but I did get to know the people and their concerns at the time since it was a time of war. My love for the Jewish people in general, and in particular, for Israelis moved a notch up and became much more personal. Their cause, which was already mine due to theology, became mine experientially. Perhaps the most special time of this trip to Israel was a dinner in the home of the IDF colonel who was in charge of the project we were working on. As we sat around the table someone said that he was a hero from the Six-Day War. He was asked to show us his medals, which he did, and we discussed what had happened and a little about that war. Looking back at that precious moment, I think of the word Israel that I had encountered in the Bible as a young lad reading about it for the first time and that newscast on June 5, 1967 when I was thirteen years old. In 1967 I would never have dreamed that I would be sitting in Israel with a hero of that war during another time of war in 1982. Beyond that, I would never have thought that I would be doing work that would assist the Israeli nation in defending itself against its enemies. I literally felt like I was in a movie.
My ministerial career began to develop in 1986 in serious ways, although I had been speaking at various venues before then. I spent the next three decades as a pastor of local churches where I promoted Zionism and as a seminary theology professor where I made sure to tell my students the word Israel was in the Bible. So many Christians act like the word Israel is not in the Bible or that it does not refer to the Jewish people at all in modern application. But due to my earlier experiences with Jewish people and Israelis, I could speak on such topics with confidence and meaningful illustrations to highlight the truth about Israel in the present time.
In 2016, my ministry pursuits took a dramatic, but logical, shift. I had been on the Board for the Friends of Israel ministry headquartered in New Jersey in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The Executive Director asked me to consider becoming a full-time employee as the Director of International Ministry which is what I am doing now. This position allows me to write, teach, and administrate a world-wide program which includes advocacy for the nation of Israel and opposition to anti-Semitism wherever we find it. By God’s grace, that thirteen-year old boy from 1967 has come a long way.
I can understand why some Jewish people would be skeptical of evangelicals like me who support Israel and the Jewish people. The unsettling history of persecution shows why the barriers exist. But I share my story in the hopes that Jewish people might remember that a theological friend is one of the best friends they can have. For me to abandon the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, I would have to turn my back on the testimony I have given here. In fact, I would have to abandon my entire theological worldview. I would have to forsake the Bible that I had been reading when I was thirteen years old.