Saturday and Sunday in the Holy Land
Israel, Christianity, and peace

Lela Gilbert, author of Saturday People, Sunday People


LOPEZ: Do you have any hope for peace in the Middle East? What might it look like?

GILBERT: I once asked an Israeli taxi driver — who had been ranting about politicians and Arabs and whatever else came to mind — what he thought the answer to Israel’s troubles might be. He paused, studied me in his rear-view mirror for a moment and said, “Do you know about the Messiah?” I laughed and said, “Yes, actually I do . . .” I suppose, as all human solutions seem increasingly futile, that ancient hope really does sum up my hope — and the hope of millions of Christians and Jews — for peace in the Middle East and the world.

LOPEZ: As someone who writes about religious persecution, what would you like to share with Americans about religious freedom?

GILBERT: I have co-authored a book titled “Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians” with Paul Marshall and Nina Shea, my colleagues at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom. The book was just released this week, and it couldn’t be more timely. As we Americans experience assaults on our own religious freedoms, it is essential for us to look beyond ourselves and see the horrendous abuses suffered by millions of Christian believers all across the world. They have much to teach us about faithfulness, perseverance and courage under fire — literally under fire. We need to pray for them as we pray for ourselves. Whatever our complaints, we bear the awesome responsibility of being a voice for those whose cries cannot be heard. We ought to keep informed, not only about threats to our own freedoms, but about the life-or-death issues that increasingly confront Christians all around the world. Our Center has just launched a website,, which will aggregate the top stories of religious persecution around the globe to provide updated information about persecuted Christians, as well as other religious minority groups.


LOPEZ: You find Jerusalem peaceful?

GILBERT: Jerusalem remains in the eye of the storm of Arab uprisings, which have swirled around dangerously but, thus far, have done little physical damage within Israel’s borders. What damage has been done to the political and diplomatic situation of the State of Israel remains to be seen. But yes, as the surrounding nations explode, peace continues in much of Israel, most of the time. Meanwhile, Iran’s repeated threats to “wipe Israel off the map” have been heard and understood by most Israelis as an existential threat. But yes, today, there is peace. Tomorrow, God only knows . . . 

LOPEZ: What have been some of the “spiritual” “road signs and revelations” you’ve found there?

GILBERT: My lifelong delight in the story and message of Jesus has been increased, particularly when visiting the Sea of Galilee, where it all began. I find that reflecting on His words, spoken as a first-century rabbi to His own people about everyday life, and the promise of redemption and freedom, is increasingly meaningful to me as when living among His people, His kindred.

LOPEZ: How could “Christianity benefit by sitting at the feet of the Jewish faithful”?

GILBERT: Christians love to visit the lands of the Bible, and to find the historical links to the Gospel. But there are other resources as well, and they are also faith-building. I think we have much to learn from generations of indefatigable Jewish scholars who have analyzed Scripture for centuries, discovering deep meanings and subtleties within the Hebrew language, and offering insights from oral traditions about which many Christians remain unaware. We can agree to disagree about messianic issues and still find common ground in the Word of God.

LOPEZ: What have you learned about fasting and feasting in Israel?

Gilbert: The Jewish holidays are sometimes summed up this way: “They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat!” This is shorthand for the fasting that takes place on holy days, while terrifying stories are retold, scriptures are reflected upon, and prayers are recited. As a new day begins at sunset, the focal point changes from sorrow to rejoicing and a feast ensues. Fasting and feasting go hand in hand in remembrance of historic troubles, and in celebrating the human heroes and divine intervention that have turned them into victories.

LOPEZ: What have you learned about prayer?

GILBERT: I suppose my idea of prayer is one of a never-ending conversation with my Maker. He’s a better listener than I, He can make a way where there’s no way, and He has never yet failed me. That has not changed during my years in Jerusalem.

LOPEZ: What have you learned about what brings us together?

GILBERT: We should start with a clear-eyed understanding about the things that tear us apart. Over the centuries, plenty of atrocities have taken place — many in the name of Jesus. Christians sometimes fail to understand that there are real obstacles in the past blocking the way to future friendship and partnership. Although we can’t undo the wrongs of other generations, we can model a kind of unconditional love that refutes them.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.