Israel is probably one of the most interesting places you could go to find such different cultures and religions living (usually peacefully) together.

Most people don’t immediately think ‘muslims’ when they hear Israel, but there are actually quite a lot of them. Some cities are mixed Jewish and Arabic, but most are one or the other and overall they don’t have much in common. I had the opportunity of living in the largest Arabic city in the country for three weeks before then moving to an entirely Jewish city. The differences were astounding! It was hard to believe we were still in the same country.

You can immediately tell who lives where simply by how the streets look. Whereas the Jewish roads are kept nice and clean, the Arabic streets look more like you might picture a third world country. In the Jewish cities, there might be a few scraps of paper as litter, but the roads are well kept, clean, and peaceful. You also feel completely safe because, honestly, they are all religious Jews… There is barely any crime at all.

On the other hand, the Arabic cities look like they don’t know what a trash can is. There is trash literally everywhere and all but the main roads are riddled with potholes and look like they haven’t been repaired since they were paved. The drivers are also completely crazy, so it’s better to stay off the streets altogether.

At night you hear a lot of shouting and fighting, especially during Ramadan, their holy month of fasting all day and partying all night. You can expect a lot of seedy characters sitting around and watching you as you walk past, and while it’s really fun for the happy kids to call out and greet you, its another thing when the rude men do it.

So why love the Arabic side, you might ask? Because there are also so many gems there to be found!

So why love the Arabic side, you might ask? Because there are also so many gems there to be found!

As a woman, I would get to make friends with all the muslim women who stay at home with the kids all day. It’s an oppressive system for women to live in, most of them even wear their head-coverings indoors in over 100 degree weather, but they are some of the sweetest women you will ever meet.

Here is a picture of an average day…

Just walking down the street to the grocery story, we would get called over and invited in by the women of the houses. They just want to sit, talk and be your friend and you will never leave their house before having at least two drinks and some kind of snack.
Because all of the families live in the same building with one another, you are likely to find a grandma, her three daughters, and maybe a daughter in law or two all spending the day on the bottom floor with their children. Only a couple of them will speak English, but they are all so kind and welcoming that you could spend all day with them and have a great time.

The men are all gone at work till the evening, so anytime during the afternoons you can just stop by and hang out with them. They will talk about anything with you, even Jesus, though they would prefer to talk about the Quran. It is such an easy opening, though, because they will bring religion up and as soon as they say something from their scriptures that is similar to the Bible, you’re in. The harvest is ripe!

I got to be close with one family in particular and visited them easily 6 or 7 times in the weeks we lived there. By the last night, we were able to give them two New Testaments and a copy of the Jesus film and they happily accepted them. Halleluyah! God is so good and faithful to complete what He has started in their hearts.

We are lucky we were in Israel, though. Even the muslim women here freely and sorrowfully admit that their sisters in other muslim countries are not nearly as free. For these women, freedoms like driving a car, wearing colors, and talking to a western woman is normal. Others are not nearly so lucky.

Talking to Jews is not as easy. They are the most over-evangelized people group in the world and are a little tired of it. So we learned that if we wanted to talk to them, it’s better to share Jesus without words. Just be friendly, offer to help them, sit down and have coffee and be yourself. The way you live is a greater testimony to them than anything else. If you do it right, they will then ask you why you are helping them or just hanging out with them and that is your open door. We found that they will often be taken aback once you mention Jesus, but you will definitely make an impression and a friend and that’s enough for God to work with too.

It’s interesting, too, to think that 5.2 million Jews and 1.6 million muslims (including Bedouins) are so different and yet share an area smaller than New Jersey. (seeing as how half the country is desert and largely uninhabited)

For these women, freedoms like driving a car, wearing colors, and talking to a western woman is normal. Others are not nearly so lucky.

I could not choose, though, which one is my favorite. They both hold very special and unique places in my heart. I have gotten to work with both and attend Christian churches in both and while they are both extremely different, God is the same. He loves them the same and died for them the same and it is equally redemptive to see when one of them finally realizes who their creator is and that He is worth living their lives for no matter what the rest of their cultures think.

The Christians in Israel, whether Arabic or Jewish, face so many more trials and persecutions than your average American Christian does and it is inspiring to get to meet and work with people who have lived here their whole lives and given up everything for the Jesus that has been working to encounter all of their hearts.

Erika Birkenes
began writing her first novel at age 15. She has completed three books that make up the Ireistis trilogy. You can buy them here: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/erikabirkenes