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There are plenty of holiday tours that will take you to the Seven Churches in Revelation.

The sites are easily identifiable, and some of them at least retain an air of mysterious sanctity. Go to Ephesus, for instance, and you are in deep time, at least until another tour group arrives.

These experiences are often significant, and the stones of the lands of the Bible can connect us with our spiritual past very effectively.

But the Christians of the Holy Land today pride themselves on being living stones. They do not live in the past, though they are aware of it and it informs their discipleship.

They live in the present, and above all they are, like all Christians, people of the future.

Baptists in Israel are mainly Arab, an evangelical minority within a Christian minority, though there are many Messianic Jewish believers as well.

That they have survived 100 years in good heart is a cause for deep gratitude and rejoicing.

We should acknowledge too the great contribution made to their present strength by the Southern Baptist Convention; the ending of that partnership was not particularly happy, but the wounds are healing as they should.

Among the challenges they face today is the change brought to Arab life in Israel in general by the influence of Western culture.

Materialism and individualism are making their mark. Authority figures such as pastors and parents no longer command automatic obedience.

Young people look elsewhere for a leader, particularly as they are often more educated than their elders, and are asking questions to which simplistic answers are no answer at all.

One of the great needs of Baptists in Israel is for theological education. The Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary (NETS) is a superb example of what can be achieved with few resources but great dedication.

It is producing a new generation of pastors and church leaders who can lead their people through the inevitable changes ahead, and evangelists who can reach out in ways that are intellectually and spiritually credible to seekers of every community.

NETS and its staff, and Israeli Baptist leaders like Monther Naum and Bader Mansour, deserve all our prayers, and whatever practical support we are able to give.

They are building with living stones in the cradle of our faith.

Mark Woods is editor of The Baptist Times, where this column first appeared.

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