Houston & the Holy Land

Our partner, First Presbyterian Church of Houston, is declaring that Jesus saves—from Main Street America to the Holy Land and back again!

It all started with a church trip to the Holy Land in 2000. Participants couldn’t wait to walk where Jesus had walked. They wanted to see where He healed people in Galilee, to stand on the Mount of the Beatitudes where He declared “Blessed are the peacemakers,” to contemplate His crucifixion at Golgotha.

The tour group from First Presbyterian Church of Houston (FPC) did those things, and they were powerful. But by the end of the trip, it wasn’t the history of Jesus’s work in the region that had captivated them. Instead, it was the Jesus they saw still alive today in the ministry of His followers, descendants from the earliest churches. It was the hope they felt for Jesus to be the peace so desperately needed in the Middle East. It was the compassion they’d witnessed from staff at Palestinian Bible Society, sharing the Bible’s message of love and hope with Muslim, Jewish, and unbelieving communities around them.

Before they’d even gotten on the plane to return home, the group was asking: How can we be the hands and feet of Jesus to Palestinians and Israelis, all the way from Houston, Texas?

Mary-Floye Federer, Director of Ministry Partnerships and Engagement at FPC, says the partnership was an easy choice for their church since two of their missions focuses are “engaging the Muslim world” and “equipping the saints with the Word of God both locally and globally.” The Bible-oriented and evangelistic focus of Palestinian Bible Society was a good fit. Mary-Floye says, “Having seen many ministries in the Middle East, I was impressed by how the Bible Society shares the love of the Christ and the Word of God so tangibly.”

In September 2000, just months after the FPC group had returned home, the Second Intifada erupted. In this armed uprising of Palestinians against Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, thousands of innocent civilians on both sides of the conflict were injured or worse, and Palestine entered a severe economic downturn. The entire congregation of FPC was all in: how can we help? Through a ministry called Operation Palestinian Child, FPC bolstered Palestinian Bible Society’s emergency response to children and their families. They continued to support the Bible Society as it announced the Prince of Peace in a war zone—telling kids about the Jesus who loved them and who could wipe away their tears and fears. FPC also partnered in prayer, with groups getting together for months to petition God to bring His healing touch to the region.

“That’s the hope for the Holy Land,” says Mary-Floye. “The Bible Society doesn’t hesitate to share the love of Christ with compassion, and they are Jesus to the people they encounter. As we’ve always said, Jesus has to be part of any sort of peace or solution in that part of the world.”

Now, almost 20 years after that first visit, the FPC family is still a close partner with Palestinian Bible Society. They know one another’s faith, families, and fears—and they rely on one another. “When the church hears the need, suddenly in the offering, there’s a significant gift,” FPC Pastor Jim Birchfield says. “Church members understand they’ve been blessed with resources they want to share with the world.”

FPC has a deep love for ministry—both global and local. Church members know the power the Bible carries abroad is the same power it carries at home. Pastor Jim says that although the congregation is eager to support ministry in the Middle East, they also never forget that, “The part of the world that really needs the Bible in our own hands is our own country.”

That’s why FPC recently became a founding partner for the Faith and Liberty Discovery Center (FLDC), a Bible museum experience American Bible Society is launching in Philadelphia at the end of 2020. Mary-Floye says that when she heard about how the FLDC is part of a broader plan to get Americans back into the Bible, she thought, “Oh, wow. There’s hope for America!”

FPC is excited about the FLDC because it has seen time and time again the difference engaging in Scripture makes in a person’s life. Pastor Jim says, “When the Scriptures were unlocked for me in my thirties, it saved my life. And so to be able to be a part of ministry that gets Bibles into other people’s hands and maybe changes their lives is just an incredible privilege.”

As a 177-year-old church, FPC knows the value of legacy. That’s why they appreciate that American Bible Society has been sharing Bibles since 1816. “It’s a privilege to partner with an organization that has been at this for 203 years,” says Pastor Jim. “I talk a fair amount to the members of our church about this incredible tradition—177 years of FPC, 203 years of American Bible Society, and 2,000 years of Christian legacy to uphold.”

As FPC has united around a common vision to see Jesus change hearts in their community, in the States, and around the world, the church has embarked on a journey of radical generosity: giving back to God and seeing Him bless it. They’re living out the call to go into all the world and make disciples—all from Main Street America.

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