VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Most of the attention in the Middle East is focused on the conflict between Muslims and Jews - Arabs and Israelis.
Christians are often caught in the middle. But even in the Christian community, there is division between Messianic and Arab believers.
A small group of Christians is trying to bridge that gap.
A Common Bond
Leon Mazin is pastor of the Return to Zion Messianic Center in Haifa. Pastor Nashat Filmon is director of the Palestinian Bible Society and lives in east Jerusalem.
The physical distance between them is rather short. The cultural and political divide is miles apart.
They have one common bond: faith in Jesus Christ.
"He is the one that brings us together and He is the one through His Scripture that melts all our differences so that we come to the cross," Filmon, a Palestian Christian, said.
"We have God, we have Messiah Jesus, we have Spirit of God, we have power of Gospel that can help us," Mazin said.
Brothers in Unity
The help from God these men seek is to understand each other better and bring a greater unity among Messianic and Palestinian Christians.
Rev. Doug Kittredge is one of those behind the effort.
Kittredge's ministry, the Jerusalem Gateway Partnership, helped bring Nashat, Leon, and others together for a rare and highly unusual meeting in Israel.
It also invited them to the U.S. this summer for a second meeting to tell American church leaders of their efforts.
Their motivation is found in the second chapter of Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul reminds the Gentiles they were once alienated from the family of God.
But Christ, through His life, death, and resurrection, brought believing Jews and Gentiles together.
Ephesians 2:14 says, "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility."
"We are one body in Christ. You are my brother in Christ. You are. It's not just the words, it's reality," Filmon said.
"You are more dear than those who are culturally related to me because you are, in faith, related to me," he added.
Differences Don't Divide
They don't sugarcoat their differences. They've experienced first-hand the turmoil that has gripped the land and divided their people.
Mazin proudly calls himself a Zionist who believes in Israel's right to a homeland.
"Were there things that you began to understand about the plight of his people that you didn't know before?" Mazin asked. "Yes, absolutely. What were they?"
"I hear from him some strong, complicated situations that they go through in a political way and I didn't know about this before," he said about his conversation with Filmon.
"And it was just built inside of me extra motivation to pray for him," he added.
Road to Reconciling
Filmon admits he's gained a greater understanding of his Messianic brothers.
"The Holocaust is a big issue; big, big issue. And we always refer to that and draw from that. And we, we have to understand," he said.
"It has been a learning experience for me. It's a long journey for me. It's not a rosy journey," he continued. "That's what Leon was trying to say. I agree with him."
"Reconciliation is not something simple. It's a painful one," Filmon continued. "Yet if we have a commitment for it, I believe we can achieve a lot and be a testimony for many."
"It is God who could bring about what's happened in Leon's heart and Nashat's heart," Rev. Kittredge said. "And if He can do it with two men, He can do it with any number."
Setting an Example
Filmon, Mazin and the others hope to meet again and get their families together -- maybe even worship together at times.
As one of the pastors said, "If the gospel doesn't bring reconciliation, there's something wrong with the gospel."
*Original broadcast Sept. 1, 2011.