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We took the cable car,? Willard Thiessen ? a veteran visitor to Israel - said with a smile when asked how he was still standing. Not willing to miss a trick, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism ensured they used the time saved scaling the sheer cliffs of King Herod?s ruined stronghold to stop off twice - at Ein Gedi and Qumran - on the winding two hour return trip to Jerusalem.

Clearly this was not your average Holy Land tour. In the late 1990s it would not have made for such a strangely impressive sight, but after nearly two years of violent ?intifada? ?such enthusiastic guests find themselves feted like royalty by their war-weary Israeli hosts.

And clearly these twenty tourists were no ordinary men and women. An impressive collection of leaders from Canada?s principal evangelical ministries, denominations and congregations, their down-to-earth manner disguised the fact that they represented a constituency of some two-and-a-half million Christians. With pastors, authors, educators, and TV executives directly reaching one in twelve Canadians, it became increasingly clear why the Israeli government was so keen to impress.

Israel?s own Chief Rabbi started the ball rolling, tour leader Dr. Charles McVety told the packed Embassy atrium. Visiting Toronto in the fall of 2002, he reached out to the evangelical community and spoke of the ?unprecedented bond? forming between Christians and Jews.

?Many of us are very new to this relationship,? McVety admitted, but ?that?s why we?re here...? There appeared to be no question in his mind that the Christian Embassy?s twenty-year dedication to that same bond was a vital source of experience upon which the Canadian evangelicals needed to draw. Turning to ICEJ Executive Director Malcolm Hedding, he made a simple appeal, ?we ask you to help us help and comfort the nation of Israel,? he said.

It hasn?t always been this way, Hedding remarked in answering questions on the growing Judeo-Christian alliance for Israel ? ?It began with great suspicion.? Nevertheless, ?our impact on the nation of Israel has steadily increased,? so that the ICEJ now enjoys a ?broad-based sense of acceptance and appreciation for the work we do and the stand we?ve made.?

Other Canadian leaders seemed to concur, experiencing a new and reciprocated willingness to reach out to Canada?s Jewish community. As President of Now TV - one of Canada?s main Christian television channels - Dr. Thiessen told ICEJ NEWS how the Jewish communities of Winnipeg and Vancouver actively lobbied the authorities for their broadcasting license, ?because they know we?ll allow them air time.?

With anti-Semitism rising sharply - up 60 percent last year according to a report published this week by B?nai Brith Canada - the challenge to the Canadian evangelical community is rising. McVety was anxious to respond. ?We are keen to work with the Jewish people of Canada,? to encourage 2000 Christians to visit Israel this year, to plant trees, and to get involved with Jewish Aliyah.

Afterwards, Roy Beyer ? the founder of Canada Family Action Coalition - told ICEJ NEWS of other ways in which Christians could befriend ?a people alone in the world.? As the television host of a Christian news magazine program, Beyer spoke of the unrelenting anti-Israel media hostility in Canada, and how they were considering changing the focus of their broadcasts to tackle it head on.

According to B?nai Brith, anti-Semitic incidents in Canada rose sharply in April 2002 largely due to persistent media charges that Israeli troops had committed a ?massacre? in Jenin. Although the massacre myth was eventually discredited by the UN, its dissemination ?led to a climate that proved a fertile ground for anti-Semitic outbursts,? the report stated starkly.

For most delegates, the reality of what they witnessed in Israel was striking compared with what they are accustomed to seeing on the nightly news back home. Dr. Thiessen spoke of the culture of intimidation against foreign journalists in the Palestinian territories. Beyer and his wife Shelley? on their first ever visit to Israel - enthused about its beauty and peace.

?We just loved the place,? Beyer confessed before stepping out of the Embassy gates and onto the waiting tour bus. ?Jerusalem is so very different than I imagined,? he went on, bemoaning the lack of tourism and the ?great damage? suffered by everyone ?as a result of the violence against the Jewish people.?

Landing at Ben-Gurion Airport on the afternoon of Wednesday March 5 ? just hours after a devastating suicide bomb blast killed seventeen on a Haifa bus, and days before the start of an expected war in Iraq - the group had a new perspective on the character of that ?violence?.

?You are all putting yourselves in harm?s way here,? McVety pointed out soberly, in his address to the ICEJ leadership - warmly offering the Embassy and its staff ongoing prayer support upon returning to Canada.

Would they do it again? Prof John McDonald, an associate of McVety at Canada Christian College, was optimistic - there was only space for twenty to come, fifty more leaders were on the waiting list. His hope was that the enthusiasm of those who did come would spread out to the grassroots pastors and congregations of the Canadian Christian community.

?If not we?ll be ambassadors,? he said, ?a bridge for Israel back in Canada.?

With Israel increasingly isolated on the international stage, political diplomacy may not offer the Jewish people half as much hope of friendship and support as these Christian ambassadors abroad.