Julia Fisher reports

Jack Sara
Jack Sara

I first met Jack Sara eleven years ago in 1999, a year before he became pastor of the Alliance Church in the Old City of Jerusalem. We lost contact until a chance meeting in a coffee shop in Bethlehem two years ago. Then there wasn't time to talk; Jack was leading a tutorial with a group of students and I was leading a tour! But we agreed to meet at the earliest opportunity which happened to be early last year in Jerusalem when I went to his church one Sunday morning.

It was raining hard and the streets in the Old City were like rivers. But the church was full. And the majority of the congregation were young people. They sang and prayed with enthusiasm and a zeal that I now regularly see throughout Israel. They were calling on God to heal the hurts in the land; asking Him to help them live as salt and light in their fractured city of Jerusalem.

A few weeks later I was back in Jerusalem, and had the opportunity to share breakfast and talk to Jack about the past ten years. He arrived on a motor bike. 'It's the quickest way to get around Jerusalem!' he said.

As we talked, I remembered our conversation of ten years ago when Jack told me the story of his early life. To say he has been on a journey is an understatement. That he is the pastor of a church is remarkable because his life could have gone in quite a different direction.

He was born into an orthodox Catholic family in the Old City and went to the Lutheran School there. In 1988 when he was just thirteen years old, he was picked up by the Israeli police.

"I was walking to a shop to buy something for the house and suddenly I was picked up by Israeli soldiers. They took me to the police station, beat me up and accused me of throwing stones even though I didn't do it. A little while later, it happened again and that time I spent the night in a police cell."

This started to shape Jack's thinking.

"Because they did this to me, I found myself wanting revenge. I joined the Palestinian Communist Party and became a leader here in the Old City. Whilst it was one of the more 'peaceful' Palestinian groups, nevertheless they were involved in demonstrations and writing graffiti and dong many things in support of our demands for our own Palestinian State. Before I was beaten up by the Israeli soldiers, I would never have imagined myself being involved in a political movement; but now I felt I had no option. I was suffering. My people were suffering."

Jack was in High School during this time. His ambition was to become a musician. After he'd served several sentences in Israeli prisons he decided he wanted to be out of this political activity.

"The last time I was in prison, I was there for three months. The Gulf War was going on and I remember seeing the bombs coming over and landing in Israel. I decided I needed transformation in my life. I wanted to help my people but I realised I wasn't helping them by throwing stones. I thought that if I became a social worker that would be more useful. I left prison, left High School, got involved in bad things like smoking and taking drugs all the time knowing I needed change in my life."

Change was just around the corner for Jack. His parents moved to another house and their neighbour was a Christian.

"I realised he led a very different life to me," Jack explained, "he was a young guy but he didn't do the sort of things I did. He went to different places; he went to church, he did good things. So I decided I needed to ask this guy what made him different. He invited me to talk with him and another guy - both were leaders in an evangelical church in the Old City. They explained the Gospel to me clearly and I prayed and committed my life to the Lord. That was August 10th, 1991."

Jack started to change, but it was a slow process.

"The first year was hard because of my background. After three months I enrolled in Bible School still thinking that I could become a social worker or a teacher and in that way help my people."