Something Good is Coming from Nazareth
The year 2007 changed everything for them.
The Sakhnini’s were the typical Christian Arab family living in Nazareth. Their ancestry in Nazareth goes back for generations.
They celebrated Christmas and Easter like all the other Christian Arabs in their town. The father, Bishara, was a barber and the mother, Sarah, a cosmetologist. They raised their three healthy, energetic sons in an apartment on the top of a hill – not far from where Joseph and Miriam raised Yeshua.
Life was good. And then 2007 happened.
Bishara was betrayed by a close friend. Friendships in Arab culture are very tight, so the wound cut deep. While Bishara was still reeling over the situation, he received news that his brother’s wife was given one month to live—she was dying of cancer. It was a dark time for Bishara. In the midst of it all, Bishara’s wife, Sarah, found out she was expecting their fourth child.
A local pastor from Haifa befriended Bishara and began to teach him about the Bible and Yeshua’s teachings of forgiveness. Since being a Christian Arab is purely a cultural identity one is born into, Bishara had never heard these teachings. Despite the pain, Bishara forgave his friend and received true forgiveness for his own sins.
Encouraged by the new freedom he had experienced from being born-again, Bishara told the pastor of the other situation weighing heavy on his heart—his sister-in-law was dying. Together, the pastor and Bishara’s whole family (including their three preteen sons) agreed to fast for three days. In an answer to prayer, his sister-in-law walked out of the hospital completely healed, and is healthy to this day.
Soon after, Sarah went into labor. When the baby boy was born, his umbilical cord had a knot in –it—completely blocking the flow of oxygen and food. The nurses, not knowing how long the knot had been there, panicked and immediately sent the baby for tests. Their newest addition to the family was wholly and entirely healthy.
Bishara, Sarah and their three sons—Adeeb, Eliya and Yazid—dove into the Scriptures with an insatiable hunger and curiosity for the God who had such power and goodness. Then collectively as a family, they gave their lives entirely over to this God.
Bishara, Sarah Sakhnini and their four sons
No Longer Considered Christians?
These events sent shockwaves through the community. Being a Christian in Nazareth mostly means you’re not Muslim. Fasting, forgiveness, miracles—this was a whole different story. Their Christian Arab neighbors now considered the born-again Sakhnini’s to be members of an entirely different religion. In the city where Yeshua grew up, His new followers were now scorned. But the Sakhnini’s were undeterred. What they had experienced was real, and they would speak of it to whoever would listen.
If there’s anything the Sakhnini’s love, it’s music. Their spare moments would be entirely given over to improving on whatever instrument they were working on that month – and of course, to playing together.
Wanting to become more involved in their congregation, Bishara offered to play the oud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument, with the worship team. As his three older boys grew, their excellence in spirit and musical skills became evident to all, and they began to lead worship as well.
One day some Jewish believers, who were friends with this pastor, visited this Arab congregation, and the Sakhnini’s would once again have their world understanding rocked. That Yeshua is Jewish is not common knowledge among the nominal Christian Arabs, but the Sakhnini’s had learned this as they studied the Scriptures.
Still, since when did Jews believe in Yeshua?!
Arab and Jewish believers find each other
I (Shani) grew up in Israel worshipping alongside the occasional Arab believer, and my parents supported an Arab congregation for as long as I can remember. But a little over a decade ago, believers in Israel began a concerted effort to find unity between born-again Jewish and Arab believers on a larger scale.
Slowly but surely, connections were made between small pockets of believers in various places across the land. When they met together in public meetings and conferences, the secular staff was always fascinated. Seeing us sing and dance together—and worship the same God—was mesmerizing to outsiders and always elicited questions.
As relationships developed, mixed gatherings were happening all over the country. The times of worship in Hebrew, English, and Arabic were sweet and encouraging, as there is no greater testimony to unbelieving Jews that Yeshua has power over all than when Arabs embrace them as the people of their Savior.
Still, we at Yeshua Israel, wanted more than only to worship together in a service. We founded the Israel Worship Initiative because we believe creating and exporting worship of the God of Israel is one of the most significant and powerful callings Israel has. Therefore, developing skilled musicians and songwriters is essential to this calling.
We wanted these blends of Arab and Jewish sounds of worship to reach people on the streets. But finding Arab musicians who had first-class musical skills to record in a studio wasn’t easy.
Shani Ferguson and the Sakhnini brothers recording
in the Fellowship of Artists studio in Jerusalem
I found them!
“I found them! They’re in Nazareth!”
We still remember the day these words were spoken by a fellow Israeli musician. He had met three Arab brothers who were leading worship at their congregation in Haifa. They were young, in their late teens and early twenties, but their budding talent was evident and their commitment to excelling in music was unquestionable.
We asked them to join us for a recording project. The first time the Sakhnini brothers came to our ministry center in Jerusalem and walked into the Fellowship of Artists studio, they looked around wide-eyed. The room in their apartment dedicated to all their instruments was a whopping 80 square feet. In it, they crowded about 15 or 20 instruments, from various ethnic instruments to guitars to violins, a drum kit, and even a piano. Our studio center in Jerusalem had 2,000 square feet dedicated entirely to creating and recording music to glorify God.
Since Nazareth was two hours away, we let them sleep in the studio. At the time, we didn’t know much about them, but you learn a lot about people when you spend several intensive days working together. They were nothing but gentlemen. They kept their area cleaner than I thought possible for three males in one room. They thanked us for every little thing we did for them like they couldn’t believe it was all happening. When I met their mom months later, I made a mental note to sit her down at the first opportunity and ask for parenting tips for my boys.
During the next year or two, I saw the brothers pop up at a variety of local conferences and worship events. Their playing style added a unique ethnic flavor to the more western sounds of the local Jewish congregations. They were also invited to play with an Israeli band that toured all over the U.S. and Canada called Miqedem. Miqedem explored all sorts of ethnic rhythms and sounds and sang the Hebrew Psalms to those sounds.
They also played on the first written-in-English song I ever released called, “Sapphire Skies.” We spoke at length as we went out to the desert to film the music video for the song. They shared their heart for reaching the Middle East with songs in Arabic. They wanted their music to reach Islamic countries like Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt with the Gospel—and of course our own several million Muslims living under Israel’s sovereignty.
A Bright Light has been lit in Galilee
Though Nazareth today is entirely Arab, Jews often frequent the businesses and restaurants there. When Hamas sympathizers tried to come and stir up passions against Israel, Nazareth’s mayor threw them out. Still, before the second intifada began in 2000, Nazareth consisted of 80% Christian Arabs. Today, Nazareth is 70% Muslim and only 30% Christian. Even in their nominal condition, Israeli Christian Arabs suffer from the overbearing nature of Islamic culture.
With Islam dominating Arab nations, there is very little music in Arabic that sings of the glories of the God of Israel. Last year we helped them record “O Holy Night” in Arabic because even Christmas music is hard to find in Arabic. We realized that though these brothers had gladly served their local Arab congregation and a variety of Jewish groups, they carried within them a sound and a burden all their own. It was now time for their voice to be heard.
The Sakhnini’s have sown generously into the Kingdom of God in Israel. It is our turn to help them fulfill their calling to be a voice to the Arab population of Israel and the Middle East. Christian Arabs are a shrinking minority in the Middle East, and the born-again Christians are a minority within that minority. Imagine the impact on the world stage if the tables were turned, and born-again Christian Arabs were even half of the population.
The Sakhnini brothers have compiled a dozen songs – some original, some old Arab hymns and it will cost about $20,000 to complete this project for them. Music is a tool that has proven to make it into the most difficult-to-reach places, and the places they want to reach are often dangerous for those bearing the Gospel.
Yet here, from democratic Israel, this Israeli-Arab family can reach millions in the surrounding Islamic countries.
Would you join us in making Nazareth once again a light that reaches the Middle East with the message of forgiveness and freedom?