When Ray and Sharon Sanders married in 1973, they had no idea they would someday abandon their comfortable lives in Illinois to begin a worldwide ministry in Israel intent on blessing Jews. Christian Friends of Israel (CFI) came into being at Latrun, Israel in December of 1985, twelve years after they married. From that beginning, with the Sanders working out of their small apartment in Mevaseret Zion, CFI now has offices on six continents, having not only beneficially impacted the lives of thousands of terror victims and Holocaust survivors in Israel, but also having changed the way that Christians everywhere think of the Jewish people and their homeland.
“CFI received a sobering prophetic word in the beginning of the ministry,” Sharon told KNI. “I, particularly, had to fight it because of my background. I sang my first song in church at age three. At 17, I was chosen to tour Europe with an orchestra, concert and chorus. So my flesh wanted to go wherever there was an opportunity to perform. Ray is the opposite and did not have to fight that same, fleshly pull. I mention this because it may be important to others who may struggle with the same thing.
“We were worshipping on Shabbat at the Baptist House in Jerusalem the year after we arrived in Israel. Three French ladies in attendance that morning asked us to talk with them, saying, ‘We have a word for you.’
“Our experience at that time was that every prophetic word we had heard had come to pass so, of course, we were eager to listen. Their word was, ‘Christian Friends of Israel will not explode into the heights, it will work in the depths.’”
The Sanders thought at length about what the ladies had said and what their words had meant. “It happened as they had prophesied,” Sharon said, “we did work in the depths, within the private lives of people who don’t normally open their arms wide in welcome when a Christian knocks on their door. But they opened their arms to us. All of CFI’s efforts have been relationship-based from the beginning, all over Israel in 55 cities.”
Among an ambitious list of goals, CFI encourages Christians to understand the Jewish roots of their faith, deplores anti-Semitism, promotes intercession on Israel’s behalf, provides support for Israelis in need and assists Jews in making Aliyah, but perhaps the organization’s crowning achievement is that, after thirty-two years of striving in the land, they have truly become what they originally chose to call themselves, Christian friends of Israel.
Early in Ray and Sharon’s ministry, they met Yaacov Youlus, an Orthodox Rabbi in Jerusalem. He had knocked on the door of their ministry’s second office, two small rooms at the Anglican School in Jerusalem, after reading the sign on their door.
“Christian Friends of Israel?” Youlus asked. “I didn’t know we had any.”