Thousands of Christians gathered at sundown today in Ein Gedi, Israel to celebrate the first day of the 35th Feast of Tabernacles. Sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, the event - also known as Sukkot - gathers Christians from around the world to rejoice in the power of God, remember His past provisions, and celebrate His anticipated return.
The ICEJ is a non-profit ministry which supports Christians, and reminds them of God's promise to gather His people who are scattered throughout the world.
Sukkot - which means booths in Hebrew - is a pilgrimage festival described in Leviticus 23:42-43. This passage states, "You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shell dwell in booths, that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am the LORD your God."
During the celebration, Christians are reminded of God's provision for His people as they wondered through the wilderness of the Sinai Desert for 40 years. God supplied for all their needs, as written in Deuteronomy 29:5, "And I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn out on your feet."
Today's events began with an exuberant time of outdoor worship and prayer in Ein Gedi along the shores of the Dead Sea.
Throughout the six-day event, the plight of Christian communities in the Middle East will take the forefront. Facing increasing persecution and death for their faith, Christians in the region - and around the world - are breaking their silence.
On Monday, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin and World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder will address those in attendance in Jerusalem's new Pais Arena.
Lauder, in partnership with Billy Wilson and Jürgen Bühler - leaders of the Empowered21 Global Council and the ICEJ - released a joint letter prior to the events.
"The executions, persecution and uprooting of ancient Christian communities is an on-going tragedy, yet world leaders have largely ignored this problem and it is past time for that to change," the three leaders wrote.
In an August New York Times op-ed, Lauder wrote, "The Middle East and parts of central Africa are losing entire Christian communities that have lived in peace for centuries." He also discussed the hideous acts of terrorist group Boko Haram, and its kidnapping and slaughter of hundreds of Christians in 2014.
"Half a million Christian Arabs have been driven out of Syria during the three-plus years of civil war there. Christians have been persecuted and killed in countries from Lebanon to Sudan," he wrote.
Christians in Syria and Iraq are also living with the possibility of further harm from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
While Feast of Tabernacles is traditionally a celebration to remember what God has done, and continues to do, for His people, the extreme persecution of Christians in the Middle East will take center stage this year.
As Lauder, Wilson and Bühler wrote, "We urge you to speak out forcefully against the persecution and expulsion of Christian communities in the Middle East. We also call on all Western democratic leaders to take collective action in confronting this problem through firm diplomatic action against those nations that allow the religious persecution against Christians to continue. This is something that cannot be delayed. We all must act, now!"
To watch the 2014 Feast of Tabernacles, visit http://feast.icej.org/live, for the event's live streaming.