Bible College professor Yohanna Katanacho pastored a small church in the Israeli city of Jerusalem. As a Palestinian living in Israel, and a Christian to boot, he faces a wide variety of persecution. One of the more dangerous forms of harassment comes from the Israeli soldiers who patrol the city, looking for potential terrorists. These soldiers routinely impose spontaneous curfews on Palestinians, and even have the legal right to shoot at a Palestinian if he or she does not respond quickly enough to their summons.
Christ's command in the Sermon on the Mount to "love your enemies" seemed impossible to Yohanna. And yet there it was—unambiguous and unchanging. "For me, love was an active and counter-cultural decision, because I was living in a culture that promoted hatred of the other," Yohanna says. "And not only did the context promote hate, but the circumstances fed it on a daily basis—the newspapers, television, media, neighbors, everything. One of the markers of the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Arabs is alienating the other. To break that marker, I must have some other worldview."
At first, Yohanna tried and failed in his attempts to feel love. Instead, the Israeli soldiers' random, daily checks for Palestinian identification cards—sometimes stopping them for hours—fed Yohanna's fear and anger. As he confessed his inability to God, Yohanna realized something significant. The radical love of Christ is not an emotion, but a decision. He decided to show love, however reluctantly, by sharing the gospel message with the soldiers on the street. With new resolution, Yohanna began to carry copies of a flyer with him, written in Hebrew and English, with a quotation from Isaiah 53 and the words "Real Love" printed across the top. Every time a soldier stopped him, he handed him both his ID card and the flyer. Because the quote came from the Hebrew Scriptures, the soldier usually asked him about it before letting him go.
After several months of this, Yohanna suddenly noticed his feelings toward the soldiers had changed. "I was surprised, you know?" he says. "It was a process, but I didn't pay attention to that process. My older feelings were not there anymore. I would pass in the same street, see the same soldiers as before, but now find myself praying, 'Lord, let them stop me, so that I can share with them the love of Christ.'"
You see, Yohanna obeyed the truth, even though his feelings were not there at first. And as he obeyed the truth, his heart was changed and he began to love to the point that he was willing to sacrifice and endure in his love. I honestly believe that it is this kind of biblical love flowing out of our obedience to the Word of God that will give us impact in this world.