Israel has a friend in Leavenworth, WA

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Cruising down an isolated stretch of the jaw droppingly beautiful Chumstick Highway, Seattle attorney Steve Hemmat was in his happy place. Snow capped mountains loomed above, closer to earth the lush green foothills of the cascade range framed both sides of the two lane highway. The destination for Steve and his family was the picturesque Bavarian themed village of Leavenworth, WA.

Did you see that?! shouted Steve’s oldest son Amir. What Amir saw and Steve turned the car around to see was the Cascade Mountain Bible Church (CMBC), more specifically a sign hanging from the front of the church declaring in bold red letters “Standing with Israel”.

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An unexpected show of support. Photo Credit: Steve Hemmat

Mind you, this sign was hanging in a place where there is no Synagogue or Jewish community to speak of within 100 miles, and no Kosher Deli within 270 miles.

Pastor Todd James speaking during a mission in Cebu, Philippines.

Pastor Todd James speaking during a mission in Cebu, Philippines.

Upon returning to Seattle Steve contacted the pastor of CMBC, Todd James to express his appreciation for the unexpected show of support for Israel. Pastor James responded warmly, telling Steve that “So often all I receive is hate mail over that sign. What an encouragement your note was to me and my board. Earlier in the week yet again someone attacked us and our church because of that sign. The current situation breaks my heart. I so long for the day when the people of Israel can once again live in peace. Until then I, and the men and women of this church will continue to pray for the peace of Israel”

When I heard of the firm stand Pastor James was taking to defend a nation not his own, I was determined to learn his story and the story of the banner.

45 years old, Pastor James is a native of Eastern Washington, prior to coming to lead CMBC some four years ago he served as an Airborne Paratrooper and a High School and college Mathematics teacher.

I discovered the banner for Israel was not put up recently in response to the uptick in hostilities between Hamas and Israel. Pastor James was  following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Pastor Tim Heath. “Tim and I had many discussions about the past and future role of Israel.” Pastor James told me. “He had purchased the first banner, and used it during a message series he preached. I just brought it back out and hung it where it could be seen.” This was more than four years ago.

I asked the pastor how his congregation reacted to the banner being displayed so prominently outside his church. “Pastor Tim had done such an outstanding job of teaching the congregation’ Said Pastor Todd that other than questions about “why now?” no one ever wondered why.”

“Has the banner provoked any dissension at all within your congregation” I asked. “Absolutely none” said the Pastor “well, except if for some reason I take the banner down, like when I had to replace it because of vandalism, the people of the church want to know why it is down and when it is going back up.”  It turns out that the banner Steve saw when he drove by the church was the second incarnation, the first one was ripped down, slashed and damaged beyond repair by vandals who left the pastor “a nasty note”.

While CMBC members are united in their support of Israel, the local community has been divided in this regard. “The overall local reaction to come back to us has been negative” Pastor Todd told us. “There have been negative comments made in the local paper, notes have been taped to our doors” and then there was the vandalism.  

Leavenworth is 270 miles from the nearest kosher deli.

Leavenworth is 270 miles from the nearest kosher deli.

The pastor shared a letter he recently received which said in part “I drove past your church several times last week and the week prior and was sickened by your “Supporting Israel” sign out front –  Our propagandist media portrays Israel as the victim (for so many reasons I can’t even list here), so many people buy into that lie, however, that lie is far from the reality of the situation.” The writer of that letter went on to direct the pastor to an anti-Semitic conspiracy website.

But the response has not been universally hostile. “On one occasion one couple from the community did come to us and express support. There have been many people who have seen the sign while vacationing in Leavenworth who have then chosen to worship with us on Sunday. Many times visitors have expressed positive reflections about the banner.”

I asked the pastor in light of the threats and hostile reactions he has received if he ever regrets showing such public support for the beleaguered Jewish state. He responded in one word “never”.

“Do you have a message for the Israeli people?” I asked. “I would remind them of the faith of three young Jewish boys [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – Daniel 1-3] whose lives were threatened by a foreign power”, said the pastor. “Their response inspires me even today. When faced with death or denying God, they said that their God is able to rescue them, but that even if He did not, they would not deny Him. Wow! I want to live with faith like that.” Says The Mike Report to that, Amen!

 Pastor Todd James is Pastor of the Cascade Mountains Bible Church and a true friend of the Jewish people.

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