The​y Link Lands and Faiths

Thousands of miles of ocean and the better part of a continent separate Philadelphia from Kampala, Uganda, but for two individuals of different faiths, Israel has provided a way to bridge that considerable gap.

Andrea Gottlieb of Merion serves as director of Jerusalem Online University — a New York-based, online learning program with offices in Philadelphia and Jerusalem. For the last few months, she's been corresponding with Umar Mulinde, a Ugandan pastor and supporter of Israel, who is now taking JOU's "Israel Inside Out" course, which focuses on Israel's history, both biblical and modern.

Mulinde was born and raised a Muslim, but in the early 1990s, he converted to Christianity after hearing the gospel preached, and saw how "the message of the Bible is a good, loving message," he explained, speaking by phone from Kampala.

Upon his conversion, he said, he began reading the Bible intensely, and noticed how often the phrase "God of Israel" was repeated. He said that he came to understand how his own faith is "so much linked to Israel."

Mulinde's and Gottlieb's paths crossed after he read about JOU in Israel Today magazine, which originates in Jerusalem. He attempted to enroll in the online courses, but met with technical difficulties, after which he consulted Gottlieb for assistance.

Through Gottlieb, Mulinde was able to begin the "Inside Out" course work, which consists primarily of films about the Jewish state. For his part, Mulinde has used JOU as a teaching tool: Every Monday night, he and a group of more than 60 congregants gather together to learn about the Jewish homeland.

"We meet and pray and talk about Israel, and express our solidarity towards the Jewish nation," he said.

Mulinde even recently hosted more than 200 Ugandan Christian leaders in a day of solidarity with Israel.

While the pastor has not yet interacted with Uganda's Jews, he is in the process of reaching out to them. One hurdle, he said, is that many of them live in the eastern part of the nation, and his home in Kampala lies in the south-central region.

Firsthand Experience of Terror

Kampala, Uganda's capital city, has been in the news lately after more than 70 people were killed on July 11, when Islamic suicide bombers attacked a group watching the World Cup final.

Mulinde said that attacks like these are new for many in the capital, but he noted that most members of his community had been inspired to pray for Israel even more because now they had firsthand experience of "what a terrorist threat is all about."

The pastor said that his positive take on Israel can only be beneficial for the Middle Eastern country, which is frequently seen as the victim of hostile, biased news coverage.

He's noticed the phenomenon himself, he said, "whenever I put on CNN or the BBC."

But because the media tends to be so negative when it comes to the Jewish state, he said, even some people who are not Muslims "find themselves supporting what they don't know."

Countering this sort of disinformation, stated Jerusalem Online's Gottlieb, is exactly what her effort is all about.

"You constantly see bad press about Israel," she said, "but if we can get the people of Uganda to be learning from Alan Dershowitz and get this education out, then we can really help Israel in the media."



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