ARIEL, WEST BANK
Ted Beckett deals in real estate. But after he had a religious experience some 35 years ago, he decided that "doing deals for the Lord" was his real life's work.
For years, he managed mobile-home parks for a living. For pleasure, the former marine used his vacations to smuggle Bibles into communist countries and distribute Christian films around the world.
He began his latest mission when the Israeli settlements got cut off from government aid in 1992, and put on the negotiating table by the Oslo peace accords a year later. That's when he started playing matchmaker, as he calls it, linking churches from Florida to Oregon with Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
"Our movement is designed to give encouragement to these settlers and to say that these lands were promised to them," he says.
Mr. Beckett attends large gatherings of Christian Zionists throughout the United States and recruits new churches for the program. A large, four-day convention in Orlando, Fla., starting next Wednesday will provide him his next round of candidates for reaching his goal of adding another 100 churches to the program by 2000.
For a project launched at home in Colorado Springs, Colo., with his wife, Audrey, the program has taken off rapidly. Now, a full-time staffer makes calls to sympathetic churches in search of fresh takers; a counterpart in Israel helps find an appropriate match.
Once a church decides to join, Beckett provides it with training programs for establishing a multipronged "link team." The project link coordinates fund-raising. The issues link encourages lobbying and writing letters to the US Congress. The prayer link is self-explanatory.
"What God is doing now is restoring Israel to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," Beckett says. "His word says he's going to restore the land to the Jewish people. It's a God thing."
Beckett was raised a Roman Catholic. Now, he's a member of New Life, an unaffiliated church that started 12 years ago in the basement of his pastor's home.
When his views changed as an adult, a Bible teacher inspired him with interpretations of ancient prophecies finally being fulfilled. "I thought, 'Boy, if you could actually be involved in the prophecies uttered in ancient times,' " recalls Beckett. "In Isaiah, it talks about life in the restored Israel. It prophesied the highway system and signs, that valleys would be built up. We take that for granted now, but that was big stuff 25 years ago. I've found about 300 references like that. And that's what's so exciting, when you go over there [to Israel] and do a little Bible meditation on these developments."
Beckett says young and independent churches like his, which emphasize reading the Old Testament but not practicing the rituals set forth in these older doctrines, are thriving for a reason. "A Gallup poll tells us that the historic [Christian] churches are declining, and we are growing. One of the reasons is that we're blessing Israel."