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At Peace in the Middle East
In the midst of danger in the turbulent land of Israel, a Canadian couple has established a thriving messianic congregation.

I've known Ann Hilsden, pastor's wife and music director at King of Kings Assembly in Jerusalem, for almost three decades. So while in Israel this year I was delighted to have the chance to reconnect with her.

"I think the only time that I've really, really had a wave of fear … was just prior to the Gulf war."

For 21 years, Ann and her husband Wayne have ministered there. Through wars, political tensions, assassinations and terrorist incidents they have stayed and built a life and a thriving, trans-denominational church in that ancient city.

But I have often wondered what motivated the Hilsdens to give up the security and familiarity of all things Canadian, to live and serve in Jerusalem.

"It was just a growing sense of calling," Ann says simply. "that's all. We felt a leading from God to come."

The "leading" came in the form of an invitation from Jim and Kathy Cantelon (living in Jerusalem at the time) to help establish a local congregation of Christian believers. The Hilsdens accepted the invitation in August, 1983.

They began a small, home-based Bible study. "The number of worshippers was almost equalled by the number of cats congregating outside on the garbage bins," the Hilsdens say on their ministry website (, but within weeks, they moved to rental space to accommodate their growing numbers.

"We came with the idea that we may well be here for life," says Ann. "We didn't come on a lark. We learned Hebrew. We put our kids in Hebrew schools."

Such roots have a way of penetrating deeply and multiplying profusely. The Hilsden's four sons have grown into young men, ages 26, 23, 20 and 18, who consider Israel home. The small study also grew.

Today the King of King's English congregation includes some 400 believers, representing more than 50 nationalities. Their Hebrew congregation consists of approximately 100 local, Jewish believers. In addition to reading from the Christian Bible, both congregations read from the Hebrew Scriptures, have a weekly teaching from the Torah and celebrate the Jewish Feasts.

The congregation worships with a blend of traditional and contemporary English and Hebrew music—much of it written by Ann herself—and their music is reportedly making a significant impact on messianic music locally and internationally.

"Our ministry focus is to Israel," explains Ann. "To the believers in Israel. To Israel as a state. We want to bless Israel and we want to bless Jerusalem."

As they have desired to be a blessing, it would seem to Hilsdens have themselves been blessed.

I ask if, in raising her boys in such a tumultuous land, Ann has ever felt fear.

"I think the only time that I've really, really had a wave of fear—I say "a wave" because it came and went—was just prior to the first Gulf War. I thought, "What are we doing here with our four kids? Anything can happen.'"

But the fear came and went, says Ann, and when it left, there was only concern, "and lots of adrenaline," she smiles. "When the air raid sirens went off, we just all went and put on our gas masks and listened to the radio for our instruction.

"Our kids went through it. I've got a video of the kids with their gas masks on singing. 'Uh, uh, uh, uh, staying' alive! Stayin' alive!'" She sings, laughing at the memory.

But there are other memories that do not evoke laughter.

Ann says she is at peace living in the land to which she and her family have been called.

One morning in June, 2002, Ann and her third son Jonathan left home together. Jonathan was headed to school; Ann to an appointment at the church office. Walking toward the bus stop, she received a call on her cell phone saying the person she was scheduled to meet had arrived early. Ann promised to get there as quickly as possible.

"Jonathan and I decided that if the bus came first, we'd take the bus. If a taxicab came first, we would take the cab," Ann remembers. "A cab came first."

Minutes later, as the two were settling inside a taxi, their bus arrived at their stop, boarded passengers, then exploded. All aboard became victims of a suicide bomber.

After such a close call, how could they stay? Ann says she is at peace living in the land to which she and her family have been called.

Their ministry's website expands on her thought. "The eyes of the world see Jerusalem as the stumbling stone in the Middle East conflict," it says. "Therefore, we seek to be living demonstrations of the fact that there is a better way—that when we allow Jesus to take charge of our lives, we can find peace with God and peace with one another."

Patricia Paddey is a Mississauga-based freelance journalist.

Originally published in ChristianWeek, April 15, 2005.




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