NORTHERN ISRAELI COAST – For years, ships have set sail from Europe to condemn the Jewish state, frequently under the guise of breaking Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. But as CBN News reports, one ship came recently not to confront the Jewish people but to love them.
As this more than 100-foot vessel sailed into the Herzliya harbor, dozens of other ships, boats and even windsurfers came out to greet her.
Coming to greet Elida at the Herzliya harbor
"I saw this whole fleet coming toward us from Herzliya," Karin Nytomt told CBN News. "I thought how many are there going to be – and I thought maybe two, four, five – and in the end we were surrounded by all these small and large ships. I had to literally pinch myself. What are we a part of?"
Nytomt serves as the yacht's media and public relations representative. The Elida, she explained, set sail from Sweden to Israel for two reasons.
"We want to show solidarity with two groups: First of all is the Christian minorities in the Middle East that are about to go extinct … So we are trying with this sail to raise our voice to say 'listen to them and to those who are left. This is the cradle of Christianity itself, and Christians are almost going extinct because they are killed for their faith,'" she said.
Nytomt explained Israel was the logical destination for the ship because it provides the most freedom of religion in the entire Middle East.
"With this issue, then where can we sail with this message, and the only answer is Israel because first of all, it says 'Sailing for Jesus' on the [vessel's] side [and] there's no other country in the Middle East that would open up their ports to us.
"And it's the only country in the Middle East where the Christians are growing in numbers so we want to support Israel in this," she added.
The inspiration came to the ship's captain, Stephan Aronson, during the Jerusalem prayer breakfast when a waiter told him he'd never meant a person like him.
"You are a Christian. You are a Swedish guy and you love Israel. I have never ever met a person like that," the waiter told him. "I said, hello, we are a lot of people who love Israel in Sweden."
"When I came home after that prayer breakfast, I felt we have to do something," Aronson told CBN News. "We can't only sit here and don't do anything. For me love is not anything you just talk about; love is something you're doing."
That "doing" turned into an historic voyage to Israel, along with a message.
"I say to them [Israelis], hello, you are here of a purpose. God gave you the Ten Commandments and He gave you the Torah and that is the most beautiful gift you gave to the whole world community.
"The Ten Commandments are the meter of the world. The Jewish community is put here to protect that value. They don't [aren't] used to hear[ing] Christian people, especially from [Sweden], saying these words to them, but from deep in my heart that's what I believe is true.
"So as a Christian, I have to support Israel, for the value of what they are standing for," Aronson told CBN News.
Some consider Sweden the most anti-Israel country in Europe. Captain Aronson and his crew want to change that.
"I'm praying for a golden age between the Christian and Jewish communities," he said. "As a Christian, I believe we need to have a golden age between Sweden and Israel. I believe that what we are doing is something that God wants us to do."
The CBN News team boarded the vessel as she set sail along Israel's Mediterranean coast.
The Elida attracted attention from all over Israel. Today, Israeli Sea Scouts came aboard for a hands-on experience.
The Scouts hoisted the anchor, manned the helm and clearly relished the experience.
Dan Shechtman, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2011, was on board the same day. He told CBN News, "We need more friends like this."
"Who will come to visit us and give us [a] word of support, action of support and tell the people in their country, 'Hey, Israel is a wonderful place.'"
The crew said they didn't expect such an enthusiastic welcome.
"We've been blown away of the love that we've been met but also by the invitations to all these different places," Nytomt said.
Some Israelis came with skepticism but left changed.
"When people come on board they meet us and they meet the love. It's changing hearts, one by one we're changing hearts," she said. "Some people have literally been crying. And one crew member said it's like they've been starved for attention from Sweden and to see there is love from Sweden [means a lot]."
Nytomt sees the Bible coming to life.
"If you read [the prophet] Isaiah talking about ships coming from the gentile nations to Israel and showing their support for the nation, it's part of it," she said. "And I do think there's a time when we need to express the love and to side, side by side, with the Jewish nation."
As the voyage ended, Captain Aronson shared his heart with the visiting Sea Scouts.
"We sail all the way to Sweden to start a movement of friendship between Sweden and Israel. I wish you everything the best and I hope to see you in the future. Thank you very much for coming here," he said.
Then the Scouts taught the Swedish captain an Israeli cheer.
Earlier, Aronson played Israel's national anthem, Hatikvah.