Encounters with Peace in a Land of Strife
The media claim that eight recent terror attacks in the heart of downtown Jerusalem have reduced a bustling economic zone to an economic no-man’s land. On a recent trip to Israel I found a very subdued atmosphere that seemed to confirm that claim. Even Tel Aviv—normally bustling with parties and nightlife on Saturday after sundown—seemed quiet, restrained.
As Jewish believers in Yeshua our hearts are tied to Israel and it would be easy to feel helpless and hopeless about what we see and hear on the news. But we need to remember, there are reasons to take heart—reasons the media will never portray. While the search for peace continues to play out in the political arena, growing numbers of Israelis are finding peace in their own lives—peace with God. The work of Jews for Jesus in Israel is just a microcosm of what God is doing among our people there, but I thought it might encourage you to hear from our staff about the joys and challenges of sharing Yeshua with Israelis. Maybe these anecdotes will give you a glimpse of how God is using the messianic Jewish community to raise the image of Yeshua high during a time when many Israelis are seeking answers.
Searching for Sprituality: Dan
When I share the gospel with young Israelis, they are open and want to know more. It’s weird to them that an Israeli like myself believes in Yeshua, but they’re attracted to us because they think we’re radical or even cool to believe and promote such different ideas than those they are used to. All their lives they’ve been told what to do and have seen traditional Judaism, but something is obviously missing in their upbringing. Now, many are searching for spirituality.
“The most challenging part of our work is that we are competing with a lot of other religions and spiritual alternatives. Young Israelis might be into Buddhism, Bahai or Hinduism so I try to bring them back to their roots. I tell them, ‘Sure, Buddhism may be cool or fun, but is that what you really believe? Is it in any way related to what you learned at home? Does it really give you peace?’
“Young Israelis are attracted to Eastern religions because they want something different from what they were taught. These kids have just had an extreme experience in the army—they’ve been confronted by death and they’re asking questions about what life is all about. They go to the religious leaders for answers and are told to follow a bunch of rules. They’re told that they can’t even tear toilet paper on Shabbat and they think that’s ridiculous. So they look elsewhere. They are attracted to India as an exotic place because it’s far away and all their friends are traveling there.
“That was the case with Oded. We met on the streets and he said he was open to finding out more about Messiah. He’s into Tai Chi and his ‘master’ is actually a religious Jew. While Oded was struggling to save money to study Eastern thought in India, his master was pressuring him to become Orthodox!
“So when Oded and I spoke he asked me what kinds of things believers in Yeshua are required to do. When considering something new, Israelis always want to know what they’re getting into. I told him that there’s freedom in the Messiah, and that it’s not a matter of doing religious things—it’s a matter of belief in the heart and a relationship with God. Even though Oded has left Israel to search for spirituality in the East, I believe that he’ll remember our conversation and that God will use the interaction I had with Oded.”—Dan
Blessed by Their Cursing: Shlomy
“On the streets I share the Word of God and His promises to His people. In my experience, half of the people I speak with are open to hear more. The other half are confused. I hear their language and verbal abuse and I’d like to forget the words they yell at me. Some try to harm me not just verbally, but also physically. But they don’t scare me. I’m actually blessed by their cursing (as I remember the words of Yeshua in Matthew 5:10-12).
“To their curses I respond, ‘I love you. God loves you.’o3 “I can share Yeshua with them because before I knew Him I was living among these people. I’m not an outsider. I know their lives and how they think and what they feel. I know their mentality. To be accepted by their friends, some of them just try to prove how mean they can be.
“Every day I continue to proclaim Yeshua because I was in the darkness and the Lord took me out of it—I want to share what the Lord did in my life. I had a special opportunity to do this when my wife and I went on vacation recently. While there, I met a man named Shimon. I spoke with him about the love of God and we talked for three hours. He had a broken heart and a broken body (Shimon had been wounded in the army). At the end of our conversation, Shimon prayed to receive the Lord. It changed his life and I am amazed that the Lord uses me to do something like that. I want to live only to do those things, even on my vacation.”—Shlomy
Yeshua isn’t Catholic: Moshe
“I need to begin my day with devotions before I hit the ground. Even though my day is loaded, I want to begin by reminding myself whom I serve and taking time to find what He wants me to do. If I’m teaching people to love God and pray, then I need to do this myself. If I don’t love His Word enough, how can I hope they will love it more?
“Next I go out to the streets to talk to people, seeking those who want a relationship with God. You can always find people who are responsive to the gospel message. I think it’s the humble people—those who understand that they haven’t yet found the truth—that are the most open. It excites me to have a conversation on the street that is direct and real. I like seeing people’s surprise when I tell them about things they didn’t know were in the Bible.
“I invite them to continue talking with me one-on-one—that’s where the real work and discussions take place. I love to see people come to Jesus, repent and grow in their faith to the point where they begin witnessing to their friends without me. I met with a young guy named Ronen, who introduced me to his friend Yaniv. Yaniv received the Lord and now he’s sharing his faith with his friends like Ofir and others. This kind of thing gives me great feelings of joy and satisfaction. I feel I’m part of an important historical process because Jesus said the gospel will go to all the world and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14).
“Some encounters are brief, just seeds planted. A couple of months ago I was handing out gospel tracts at a soccer game.* The TV news people came up to me and asked who Yeshua was rooting for, the Israeli team or the Spanish team. Their point was that the Spanish team was Catholic (believers in Jesus) and the Israeli team was non-believers. They probably thought I’d say Yeshua would be for the Spanish team. I told them He’d be for the Israeli team because He’s an Israeli and He’s Jewish, not Catholic. It was an opportunity to explain that Yeshua is the Jewish Messiah according to the Bible.”—Moshe
*Our staff in Israel write their own broadsides (tracts) as they did for this event.
Becoming Spriitual Parents: Miriam
“Libby comes from an Orthodox family and received the Lord about a year ago. I met her at Rabin Square, the place where Yitzchak Rabin was assasinated, but it was in that place that we brought her the gospel of life. Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) families don’t send their children to the army like the rest of Israelis do—they get a special exemption for religious reasons. So it was a big step for Libby when, as a new believer, she decided to go into the army. Her rabbi told her that her decision meant she couldn’t come home. We have become her surrogate family and Libby visits us on breaks from the army. “A similar situation happened with another Orthodox girl we led to the Lord. Danit is being kicked out of her parents’ house for her faith, which is very hard for her, but perhaps made her desire to do her military service with others her age a little easier. Danit listed us on her paperwork for the army and shortly afterwards we got a letter from the army addressed to her ‘honorable parents.’ It made me smile because we are, in fact, her spiritual parents.”—Miriam
Filling a Niche: Jeannie
“Israeli society is a very ‘we’ society. Everyone identifies with or belongs to some kind of group, whether religious or secular. Parents are always looking for afternoon chugim (clubs) to keep their children busy and safe after school. The focus of my ministry is to fill this niche with a Bible-based program for kids. Four years ago, I started with pre-school kids, and now I lead five clubs in three different cities and teach kids from four to ten years old. One child’s parents don’t believe in Yeshua, but the mother wrote a note to me saying it’s okay for her child to attend. Most of the parents tell me how much the kids look forward to this weekly activity and I’m excited to help strengthen their identity as a group of Jewish believers in Israeli society.”—Jeannie
So when the newspapers and television anchors are blaring bad news about Israel, remember these new images: Young Israelis exploring their own spirituality. Orthodox Jews coming to faith in their Messiah. Bold gospel proclamation in the Land. A growing awareness in Israel that there are Jews who believe in Jesus.
As Jewish believers, we should pray for our brothers and sisters in the Land. While writing this article I received a phone call from Efraim, our staff leader in the Land. He told me that this month alone, five Israelis prayed with our staff to receive Yeshua. Pray for these new believers to grow in their faith. Pray that God will unify the believers in Israel and meet their needs, financial and spiritual. Pray for the welfare of the congregations, most of which are not large. Pray that fear will not be a factor that impedes the proclamation of the gospel. Ask God to raise up more Israeli believers who exercise courage to make Messiah known. Finally, remember to pray for the peace of Jerusalem.
North American Director
Stephen's grandparents immigrated to America from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, ultimately settling in the Chicago area. As a boy, Stephen enjoyed sports and excelled in school. In his high school years he began to question the values he had been raised with, and instead of focusing on academics, began to spend all his time playing guitar and harmonica. Over the next few years he searched for answers to his many questions about life, eventually becoming a follower of Yeshua. Three weeks after receiving his bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Illinois, he got married and began to work with abused and neglected youth in a residential treatment center in Chicago, which he did for 10 years (taking one year out to live on a kibbutz in Israel). He received his master's degree in social work from the University of Illinois in 1984. He and his young family attended a messianic congregation for 13 years, where Stephen served as the worship leader. In 1989, Stephen began missionary training with Jews for Jesus and now serves as North American Director. For 12 years he oversaw our work in Israel and still continues to be involved with our work there. Laura and he have four children, three of whom are married. He received a master's degree in intercultural and Jewish studies from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1997. Stephen is known to be a warm-hearted and engaging teacher and a good listener.