Havurah Round Table

Havurah interviewed three people who minister among Israeli trekkers. All have asked to remain anonymous. “Sarah” is the backpacker outreach coordinator for Chosen People Ministries. Her responses are in the first section of this article; the other two respondents follow.

1. Research indicates that Israeli trekkers tend to go to Asia for spirituality, and to South/Central America for nature and outdoor activities. How does your experience mesh with this generalization?

Sarah: Overall this is true. In India I found many people were involved in Eastern religion or philosophy classes, studying yoga, and not only openly searching for spirituality but very aware that this was what they were seeking. In South America and New Zealand, most people were interested in hiking, nature or adventure. They were less likely to bring up the subject of spirituality. But once they know we are believers, they are curious and ask many questions. On this past year’s trips to South America and New Zealand especially, we met many young Israelis who said they wanted to meet a Jewish believer. Some asked us for Hebrew New Testaments before we even offered.

2. What are some unique challenges you face in your ministry to Israeli trekkers?

Across the board in all locations it would be helpful to have more books in Hebrew. Many have already seen the few that have been out there for a while. While traveling, it’s common to bring two to three books, then meet up to trade. Having a few more options of testimonies in book form would be helpful.

The teams I’ve brought have been made of up Jewish and Gentile believers. Some of the team members speak Hebrew and some don’t. This has benefits as well as challenges. The challenge is even though Israelis all speak English when you are in a large group, the language will then change to Hebrew. So it’s important for the team to be prepared to be “comfortable being uncomfortable” for these moments. This is more true of South America; in New Zealand and India, the Israelis more often meet travelers from other countries and use English as their main language.

The benefit to diverse teams is how curious the Israelis are about why Gentiles know so much about and love Israel and know the Hebrew Scriptures better than most of them do.

In India the drug scene can be challenging at times, both because people can be too high to have a real conversation and because for some team members, it’s not comfortable or wise to be around that scene. There are areas where the drugs are intense and areas where it’s more casual use. Also in India the heavy presence of idols and sense of spiritual darkness can affect some team members. These are stronger influences in some areas than in others.

3. How do Israelis hear about your ministry?

In our case, we don’t have a permanent place. We travel staying in youth hostels, meeting Israelis and traveling with them for some days. This is a great way to build real friendships, share about Messiah, and let people have time to think about questions that come up from your conversation. They also get to see a small group of believers living in community.

In some locations we do host special events, Shabbat dinners, music nights, Israeli dance classes, etc. And then we just put up flyers in the hostels or let people know by word of mouth. We sometimes partner in these events with believers living in the area who love Israel and want to connect with the Israeli travelers.

4. Can you briefly describe a gospel encounter you have had with an Israeli(s)? If they were open to the gospel, why do you think that was the case?

One night in New Zealand we hosted a music event. Someone shared a short story from the front. There were small groups sitting, talking and eating. “Uri” knew I helped put the event together. And he asked, “So do you believe Yeshua is the Messiah?” When I said yes, he had lots of questions related to how believers live out their faith in relation to the law, the holidays, and being part of the Jewish community.

Uri’s family is more observant in their Jewish life. But he had decided a year ago not to continue in that path. So he observes some holidays, but not most traditions. He said he stopped not out of rebellion but because he didn’t feel connected to God.

I shared that I came from a similar background, and that once I understood that the prophecies, the law and the holidays were all pointing to Yeshua, I understood the beauty and purpose in them as well. We sat with another believer for two hours that night reading and talking about the prophecies of the Messiah. He took a book from the book table on the way out. Uri has stayed in touch, and last month I introduced him to some believers in Israel, where he continues to explore who Yeshua is and what it means to be Jewish and believe.

It seems there are two main reasons he is open. One is that he is already trying to figure out, “How do you connect with God?” The second is, he knows a believer in Israel from high school. He never wanted to ask him questions when he was younger because he was concerned that his friends would know. Outside Israel it feels safer to begin to ask.

Also on these year-out post-army trips, people don’t have cell phones ringing, jobs to get to, classes to study for. So they have time for building relationships and for talking about the large questions of life.

Two Additional Havurah Round Table Participants

1. Research indicates that Israeli trekkers tend to go to Asia for spirituality, and to South/Central America for nature and outdoor activities. How does your experience mesh with this generalization?

Travis: I’ve been to both locations doing Israeli traveler ministry and I would totally agree. I would add one more element to Asia though: they travel there for cheap drugs and do a lot of them. Latin American travelers do drugs but not as much. It seems also that the Asian trekkers probably spent more time in combat roles and are looking to “zone out.” The South American trekkers tended to be more office staff and want to have an adventure or physical challenge.

Jennifer: Israelis come to Latin America to find adventure, nature, history and love. In many ways, Latin culture is similar to Israeli culture and friendships are easy. Because of the history and religious composition of this continent, conversations about spirituality are common. Most travelers are quick to ask about our beliefs and are open about their questions and opinions.

2. What are some unique challenges you face in your ministry to Israeli trekkers?

Travis: Probably just dealing with the local rabbi or Beit Chabad people slandering us. They obviously don’t like what we do. Thankfully many Israeli trekkers don’t want anything to do with them so they have no problem hanging out with our group and hearing about Yeshua. Another challenge is actually trying to explain what we do to our support base in the US. It’s very out of the box and people don’t fully get it.

Jennifer: The Israeli travelers who come are often here seeking relationship encounters and the party scene. They are quick to accept Messiah and our sharing of the truth as “the right thing for us, but not for them.” It provides a great place for sowing seeds and the opportunity for pursuing long-term friendships, especially with those that come back to visit at the end of their trip or on other trips.

3. How do Israelis hear about your place?

Travis: We meet them on trails, buses, in town and start a conversation. Eventually we invite them back to our house. They have an amazing experience interacting with a Christian community that lives the gospel out. They love us and what we do and have no problem telling their friends about us. So word of mouth mostly.

Jennifer: Our place is recommendation only, so we also have opportunities to build on what others have shared about us already.

4. Can you briefly describe a gospel encounter you have had with an Israeli(s)? If they were open to the gospel, why do you think that was the case?

Travis: Every Israeli we meet is a gospel encounter. We have so many it is unbelievable. It’s so easy to bring up Jesus and religious topics with them. They have a curiosity that is most likely supernatural from the Lord. He’s literally drawing them back to himself at this time in history and we are blessed to be the ones to share the message of hope with them.

One specific encounter we had was in the mountains of South America. We were camped out and saw a light “walking” towards us in the night, way off the trail. We called the person over and invited him into our camp. It was freezing cold and getting late, so we cooked him some food and a warm drink. Somewhere in the first ten minutes we got on spiritual talk, and our guest completely forgot to set up his tent, he was so engrossed in the “chance” encounter with Christians who love Israel. We spent two hours flipping through the Bible with cold hands and headtorches lighting the pages. In the morning we talked a lot more and he left with these words, “I’ll search the scriptures to see if these things are true, thank you for your love and friendship.”

Jennifer: Recently one of our guests came back from a failed romantic encounter. He plopped down on the couch to cry with me, and this experience led him to question why he kept looking for love in “all the wrong places.” I shared part of my journey and we both cried together in a beautiful moment of recognizing how we are both broken and in need of help. It was a unique opportunity to talk about who God is in the midst of our needs, failures and brokenness. What a joy to share about the promises of Messiah and his love for each one of us!


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