Did you know that April 11 is Holocaust Remembrance Day? We’d like to present the unique challenges of our work in Germany against this backdrop:
The state church in Germany… has decided that in the shadow of the Holocaust, they do not have the right to personally share the gospel with Jewish people. That is their official position.”
—David Brickner, Jews for Jesus Newsletter, October 2006
One might wonder if there are any Jews remaining in Germany to hear the gospel even if people have the courage to proclaim it—and the answer is yes! In 1989 there were only about 27,000 Jewish people in the country. Then came the reunifaction of Germany and a decision in 1990 to allow Jews fleeing from a disintegrating Soviet Union to become German citizens. Russian-speaking Jews now comprise the majority of the Jewish population in Germany. By the late ’90s Avi Snyder, the European director for Jesus, had a vision for a work there:
“I think that God has brought these Jews to Germany for at least three reasons:
- so that they may hear the gospel and be saved
- so that German non-believers may hear the gospel from Jewish lips and be saved
- and so that all Germany and perhaps all Europe may see Jews and Germans, proclaiming the gospel together.”
Avi and his wife Ruth—who pioneered our work in Odessa as well as Moscow—moved to Germany in September of 2000 to establish our work in Essen. Essen has a population of more than a half million people and is located in the western portion of Germany on the Ruhr River. Avi led the branch until January 2007, when Leonid Dolganovsky took the reins.
The regular work of the branch consists of normal Jews for Jesus activities: raising an awareness that Jews can believe in Jesus through sorties (tract-passing expeditions), phoning and meeting with Jewish seekers and with new Jewish believers in Jesus; planning special holiday events and speaking in churches, hoping to win the hearts of Christian brothers and sisters to the cause of Jewish evangelism. Ruth Snyder has developed a Camp Gilgal program for children and youth to help raise the next generation of Jews for Jesus in Germany.
Essen also serves as the launch pad for occasional Jews for Jesus outreaches in cities such as Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Munich and Berlin.
Branch leader Leonid Dolganovsky was born in Kharkov, Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union) in what he describes as “a usual Jewish family.” He worked as a tradesman, married a Jewish woman, Inna, and
began raising a family.
Leonid says, “Everything was fine except that my wife kept looking for something else. Finally, she found what she’d been looking for—Jesus, the Messiah of Israel. And with her help, I also found Him.” That was in 1996. Three years later, the couple met Jews for Jesus and were invited to take part in our witnessing campaign in St. Petersburg. After the campaign they began volunteering with our Kharkov branch, and soon after Leonid was invited to join our staff.
Many years later, Leonid shared the following perspective from Germany:
I met a family of German believers named the Holmans. Mrs. Holman wholeheartedly agreed with me that Jewish people need to hear the gospel in order to be saved. But when I mentioned that German believers can join us in sharing the gospel with Jewish people without fear or a misplaced sense of guilt, she appeared sad. “I am not sure my husband will agree with you”, she replied, “but I would like you to meet with him.”
The very next day found me at the house of my new friends. Mr. Holman was a genuine believer with an open heart full of love for our Jewish people. But his guilt over the past was crippling him. “How can I preach the gospel to your people after what you’ve experienced from us Germans in the past!” he exclaimed with obvious pain. “I only wish I could somehow express my love to your people,” he added thoughtfully.
I replied with confidence. “The best way to show your love to our people would be to help them get saved!” As we talked more, I could see that the weight of crippling guilt upon Mr. Holman’s heart was beginning to lift. Finally, he took my hand. “Let’s do the work together, brother!” he said.
Many voices call incessantly for the German church to repent for the evils done against our Jewish people. But genuine repentance is not followed by self-pity and an unending guilt that denies God’s ability to forgive. After King David repented of his sins of adultery and murder, he called out to God, “O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Thy praise” (Psalm 51:15). The repentant sinner became the empowered proclaimer. “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation…Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinners will be converted to Thee” (Psalm 51:12, 13).
Outreach worker Dina Markova was born in Odessa, Ukraine when it, too, was part of the Soviet Union, but for the first seventeen years of her life she lived in Magadan. Then she returned to Odessa where she began to study music, technology, and clothing design.
Dina tells her story as follows:
“When the doors of the Soviet Union began to open, I tried to emigrate to Israel, but my mother would not give me the permission I needed for the embassy. So I went back to my studies and to my work, and I married. My husband died ten years later, but God had blessed us with a wonderful son.
“I began seeking God and when I read a Jews for Jesus tract, I gave them my contact information asking to learn more. Soon after that, I took my little son to Kiev for a complicated heart surgery, and in the hospital, the mother of another little patient shared the gospel with me. When I saw how God spared my son, I returned to Odessa with my heart open to the Lord. Shortly after that, a Jews for Jesus missionary called to meet with me; I was fully ready, and prayed to receive Yeshua in that meeting.
“In 1993, I began to help Jews for Jesus as a volunteer. In 1995, I joined the ministry full time and have since served in Odessa, and now, in Germany.”
Here Dina gives a glimpse into missionary work in Germany:
I hand out broadsides, not only in Essen, but in neighboring towns as well. One day when I was giving out literature in Bohum, a man stopped and said archly, “Oh, so you have come here, too?!”
I offered him a broadside and said, “Please, read it.”
He responded, “I already told your people in Essen to stop agitating Jews; your advertising is in vain!” At that moment, a man and woman approached us. The man asked for a broadside in Russian, (and was therefore probably Jewish.) The woman asked me for a broadside for her Jewish neighbors.
The first man (who was also Jewish) asked the woman, “Are you also going to agitate the Jewish people?”
The woman replied, “I am not agitating. My neighbors are asking me to know more about Jesus.” Her accuser left, indignant.
I thought how good God was to bring me to that town for that moment. I not only met a Christian woman who wanted help to bring the gospel to her Jewish neighbors, but also met two Jewish men at the same time. One was curious and the other was indignant—but it is significant that the indignant man had seen us before, in Essen. And he will probably see us again. People often turn from the gospel in one place, only to be confronted with it in another.
When God presents a person with the gospel in more than one place, He often uses more than one person. For example, I telephoned a woman named Nonna, and was told that she did not want to talk about Jesus. Some months later, I called her again. Her tone had changed entirely. Since my first call, she had visited Israel with her husband, where she encountered Jewish believers in Jesus at a concert. She was no longer closed regarding a discussion about Jesus, so we set up a visit and I shared my faith with her.
Another woman, Zoya, had met with me more than once to hear the gospel. She wanted me to pray for her, but she didn’t seem ready to turn to God. I continued to pray for her, but did not call for a while. Recently, I found out that a believing friend had come to visit Zoya and she prayed a sinner’s prayer with her! Truly ‘One sows and another reaps…The sower and the reaper may be glad together.’ (John 4:36-37).
Igor Shelest, the most recent outreach worker to join the Essen branch, was born and raised in Ukraine. His wife Katya was born in Russia and moved to Germany when she was fourteen. Both received Jesus in Germany, through the witness of relatives. Igor says, “I came to faith in 2004. When, as a young believer, I met other Jewish people and they heard of my faith they asked, ‘Are you from Jews For Jesus?’ I answered, ‘In principle, yes.’ It wasn’t until 2006 that I met people from the Jews for Jesus ministry and went on my first sortie. I became a volunteer and that is how I met Katya—we served together on a Munich campaign.” The Shelests are expecting their first child this June.
We are also extremely grateful to have on board Ilsa Malekshahi, who handles our administrative work, as well as Ilsa Reischuck, who works full time in church relations on a volunteer basis. Their dedication is humbling!
Essen has been named the European Capital of Culture on behalf of the Ruhr Area for the year 2010. Pray that this will mean more crowd-drawing cultural events—always a plus for handing out our gospel broadsides!
Join us in thanking God for those Christian brothers and sisters in Germany who are eager to share their faith with Jewish friends and neighbors; pray that we will meet more such people and that we can be a help and encouragement to one another.
Pray for God to bless the day-to-day work of evangelism. May we see many Jewish people find eternal life in Jesus as our brothers and sisters in Germany are bravely standing for Him.