My responsibilities with Jews for Jesus have me traveling approximately 125 days a year. As I write to you, I have just begun an eight-day trip that is taking me first to Dallas, then to London. I am grateful to God for giving me this opportunity to serve Him, yet I have never quite gotten used to being away from home. For me, a great vacation is staying home and spending time with family. I am sure that many of our readers can relate, as I do, to the words of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.”
Later this month, Israel will celebrate her home in a festival called “Yom Ha’atzmaut,” (Independence Day). I will be there with a group of Christians during that time and together we will enjoy commemorating the establishment of this modern-day homeland for the Jewish people. Most of these folks will be visiting Israel for the very first time.
I don’t often take groups to Israel; usually my travels to the Land are for ministry, to and with our missionaries who live there. But when I do take groups of Christians to Israel, it is refreshing to watch those who are encountering the Holy Land for the first time. It is truly a life-changing experience for many. One person I took with me to Israel observed; “I used to read my Bible in black and white, but now I read it in color.”
During his lifetime, my friend Zola Levitt took tours to Israel several times a year. Upon arrival in Israel he would always joyfully tell his groups; “Welcome home.” I like that. I know so many travelers to Israel, both Jewish and Christian, who truly feel as though they are coming home by coming to Israel. I have fond memories of watching people arriving in Israel, and with great emotion, kneeling to kiss the ground. I appreciate the sentiment—but I have never quite felt that way myself.
Don’t get me wrong. I am a strong supporter of Israel. I celebrate her independence with joy and enthusiasm. In the birth of the modern state of Israel, I see God’s hand in preserving the Jewish people just as He promised. Yet I have never really felt at home there. Maybe this is partly because as a Jewish believer in Jesus, I am less than welcome by the majority of Israelis. I am also deeply affected by the ongoing conflict that troubles the land. I have Israeli friends who live in the shadow of terrorism, as well as Arab friends who have their own experiences of being unwelcome in the only place they know as home. It pains me to see the seemingly unsolvable conflict that produces such ongoing suffering and injustice on both sides. But even more, my calling as a witness to my Jewish people and the burden of their unbelief are greatly intensified when I am in Israel, surrounded by so many of my kinsmen who are so lost.
I vividly remember the time I took my own pastor to visit the Western Wall. He, like so many Christians, was impressed by the fervor of the many religious Jewish people praying there. I then showed him into the synagogue area; perhaps you know it—inside an archway, to the left and beneath that giant rock structure. Inside that dark, enclosed area I was surprised to find myself weeping over a sense of profound spiritual darkness that pervaded the place. As we left, the air was split by the piercing sound of the muezzin (an Islamic religious official who cries out prayers) from the Al Aqsa mosque above us on the Temple mount. The wailing of of “Allahu Akbar” over and over and over again sounded to me more like a dark curse than a chant of Arabic praise to God. How can I call this place home?
Despite these things, Israel is indeed home to the Jewish people. It is an amazing place full of gripping stories of Jewish history and profound biblical promises, a curious amalgam of deep sadness and intense hope. And regardless of one’s views on end times events, the Scriptures say that when Christ returns, it will be in the land of Israel that His feet will first touch the earth.
Over the years I have seen the impact that visiting Israel has had on Jewish young people—how it has helped solidify their identity and even opened their eyes to the reality of a living God. Jewish philanthropy spends millions of dollars each year to enable groups such as Project Birthright to bring young Jewish college students to visit Israel free of charge, hoping the experience will work against the overwhelming forces of assimilation faced by the Diaspora Jewish community. Jewish believers in Jesus are excluded from participating in such programs, I suppose because our young people are already considered lost to the Jewish community by those who sponsor these programs.
On a much, much smaller scale and through the generosity of Christian friends, Jews for Jesus has been able to lead groups of young Jewish believers in Jesus to visit the land. Through programs we’ve called Project Joshua and Project Caleb, we have given our youth opportunities to learn and grow in their relationship with God and their Jewish identity, and also to learn more about how to witness for Jesus in the Land through hands-on experience.
In more recent years, our newest program called Massah (“The Journey” in Hebrew) has taken us in some new and cutting edge directions. It has provided us with fresh ideas for evangelism. For example, as some participants integrated their creative talents to the program, we’ve seen a new wave of musical outreach that has been touching the hearts of Israeli young people. Three young Jewish believers in Jesus formed a musical band they call “New Light Ruins” and they began to write songs that captured their experiences and emotions, as well as their growing understanding of God’s love for Israel. They have shared that music with hundreds of young Israelis the world over.
Recently, New Light Ruins recorded these songs on an album they have entitled, “You Are Home.” As I listened to their music, I realized that these young men had captured and expressed some of my own feelings about this homeland of Israel. The title of their new album is a play on words—the “You” in “You are Home” could apply to listeners who, like me, identify with the songs. But to these musicians, the “You” is much more. The title is a statement of their faith and trust in God. Yes, Lord God, You are indeed our Home. No mere earthly location—not even Israel—can truly be home for the people of God. No matter how many of our loved ones are there, no matter how our hearts may yearn for it, no matter how sacred a place it may hold in history and in God’s plans for this world—it is only with God Himself that we are truly home.
All of our longings for security, for family, for true meaning and purpose are only and ultimately secure in the presence of our great Creator. Like all of the saints of God throughout time, we must remember and affirm this truth; He has made us for His own pleasure and our true and eternal home can only be found in Him: “But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:16).