As you read Victoria’s story below, I hope you are as struck with her second sentence as I was. Like most profound observations, it has been said before. But it seemed like a particularly appropriate statement since one year has just come to an end, and a new one is now unfolding. God never stops making beginnings out of endings as also seen in Karol Joseph’s story. May He give us the grace to trust and serve Him until the very last ending begins our forever joy in His presence. —Editor
Happy Endings by Victoria Negrimovskaya
This story has a happy end. But unlike the Hollywood stories, the end is only the beginning of the story.
Elizabeth is a small, blonde woman. She is quick and smart. She is also a Yiddishe mama (Jewish mother). Only occasionally did she manage to find time to meet with me, between work, children, grandchildren and her personal life. Yet she sometimes attended an evangelical church with her believing daughter and granddaughter. But she had close contact with various representatives of the Jewish community, and therefore was hesitant about receiving Jesus as the Messiah of Israel.
Sadly, Elizabeth’s father became ill. As she cared for him, she stopped going to church and my rare visits with her stopped altogether. I could only pray, “Lord, send out workers into Your harvest.” But God is a loving and caring Father. And so I saw the Scripture apply to Elizabeth: ” I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).
Elizabeth’s believing friend, Lena, began attending our Shabbat meetings. Elizabeth was quite open to having Lena visit her, and Lena talked to her father as well as to her about Jesus. Elizabeth recalls, “Lena often prayed with him. They talked about God for a long time. When he realized he wouldn’t recover, he cried and grieved. Lena offered him the opportunity to repent of his sins and receive forgiveness through Jesus. He repeated that prayer after her with such relief! And he cried.”
Elizabeth also had tears as she continued, “He changed a lot after that. His very hard temper became soft. My dad asked me to forgive him. He always waited for Lena, continued to read the Bible and talk to her about God. In the evenings, he asked me to read him the Bible. I read. It was difficult for me, but strength would come,” Elizabeth smiled. “He was smiling as he passed away…”
Her father’s decision was a bright story for Elizabeth. When I called her on the phone after some time, she immediately agreed to meet. We talked, of course, about Jesus. My visits to Elizabeth became regular. She lives in a distant city district. Despite the long way, she brought her partner, Nikolay, to our Shabbat meeting. As she showed increasing interest in the Word of God, her faith in Jesus became evident. She and Nikolay married and agreed to be baptized. Her father’s earthly life had come to an end, but Elizabeth began a new life of faith and obedience to God.
The Ministry of Funerals by Karol Joseph
Funerals are not easy. In those instances when the deceased was a believer in Yeshua (Jesus) who lived a long, full life, and when their family are also believers, there is a celebratory tone to the ‘home-going.’ Yet it is mixed with the normal sadness of missing the presence of a loved one here on the earth. I have had the privilege of attending some such funerals.
In the case of a Jewish believer in Jesus whose family are not believers, my hope is to find the right balance. I want to proclaim the truth of the gospel (and of the reality of heaven and hell), but also to bring comfort and hope to a grieving family who doesn’t (yet) know the hope of Messiah. Recently I had just that experience.
Sally* came to know Yeshua as her Savior in 2005. Soon after we opened the Brooklyn branch (2007), she became a part of our community, regularly attending the weekly Bible study that I teach. Having been a Broadway singer and actress in her earlier years, Sally loved it when we asked her to read the Scripture; she always did it with the drama and gusto of a stage performance.
Sally also attended a good church, and over the years her faith grew. She was not without times of struggle, however, especially in her last two years when she faced increasing health problems. Still, she always turned to her Messiah and believing community for the spiritual encouragement she needed.
God’s merciful hand was evident to many of us when He took Sally home. She had been struggling for more than a year, and had been hospitalized several times. Even her niece, who was by her side every day that whole last week while Sally lay unconscious in a hospital bed, recognized that it was time to let her beloved aunt go.
I was invited to participate in the funeral service, as was Sally’s pastor and two other believers in Jesus. I wasn’t sure how her unbelieving family would react to our sharing openly about Sally’s faith. I did know that her family had selected an Orthodox funeral home for the service (officiated by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi), and that they had planned to bury Sally in the family plot in a Jewish cemetery. I also knew that according to the rabbis, Jewish people who have ‘adopted another religion’ (i.e. Christianity) should not be permitted to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. I wanted to make sure that the rabbi knew we would be speaking of her faith, and prayed that this wouldn’t become a problem. Thankfully the rabbi understood and only required that the name ‘Jesus’ not be spoken in the sanctuary.
The service went extremely well, and Jesus (whom we referred to as “The Messiah,” or “The LORD” or “The Savior”) was truly glorified.
Later at the shiva (the gathering of family and friends for the seven-day mourning period), we had many opportunities to speak of Sally’s faith and story and of the truth of Jesus and reality of heaven. Many of Sally’s relatives commented on how beautifully the “believers” had spoken at her funeral and said how grateful they were that Sally had met Jews for Jesus. Most acknowledged that her life had radically changed (in a good way) when she came to believe in Jesus and became involved with us. I don’t know if Sally really knew how much her life had already been a story to many of them. Now it is our turn to continue that story as we look to continue our relationship with those she left behind. As they have begun to see the difference Yeshua can make, may He help them continue on a road to faith.
*not her real name