Bits from the Branches
The theme of this month’s stories could be “Happy surprises,” as various missionaries encountered unexpected opportunities and/or results. It’s kind of appropriate to praise Him for these surprises during the month of Purim. After all, the holiday celebrates a series of surprising events in which God shows attention to details that we could never orchestrate.
Somewhere in Belarus
Our missionary reports, “I first met Anatoly in 2011, right after my return to Belarus. Though he said he was an atheist, Anatoly took our literature and promised to come to the Shabbat meeting. I visited him a few more times and it did not seem he was moving any closer to faith. After a while, we stopped meeting. It’s been about a year since our last visit.
“I recently went to see the leader of a Messianic congregation and, as I was walking down the hall, I heard someone call my name. I turned and there was Anatoly! It seems that after our last visit, he went to the Rosh Hashanah service at this congregation. That night not only began the Jewish New Year, but Anatoly’s new life. He told me he had been attending that congregation ever since, and now he was preparing to be baptized. He thanked me for my persistence in bringing the truth about God prior to that Rosh Hashanah service. ‘You are my godfather, because you sowed in me the seeds of God’s Word, which grew not only in my heart, but also in my wife’s heart!’ That encouraged and inspired me very much. Pray for Anatoly to grow in faith in Messiah!”
Kata Tar reports: “I was invited to speak at two Lutheran churches in a small country town 168 miles east of Budapest – rarely would I expect to find any Jewish people in such a setting. So I was amazed when a most unexpected thing happened – three as yet unbelieving Jewish people came to the church meetings, including the president and vice president of a synagogue, and a Jewish lady who traveled all the way from Budapest to hear Jews for Jesus. With the synagogue leaders, Gábor* and Zsuzsa,* I only had the chance for a short polite conversation, but they happily received our literature. Éva*, however, was an old friend of the pastor and we had a meal with her and spoke heart-to-heart. She received our Survivor Stories DVD. Please pray for these precious people who came to hear about the Jewish Messiah.
Oded Cohen reports, “During our follow-up from the Behold Your God Negev campaign, Bimini and I arranged to meet with an elderly lady who told us she lives alone. When we got there, we were very surprised to find her adult daughter and son there. At first it was awkward, because we weren’t sure what she had told her children about our visit (many Jewish people are sensitive about family members knowing they are interested in Jesus.) We quickly discovered this woman had no such reservations as she said, ‘Come sit, tell me what you want to tell me.’ We began to explain the gospel and, before long, the daughter joined in the conversation and we shared with her as well.
“The son was in the kitchen, but apparently he was listening too, because he came to correct something his sister had said about the Bible. We commented on his knowledge of the Bible. He explained that he’d been Orthodox in the past, but only because he was pressured into it. We got to share with him as well. We began a wonderful relationship with all three of them. The mother assured us she is adopting us, and since we are now family she wants to cook a big meal for us next time we come! Please pray for salvation for this woman and her two grown children.”
Stephen Pacht reports, “People are surprised to hear that I am a full-time missionary in Switzerland. After all there are officially only 20,000 Jews in Switzerland. But that is potentially a lot of Jewish people for one missionary! Almost all the Jews I have met are strongly attached to their Jewish identity, yet they are also strongly atheist. They may not be comfortable with the idea of Jews believing in Jesus, but several have been willing to talk, unlike most rabbis and Orthodox Jews I meet.
“So imagine my surprise when an Orthodox rabbi phoned me expressing his desire to meet. Initially, I didn’t believe him. ‘You are a rabbi?’ I queried. ‘Yes’ he repeated. ‘So you must be a liberal rabbi?’ ‘No, an Orthodox rabbi’ he replied. ‘I suppose you have smicha (ordination), but are not the rabbi of a particular synagogue?’ ‘No, I am the rabbi of a well known Orthodox synagogue near X.’ ‘And why are you calling me?’ I asked. His answer was even more surprising.
“I am concerned that Jews believing in Jesus should be represented in Jewish forums. Dialogue amongst Jews should involve the whole range of Jewish beliefs and tendencies.” He again reiterated his desire to meet me. I told him that I would be delighted and would call back shortly. He sounded genuine, but I really wasn’t sure. I then checked via the Internet and confirmed his phone number, email and other details. Indeed, I had been speaking to the rabbi of a well-known synagogue. Rabbi David* expressed no indication of personal interest in Jesus, but, in my experience, those representing the media or organizations rarely contact us unless there is an element of personal interest.
“We met a week later in a café. Rabbi David looked uneasy in his black suit. He had removed his wide rimmed black hat and was sporting a kippa (skullcap). He had pushed his payot (side-locks) behind his ears and was glancing nervously at the people seated at the tables around us. He ordered a coffee and, as he sipped it, explained half apologetically that he would not usually take this milk, as it wasn’t kosher. In fact, he was officially in town to buy kosher milk for his wife!
“He had been a rabbi in Israel and a teacher in a yeshiva, but he began to develop unorthodox views about God which had alarmed his colleagues. Some had suggested he could stay on as long as his teaching and practice remained Orthodox and his thoughts remained hidden. Others said he should go. Finally, he left with his wife and children and settled, first in the USA and then in Switzerland.
“David was carrying a book about Jesus by a Jew called Constantin Brunner, who wrote in Germany in the 1920s. My excitement at discovering a Jew writing favorably about Jesus faded as David explained that Brunner’s ‘Jesus’ was a supreme spiritual being and mystic. This was how David saw Jesus, and he, too, had come to believe in Brunner’s translation of that famous Jewish Scripture and prayer, the Shema. Brunner substituted the word ‘being’ for Lord: ‘Hear O Israel, Being is our god, Being is one.’
“I was shocked and surprised, having never heard this rendering of the Shema until that day,yet having heard that phrase just a couple of hours earlier. Before meeting Rabbi David, I had visited Inge, a colorful and spritely 91-year-old who has been married, divorced and widowed three times. She is a secular Jew from Vienna, and as we talked she explained that ‘Being is our god.’ For both David and Inge, the Shema did not express belief in the One God who created the heavens and the earth. Both believe that all of humanity is part of a universal godhead. Neither recognizes that they are sinners before the Holy One of Israel. But both want to talk further. Inge travels extensively and is only occasionally in Switzerland. Amazingly, David has invited me to meet his congregation and so we are due to see one another again soon. Again, this is quite a surprising opportunity. Please pray for wisdom for me, and that the Spirit of God would convict Inge and David of sin, judgment and salvation in Christ."
*not their real names