Meet Our New Trainees!

Crystal Buchhalter remembers that when she was very young she had a children’s Bible that included the New Testament. This was strange as her mother raised her to observe the Jewish religion. In any case, Jesus became one of many Bible heroes Crystal admired.

When she was nine years old, Crystal began Hebrew school and felt sure that this was the path to whatever God had planned for her life. (She already sensed that He had something important for her to do.) Hebrew school was a whole world of activity and involvement, and it opened up opportunities, not only to study, but to sing. Not long after Crystal joined the children’s choir, the cantor (who sings all the prayers and liturgy for synagogue services) took her under his wing.

Crystal excelled in her Hebrew studies and in her music. She went from the children’s choir to the junior choir, and became the junior cantor for the children’s High Holiday services as soon as she was Bat Mitzvah. About that time, her father (who is not Jewish) and brother became born again believers in Jesus—and Crystal saw her father dramatically change for the better. Even her Jewish mother began going to church . . . and Crystal learned that she had started believing in Jesus in part through the witness of a babysitter when Crystal was a toddler. The mystery of the children’s Bible with New Testament was solved!

Just as all this was happening, Crystal became disturbed by some of the things being taught in her high school religious classes. A guest rabbi came to teach about safe sex, and her own youth rabbi explained that only people who were nanve believed that Bible stories such as the creation had actually happened. Crystal knew that she had experienced God through the Bible and was distressed to hear it minimized in synagogue.

A couple of months later, Crystal’s aunt and uncle (on her father’s side) invited her to a Christian concert. There she responded to the altar call. A year later she was baptized and became very active in her church, while at the same time she worked in the synagogue as a cantorial soloist.

Halfway through college, Crystal became aware of Jews for Jesus and of a Messianic congregation called Shema Yisrael, founded and led by Loren Jacobs, a former Jews for Jesus missionary. Eventually and with regret, the synagogue fired her because there had been complaints that Crystal’s religious convictions disqualified her as a synagogue employee.

Crystal met her husband-to-be, Jews for Jesus staffer Shaun Buchhalter, through the Detroit Behold Your God campaign. She finished her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Michigan. She and Shaun (then working in our San Francisco branch) were married in June 2005, and Crystal applied to join our missionary staff the following January. She and Shaun left San Francisco in June 2006, participated in the BYG finale and now reside in Manhattan.

As Crystal goes through missionary training, she has the advantage of being a fairly recent graduate from college—and she was a good student. However, this is Crystal’s second cross-country move since she and Shaun married, so do please pray as she continues to adjust to life in New York (Shaun was born and raised there) and to balance making a new home with the intense schedule of a trainee.

Elisheva R grew up in a Jewish believing home, as an “MK” (missionary kid). Her parents, Marcia and Baruch, met through Jews for Jesus and are part of our history, having helped establish the ministry. They served with us some 20 years before moving on. Liz attended both churches and Messianic congregations throughout her childhood. She was four years old when she asked Jesus into her heart, and she grew fairly steadily in her faith until she was 13. At that point Liz experienced painful trials and difficulties that led to doubts and a great deal of anger for the course of a year. However, during a youth session at a conference of believers, Liz sensed God speaking to her and began to trust Him again.

In high school, Liz’s faith flourished and she became close friends with other strong believers. She also began volunteering with Jews for Jesus through Camp Gilgal and Halutzim. Most of the children and youth in these programs were raised in Jewish believing homes. In addition to that common denominator, Liz found that some faced the very hardships that had challenged her own faith, putting her in a unique position to minister to them. Liz says that somewhere between high school and college, she knew that God was calling her into full-time ministry. After high school, Liz enrolled in Hunter College in Manhattan (where she graduated with a bachelor’s in art history). During her college years she continued to gain experience in youth work with Jews for Jesus. She also worked as an adjunct lecturer at Hunter, teaching biology. For a time she served as an au pair/assistant who not only cared for her boss’ children, but helped to edit her Ph.D. thesis!

Liz is an adventurer, and following her graduation she planned a trip abroad to Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. On her return, she began praying about where God wanted her to serve. She agreed to direct Camp Gilgal East, which also included a week of teen adventure camp, and applied to serve with us as a missionary trainee with a specialty in children’s and youth work.

Liz has lived in New York and knows her way around quite well, so we don’t need to pray for her adjustment to the city. And, as with Crystal, she’s a recent college graduate who did very well with her studies. Like all the trainees, she will need prayer to keep focused and spiritually fit through the various challenges of training.

Ofer Levy is a sabra (native Israeli) from Jerusalem. Yet he is well acquainted with the United States, having traveled back and forth to visit his father, who lives in Washington, DC.

Ofer grew up in a secular home, as do many Israelis, but was Bar Mitzvah and celebrated holidays and Shabbat with his grandparents from time to time. He explains, “I was well aware of my Jewish heritage and the Bible as a part of our history as a people. But I did not accept it as God’s Word or attribute any divine significance to it.”

Ofer says he knew “all kinds of people,” including believers in Jesus, from whom he sensed a special kind of warmth and loving kindness. This was in contrast to how he saw himself—a rebellious young man, full of anger and bitterness, unable to let go of grudges. He says, “I was ungrateful and self-centered until I realized I was headed for destruction and there was no way I could save myself from . . . myself!”

It was then that Ofer wanted to know if God cared for him. He wanted God to heal his broken heart. He wanted to let go of his restlessness and sin. God responded to those desires of Ofer’s heart by planting in him another desire—to know more about Jesus: what He said, what He did . . . who He was.

In the meantime, Ofer’s wife-to-be Sarah, rededicated her life to the Lord. She had been raised in a Messianic home, and when she returned to her faith, this made Jesus even more of an issue for Ofer.

Ofer read the Gospel of John and believed Jesus’ promise, that through His death on the cross and by His resurrection, He would set free any who trusted in Him.

He says, “The Messiah’s peace came to dwell in my heart and finally He took all of my anger, grudgeholding and dissatisfaction off my shoulders.” That was in the summer of 2004.

Ofer was working in security when he began to help with some of our outreaches in Tel Aviv. He came in contact with our ministry through Dan Sered (who now leads our Tel Aviv branch) and through his brother-in-law Aaron (who is our Minister-At-Large). Ofer applied as an outreach worker with us and was accepted following the BYG New York finale. He was part of the Israeli team for that campaign, and in addition to handing out broadsides, he drew crowds with his blues harmonica playing. In fact, one man heard the music from two blocks away and came to make a contribution. He was surprised (and a little disappointed) to find that Ofer would not accept the money, but was there to tell people about Jesus!

Ofer and Sarah have a son, Ely, a toddler. Please pray for their family as they adjust to life in New York, and as Ofer balances time as a husband and father with his new studies.

Ze’ev is also a sabra, born in Jerusalem and raised in a secular home. Since he can remember, he says, he lived his life “in the normal, secular Israeli way.” After completing his army service, he started to work in an advertising agency as a copywriter. A few years later he moved to London and began to study sound engineering and post-production.

One day while riding a bus, Ze’ev saw a store with an unusual sign: Jews for Jesus. He says, “The sign got my attention. I couldn’t understand how the word ‘Jews’ and the word ‘Jesus’ could be on the same sign.” Every time Ze’ev passed by the store, he wondered what it could mean. It was more than two years later that he found himself walking down that road, past that sign. It was Sunday and the store was closed. Ze’ev looked through the window and saw Bible verses, Scriptures, written in Hebrew. Suddenly, his eyes lit on a little book with a Hebrew title: “The New Testament.” It was too much for his curiosity. “The next day,” he says, “I returned to the store. There I met a very nice young Israeli man, Aaron Abramson (yes, the same A.A. as mentioned in Ofer’s story). He told me that Jesus, whose Hebrew name is Y’shua, is the promised Jewish Messiah, from the seed of David.”

Ze’ev decided to investigate the matter. He says, “In order to believe in God, the Bible as the Word of God, and especially that Y’shua is the Messiah, I needed clear proof.” During the next three months, he read the Bible and a few other books that Aaron gave him. It was really the first time that he had read the Bible with the goal of understanding if it was true or false. Ze’ev says, “I was shocked to find a huge amount of prophecies in ‘our own’ Jewish Bible that point directly to Y’shua as the Messiah. The fulfillment of the Bible prophecies concerning the life of Y’shua, His death and His resurrection convinced me that the Bible is true. As a result I came to the shocking conclusion—there is a God! And not just that, but God loved us so much that He was willing to send His Son Y’shua to die for our sins, give us forgiveness and eternal life.”

For three months, Ze’ev met with Aaron to read and discuss the Word of God. One cloudy day while they were sitting in a cafT, he prayed, he says, for the first time in his life: “I invited Y’shua to come into my heart, to be my Messiah and my very best friend.” That was in December 1999.

Ze’ev returned to Israel in 2000, where he met his wife-to-be, Rachel. Rachel was raised in a believing home; her father is Jewish and her mother is Gentile. They have a daughter Leyah, who is just about 20 months old.

Following his return to Israel, Ze’ev contacted our Tel Aviv branch and involved himself in our evangelistic efforts. He completed an internship with us, and like Ofer, he applied to be an outreach worker and was accepted following his participation on the Israeli team of BYG New York.

We hope you will pray for Ze’ev’s family during training in New York and especially that Rachel and Leyah will feel part of the community while Ze’ev keeps the rigorous schedule of a trainee.


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