26 June 2014

Dugit On The Street

“Recently, I was informed by the Landlord of Dugit Centre that we have to pack our books and coffee and move out...” 
This was the shocking news that Avi Mizrachi, the director of Dugit, received when he met the Landlord with the expectation to renew their lease on a small shop front in busy central Tel Aviv a few months ago.  Finding a new place takes time and the Centre had to close within the month, so there was only one thing they could do - take Dugit to the street!

Israelis are hungry and searching for the truth and Dugit experienced that first hand as they joined the Haifa Outreach campaign last December, giving  out thousands of Bibles and literature. As the days get longer and the sun gets hotter, Israelis begin to relax and have more time to sit, talk, and listen to the Good News.  With the summer months rolling in, it is the perfect time to have more of a presence on the street in Tel Aviv’s beach front metropolis.

“Street evangelism is an amazing way to meet many more people who are open and interested. Our Dugit evangelism team has already developed a new summer schedule that will have them praying together and going to the streets almost on a daily basis. We will also continue collaborating with the efforts of other congregations in our area. It is a great way to

19 June 2014

The Shame of Survival

Mike* is a survivor.  But first he was a victim.  In Mike’s case, he was the victim of hatred - not that he knew the perpetrator of the crime against him - just that when Mike was driving home one day, the man who released the entire contents of his fully loaded machine gun into his face, simply hated who Mike was.  You see, Michael is Jewish. 

Some bullets pierced Michael’s brain.  He lost his sight for three weeks.  Today he still has shrapnel in his brain and the agony of glass in his eyes.  But he doesn't complain about it.  Instead Michael spoke of his Abba b’Shemayim, his Father in Heaven.  “He is enough for me.  With the help of God we now have two children.  It took us 8 years and then God healed.  We have children thanks to God.  We lack for nothing.  We have food on the table.  We trust Him.  It will be alright in His time.  He is our King.  He is good.  We believe in miracles.

“My wife is a righteous woman.  I wish that I could give her more.  But she understands.  She does not complain.  We have food.  That is enough.”

Underneath the physical impact of Michael’s ordeal, lies a deeper and more difficult scar to respond to.  He lives with the memory of the attack against him.  He lives with the fear, the inability to leave the house, to drive, to sleep without waking up screaming.  And he also lives with the shame.   Michael could have received benefits and help, but he did not register himself as a terror survivor.  Wouldn't one be happy, if not proud that they had survived despite the odds against them?

It seems strange to us that someone who survives should carry such a burden - why shame?  Arnold Roth, a  speaker at the Walk With Me forum in Jerusalem, shared the experiences of his own family after their daughter was murdered by a ‘human bomb’.  He spoke of the silence in his home, the difficulty of coming to terms with the loss of your child.  He spoke of the impact it had on his neighbours, how some of them crossed the street when they saw him coming.  His neighbours did not know how to respond, so no words were better than the wrong words.  Arnold began to feel isolated from his community, as people avoided contact for fear of coming too close to the terror.  They were afraid of contamination by association, of having their own loved ones ripped away from them, as if terror attacks were a disease that could be ‘caught’.

“A victim has to ask themselves the morning after the event, “What do I do now?””, said Roth.  “What must you do if you are trying to get back to normal life?  This is something all victims have to face and experience.  We can’t respond in kind and blow yourself up somewhere.  You cannot try to ‘understand’ the terrorists who were so angry and full of hate.  The people we loved who were murdered, are not statistics to us.  For the victims, the world will never be the same.  As onlookers, this takes time to realise."

It is very rare to find a victim of terror enraged and wanting revenge.  For the most part they are concerned with greater things, like how to care for and protect their family.  Roth highlighted the point that when convicted terrorists are released by Governments because of prisoner swaps and other political agendas, they are not upset because they want vengeance like the media reports.   They are afraid for their families now that the one who murdered their daughter, their husband, their mother, is free to do so again.

“Terror is not a political struggle”, Roth continued. “ It is driven by hatred, where one wants to destroy the other, rather than build something good.  The usual response by families I know who have suffered loss through a terror attack, is to do something to reduce the level of hatred, not increase it.”

And this is the very mandate of Springs of Hope, to reduce the fear, the shame, the trauma, by bringing hope and healing to terror victims’ families and terror survivors.  In March this year they hosted a special banquet for the Feast of Esther, the annual Purim celebration.  And this year, Michael came with his wife and family.  It was the first time they have gone out

12 June 2014

The Harvest - a work in progress

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37,38

Training up workers for the harvest is one of the key aims of 'Katzir' - a youth camp for Israeli teenagers. The roots of this gathering began in 1996 when leaders of a youth ministry in the USA with a vision to encourage Israeli youth, began travelling to Israel each summer for a few weeks of intense worship and fellowship with local youth. "I was invited to a youth event, sponsored by a dedicated ministry from abroad and conducted in English." said Messianic leader Eitan Shishkoff, "I saw kids raising their hands high in surrender to the Lord. I saw the broad smiles on their faces and their tender tears of repentance. I knew these young people needed this type of gathering in an Israeli, Hebrew-language format." As this initiative grew and developed, Israeli leaders caught the vision and strengthened it with their support and oversight. It began to develop a more indigenous flavour and soon the Americans knew it was time to step back and release it to fly on its own.  

Now, 'Katzir' (Hebrew for 'Harvest') is a national, Messianic youth ministry, overseen by a board of Israeli congregational leaders. Camps are held 3 times a year - at Hannukah in the winter, Passover in the Spring, and for a week during the summer holidays. Over the years, hundreds of Messianic teenagers have been inspired, challenged and equipped through the ministry of Katzir. Now grown-up, many of them return to Katzir as leaders and counselors to sow back into the new generation of youth attending the camps. 

Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus) are a small minority in Israeli society. Many of these teenagers are the only believer in their school so these intimate, focused gatherings help them to connect with other youth who understand the struggles of being in a similar situation. This is their time to connect with believing peers from around the nation and to share their concerns, encourage each other in their faith and pray for each other. The camps cater for about 100 kids and combine Bible study, learning to have consistent quiet times, youth-led worship, inspiring messages, art, drama and dance, mixed with lots of fun, outdoor activities and fellowship. The friendships built at these camps last a lifetime.

Many of the young Israelis attending Katzir are passionate and hungry for a deeper encounter with the Lord. One of the week long summer camps focused on 'Changing Gears' - getting back to the simple things in the midst of a fast-paced, technological world. Outdoor hikes and activities helped the kids to unwind from the stresses of modern living and to appreciate the simple beauty of nature. Physical challenges taught them to work together: to trust and rely on each other. They cooked their own food over campfires in the forest and worshiped without complicated sound systems. At the end of the week the teenagers stood in prayer circles, arms around each other as they asked for God's blessing on their lives as they returned to their home towns and cities. 

In the words of the youth attending:

"This has been a difficult period of my life

04 June 2014

It's Pentecost, but not as we know it!

What was the Day of Pentecost?

If you were asked, 'What was the Day of Pentecost? - you would be correct if you said it was the time when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. That was a specific and very important Pentecost, but that's not the whole story.  The celebration of the Feast of Pentecost had been going on since the time of Moses. The Feast of Pentecost, or in Hebrew 'Shavuot', was a harvest festival directly related to Passover, and also one of the three annual pilgrimage festivals when the people of Israel were commanded to go up to Jerusalem to present offerings at the Temple.

The Greek word 'Pentecost' means fifty and refers to the fifty days or seven weeks between the presentation of the first fruits of the barley harvest, and then the later wheat harvest at the temple in Jerusalem.
"From the day after the Sabbath, the day you brought the sheaf of the wave offering, count off seven full weeks. Count off fifty days up to the day after the seventh Sabbath, and then present an offering of new grain to the Lord. From wherever you live, bring two loaves made of four pounds of the finest flour, baked with yeast, as a wave offering of first fruits to the Lord". Leviticus 23:15-17
The Hebrew word 'Shavuot' means weeks and refers to the seven weeks whereas the Greek word Pentecost focuses on the fifty days. Both words refer to the same Biblical Feast in different languages.

It was on this day, when Jerusalem was teaming with Jewish pilgrims presenting their offerings at the Temple, that the Lord chose to send down the Holy Spirit.

Where did the Day of Pentecost happen? 

Every year, Jewish pilgrims went up to Jerusalem to celebrate Shavuot/Pentecost. So, there is no question about the fact that the annual feast and the specific moment the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit, both took place in Jerusalem. The question is whereabouts in Jerusalem? Luke states in the Book of Acts that "They were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting." (Acts 2:2) Traditionally, it has been thought that the disciples were gathered together in a house in Jerusalem, the previous chapter mentions them returning to the upper room of a house where they were staying - maybe even the upper room used for the Passover meal they shared before the crucifixion. It is often assumed the 'sound like a violent wind' and  'tongues of fire' happened within the confines of this room and the crowd gathered outside this house. Some theologians however, have suggested that the evidence of events that follow, point to the disciples being somewhere much larger than a house in one of Jerusalem's overcrowded streets. It is possible they were gathered together in the courts of the Temple and that the Pentecost outpouring happened before the eyes of the thousands of Jewish pilgrims in the Temple area as they celebrated the Feast of Shavuot/Pentecost.

The House: Could they really be in the Temple when Luke writes that the sound filled the whole house? In Hebrew there is a tradition of calling the Temple 'The House' or the House of the Lord. In fact, Jerusalem was sometimes referred to as 'Har HaBeit' (The mountain of the House). So Luke's use of this word may not have referred to a private home but rather the House of the Lord.

The Temple, Jerusalem
The Disciples and the Feast of Shavuot: Just before he ascended to heaven, Jesus instructed the disciples to remain in Jerusalem.  Luke reports, "While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.  And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God."  Luke 24:51-53. If they were continually at the Temple, praising God, it would make sense that they would be there especially on one of the great Holy Days when hundreds of others had come up to the Temple in Jerusalem to Praise God. Other ancient documents describe the Temple mount serving as a centre for the study of the Torah. A colonnaded porch that surrounded the court of the Gentiles was a popular place for teachers to gather with their disciples and could well have been the place the disciples were congregated.

The Crowds: Jewish pilgrims from all around the Roman world were in Jerusalem at the time and were amazed to hear the disciples speaking in their own languages. The Bible says that a crowd came together. Peter raised his voice to address them and proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. During the Feast of Shavuot, people would be gathered at the Temple so it would be easy for a crowd to witness this spectacle and gather around the disciples. The scenario suggests a public place large enough to hold a huge crowd of people - the Temple would certainly fulfil this criteria.

Temple Mikvah, Jerusalem
The Immersions: The Shavuot pilgrims are deeply touched by what they see and hear as Peter leads them through the Hebrew scriptures explaining what just took place. Luke records that those who accepted Peter's message were baptized (immersed in water) and about three thousand were added to their number that day. Many ritual immersion pools have been excavated around the southern and western sides of the Temple mount. Immersion was not a new concept and these pools (Mikvah/Mikvot in Hebrew), were for the pilgrims to spiritually cleanse themselves before approaching the Temple, the place of God's presence. Many pools were needed to accommodate the vast crowds who descended on the Temple during the Biblical Feasts. Here, was probably the only place in Jerusalem that could cope with immersing three thousand new believers in one day!