Greetings, in the name of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Living God. I tell you my friends, this past month has been one of the most insightful trips I have ever experienced. On February 20th, Jesse and I departed the United States enroute to the JEWISH STATE of Israel. I marvel that Gentiles from the opposite side of the world can board a plane and travel to a nation of Jewish people in the land promised to Abraham about 4000 years ago, Eretz Israel (the Land of Israel). And, when I considers the events that have transpired from Abraham until now, the remains of which are scattered all over Israel, I cannot escape the reality of Elohim's faithfulness to the Jewish people. Jesse and I spent about five weeks in Israel, so my mind is still reeling as I try to process everything we experienced from Dan to Beersheba, from Eilat to Metula. Politics and religion in Jerusalem, the city life of Tel Aviv, the serenity of the Galilee, the emptiness of the Negev . . . what you see in modern-day Israel offers incredible insight into Jewish life as it is today and what it has been throughout Biblical history. This summer will mark another season of outreach amongst Israeli backpackers, and I cannot wait to see all of the ways God uses my experiences in Israel to open doors for declaring Yeshua Ha'Messiah.
I really must thank the LORD before I go any further. My God, my King, I thank Thee with all that is within me. Praise be to His name, Jehovah Adonai! It really was an absolute pleasure landing in Israel. God allowed me to go there after three years of private prayer. I have sought the Lord about sharing the gospel with Jewish people in the land of Messiah’s birth before I go, whether in spirit or body, to meet my Savior in the air. Proverbs 13 says that when the desire of a man is accomplished it is sweet to his soul but that foolish men consider it an abomination to depart from evil. What a contrast! Oh dear Christian, do you enjoy the sweet savor of worthy and righteous accomplishments in this life? It is a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 5:18-20).
So, Jesse and I landed in Tel Aviv, and as an introduction to the country we did a week-long tour to various places around Galilee and Jerusalem. God provided this chance of a lifetime in a very special way, and I am very grateful to those who were involved in arranging this. Entering the country this way allowed us to get our bearings straight. It gave us a clear compass for where we needed to spend our time and for what we ought to avoid. It was very interesting to me as the land unfolded before my eyes. I have read so many Biblical narratives about the cities and mountains in this land with a type of veil over my imagination. Words can paint pictures, but seeing is honestly much more rewarding. To see what life is like in Israel now is a completely different subject, but getting a firsthand view of it all feels like sight-giving balm being placed upon my eyes. I continue to meet so many Israelis around the world. Across our conversations, I have tried to understand the lives they lead from day to day and get an idea of everything they allude to in their stories. Thankfully, I now have some experiences of my own to help me relate to what these have been telling me for so long.
One day, up in Jerusalem, we woke up early and headed straight for the Temple Mount. Access to the Temple Mount is regulated by a Jordanian organization of Muslims. So, if you are a Muslim, you can enter any of the gates you want to enter, and you can leave any of the gates you would like to leave. For Jews and other non Muslims, there is a strange wooden walkway leading up to the Temple Mount on the western side just south of the Wailing Wall that restricts entrance to only a few hours a day. Jews and other non Muslims can only enter here and can only exit through specific gates. Muslims can come and go wherever they please. While on the Temple Mount, you are not allowed to pray or carry any religious books except for Islamic material. Anyhow, you get the picture. While Jesse and I were up there, we could see the Muslims enjoying their "authority" with the typical Islamic haughtiness. It was fairly quiet, though, and not too many people were milling around. Suddenly, however, we heard that dreadful chant, “Allahu akbar!” As we looked around, we noticed a small group of Jews huddled together and walking through the courtyard. As each successive group of Jews would visit the Temple Mount and walk through the courtyard, they would be greeted with the loud screams of Muslim girls igniting a chain reaction throughout the courtyard for everyone to start chanting an intimidating “Allah hu akbar.” The Muslims would also spit at them, curse them, and spew out threats. Oftentimes, when this happens, the Jews will get pelted with stones. As one group of Jewish people passed near us, a few older men and some ladies, Jesse turned to them and said “God bless you guys. God bless Israel.” Immediately, a tall Muslim "security guard" rushed over to us and demanded that we apologize to him and give respect to Islam. When we answered with a staunch and blunt negative, he had us escorted off of the Temple Mount. Experiences like this gave me a very clear picture of what Israeli Jews have to put up with on a regular basis. Now I can understand what they are talking about when they tell me about the Palestinian lies told in the media; I can relate to the frustrations they have over the multitude of religious groups; and I can speak more specifically to the oppositions given me while I present the gospel to Israelis overseas.
For healthy measures, I should tell you that our journey also had some real downers. It was really a joy to visit Israel, and I am continually fascinated by all things Jewish; but please do not draw a strange sensationalism from anything I share with you. That is very dangerous, and I have encountered plenty that throw sobriety to the wind for sensational intrigue when it comes to Jewish people and Judaism’s traditions in particular. As with EVERY missionary journey there are natural problems that arise (e.g. like my luggage not showing up in Israel after already having suffered horrendous delays in Istanbul because of a freak snowstorm); and there are the devilish attacks that come our way in an attempt to destroy the work that God is putting together. Real missionaries have to consider the difficulties associated with the work of the Gospel. If you cannot endure endless hardships, then you will not make it on the mission field. Brothers and sisters, please pray for all of the faithful missionaries you know. Sharing the Gospel is as simple as uttering a few words into the ears of a sinner. But, on the other hand, all that goes into bringing that Gospel to sinners around the world is extremely difficult work. As I read through the Scriptures, I see how Israel has had its share of devils and demons in the past. And now as I reflect back upon my own time over there, I wonder to myself if we did not have to fight some of those same devils ourselves. I'm not going to go into detail about all of the stressful heartaches and bizarre situations we had to deal with in Israel just as such things do not get published or reported from other journeys. But, we do always covet your prayers; and we know these are a source of help during those difficult times.
One of my main reasons for traveling to Israel was to immerse myself among the people and culture that I am trying to reach with the Gospel. A part of that immersion is to connect with local churches and Christians that can further tend to the seeds that I plant in people’s lives. One of the most valuable resources that we found while in Israel will be something new for me over in India in Nepal. I was told about an Israeli website maintained completely by Messianic Israelis. I was able to meet with one of the creators of the website and go over some things with him so that I can point others to the website when I engage Israelis around the world. It is a very thorough and user-friendly resource concerning typical objections Jewish people have to believing Jesus is the Messiah. It is so well-known in Israel that even the anti-missionary societies have called it a "spearhead for converting Jews to Christianity." There are about 100 videos on this site, and about half of them can be viewed with English subtitles. To see some of them yourself, or to familiarize yourself with this valuable resource for possible future witnessing opportunities, follow this link: http://www.oneforisrael.org/messiah/.
Here's a sample of one of the teaching videos. Great stuff!
After Jesse and I finished our tour, we decided we could make the best use of our time and resources by securing an economic rental car to move about the country. Even though gas fell out to about $6.50/gallon, this option was ultimately cheaper and far more convenient than waiting on buses or navigating unfamiliar territory on foot with all of our luggage, Gospel materials, and Hebrew Bibles in tow. Moreover, it insured that we could cover ever corner of the country, and that we did--from Eilat on the Red Sea all the way up to Metula on the Lebanese border, from the Jordan River Valley in the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west, and, or course, many places in between. We even spent a day in Taba, Egypt, tracting that windswept outpost in the Sinai desert. It's always fun to tag another country for the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ. I think Egypt brought the FPGM total up to 46 countries. Praise God.
Traveling around was even better since Jesse brought his trusty Mountain Hardwear tent, a nylon dome that has been staked in many, many places around the world. It’s not as cozy as a hotel, but you sure can’t beat the price! And, the rubber-tramping ultimately set up some great opportunities to talk to Israeli backpackers about the Gospel. One place we slept for a couple of nights was right on the eastern shore of Sea of Galilee, not far from where Jesus cast out Legion into the herd of swine. I won’t go into the sentimental value of sleeping alongside waters where our Lord did such a tremendous amount of His own ministry, but just think, two thousand years later the Spirit of God is reaching out to Jewish people in the exact same places! Okay, I had to get a little sentimental after all. Anyway, at that particular campsite, we ended up sharing with a few groups of Israelis who seemed to really appreciate our testimonies. They took Hebrew Gospel tracts and offered some advice for where we should go next. Once, while we were pulling out of the parking lot, we saw two young men hitchhiking with all of their gear strapped to their backs. They asked us to take them to the next town so we all crammed into our little Mazda together and Jesse turned on some Messianic Jewish music for the ride. It was a great chance to talk with them about the Lord. When we dropped them off near an intersection, one of them gladly received a New Testament before saying goodbye. Occasions like that are precious memories of time well spent in Etrez Israel. And there were many, many such occasions.
The Lord really gave us freedom there in Israel. We took that little car from the very bottom of Israel all the way to the top. And then, we went up through the Golan Heights and around the Galilee and out to the Mediterranean coast. Then, back to the Galilee . . . After you spend a couple of weeks seeing the entire country, you realize just how small it is! I’m in North Carolina right now, and this state alone is nearly seven times bigger than Israel, yet Israel’s population is about eighty percent of North Carolina’s. In other words, that’s a whole lot of people crammed into a very small space. Oh, and the whole bottom half of Israel is a near-empty desert! Tell me again why the entire Middle East, about four hundred thirty-seven times bigger than Israel, wants Israel to give away all of it’s land? Simply put, it's because Islam teaches and demands the death and destruction of the Jewish people.
Traveling around Israel is pretty interesting. You can see the high tension surrounding all of her borders, and everywhere you look, there is evidence of conflict between Jews and Arabs. Sadly, many Jewish people have to suffer a constant threat of being stoned, shot, randomly stabbed, run over by a Muslim using their car as a weapon, or kidnapped for an outrageously unbalanced ransom negotiation. To be fair in the matter I will admit that there are Arabs suffering as well. There are Arabs suffering under the governments that they have collectively chosen for themselves. The authorities in Palestinian areas live like kings while the regular people live in a poverty that, in my opinion, is no where close to the type of poverty seen in places like India, Nepal, or Bangladesh. After having seen first hand what goes on over there, I can understand why many Israelis have expressed high levels of anxiety and hopelessness when talking about the military. Most of the people I encounter overseas are about 21 to 25. And, many of them have held stations in hostile areas while serving there mandatory 2-3 year conscription in the Israeli Defense Forces. What a stressful way to spend early adulthood! To be honest, I felt totally safe everywhere I went in Israel. The military does a fantastic job of keeping the citizens safe there. But, there really never is true peace in Israel. As soon as one war or “conflict” is over, you simply stock up and anticipate the next one. As you pray for the peace of Jerusalem tonight, please think about what you are praying. Peace in Israel and the silence of all the bickering political heads can only come when the Messiah returns. He will lay claim to all that belongs to Him and fix the whole mess. That is the one and only solution. Pray for true peace in the heart of the Jewish people as you pray for Jerusalem. Jeremiah 31 beautifully declares that God has made a new covenant with the house of Israel and only through Jesus the Messiah can any Jewish person ever be included in that covenant.
Of course, even though the trip was more of a learning experience and a chance to better equip myself to minister to Israelis abroad, we used this wonderful opportunity to reach out to Israelis there in the land. As Christians, we know the Scriptures to be clear about loving the Jewish people. And, God has a certain love toward them that no one else can receive. But, do not make your affections for Jewish people a superficial adoration whereby you ignore their sins. Isaiah the prophet had an immense amount of love for his countrymen, but His command from God was to tell the people of their transgressions against God (Isaiah 58:1). Anyone reading through a Siddur, a Jewish pre-scripted prayer book, will see great swelling praise for God. It would seem as though something good is coming from modern Judaism. It is not so. God uncovers the sins of the people and helps us understand the real hypocrisy of Judaism. Isaiah 29:13 reads: “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men.”
As we traveled around the country, we were able to put out a good number of Hebrew and English Gospel tracts. And, as much as language would permit, we would try talking to people one-on-one about the Lord. Not all of the Israelis speak English, but a significant number of them do. One thing you have to learn about Israeli culture is how they interact socially. It can be quite a shock to foreigners. Sometimes it is perceived as rude, and sometimes it just is rude, but Israelis have a wonderful way of using Chutzpah (speaking your mind) to express themselves. I have mostly adjusted to it; and I honestly enjoy it. As an introvert, something I was not prepared for was the ease of being able to approach strangers with a time-consuming conversation. One afternoon down in the small Jewish enclave in Hebron--in the heart of the West Bank and outside the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah--Jesse and I approached a man selling books for Kabbalah out of a little trailer. Even with our opposing arguments, the man was more than willing to talk with us. He was an older gentleman, and the time with him was so different than talking with Jewish people outside of Israel. It really is an entirely different ballgame. However, one thing happened that is very common with Jewish people everywhere. When the conversation turns to the Gospel, “the veil” comes up. If you ever get to share the Gospel with a Jewish person, you will very likely see a complete disruption in the conversation as soon as you reach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This older gentleman for instance was talking about how connected to God we are. And, as soon as I had quoted Isaiah 59 about our sins separating between us and God and I started saying how Jesus, the Messiah, came to bridge the gap… a handful of Orthodox Jews butted in front of me to talk to the man in Hebrew. The conversation was completely derailed and the veil went over his eyes. I have noticed that this happens more with the older generations than with the youth.
When we were down in Eilat, Jesse open-air preached on the waterfront. It was our first time to preach out in public, and I was very curious to know what would happen. While a few made harsh remarks to me as I handed out tracts, most seemed curious and appreciative. Jesse even found a few hymns to sing for the people. A group of young men came and listened to a verse and each took a book about the Messiah. On another occasion, we were able to meet up with some Israeli Christian brothers in Tel Aviv and hit the streets one night with them. Jesse followed the same pattern of preaching and singing hymns, and it really drew some looks! People were curious. The night wound down as a group of young ladies stopped to talk with us. One of them gave me so many reasons why she refuses to follow the Bible: “Jews and Gentiles are not allowed to get married.,” “Hell and Heaven are never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible,” etc. etc. Of course, these are lies taught by the rabbis, but she didn’t know the difference. At one point, I showed her Jeremiah 31:31-34 and she kept asking me over and over if it was in the T’nakh (Old Testament) or in the New Testament. You see, the Old Testament is very clear about Jesus. I do believe this girl was hiding conviction as we conversed. Please pray for her and the other people we witnessed to while in Israel. I think of a man that we met up on the Golan Heights: we asked for some directions and then gave him a tract. Later, he saw us preaching atop Mt. Gilboa and was excited to see us again. I think of an Israeli soldier down in the Tomb of the Patriarchs; she took a tract and was reading it with intent when we left. There was that group of Israeli soldiers we were able to pray over up in the West Bank, a soldier we spoke to extensively right on the Lebanese border, and a Messianic believer who was so excited when we offered her a tract at a lonely gas station down in the Negev desert. There were some Arab boys we shared with atop Mt. Tabor, some Arab school kids who took tracts from us on a trail overlooking the Sea of Galilee, an Israeli tour guide atop Mt. Bental, some folks in a busy gas station outside Maagan, and a religious man selling books and pamphlets with his wife on the streets of Tiberius. The latter was a true divine appointment, and the man took a Gospel of Luke, promising to read it. Seeds were sown and scattered, my friends. Pray for water to saturate the seeds deep within these hearts for a sure salvation to the lost sheep of Israel.
The Lord really did open up some great opportunities for us while in the country. Being there during the election season was a true open door for discussing trust in politicians versus trust in the God of Israel. On Election Day itself, we went up to Mount Gilboa for a short walk, but to our surprise: the place was totally packed. Apparently Election Day in Israel is a national holiday, so everyone uses it for a picnic or to go see the spring flowers up on Mount Gilboa! While we were up there, the Lord pressed our hearts to preach to the people. Since Israelis were flocking to the polls all over the small country, the best message in that historically significant place seemed to concern King Saul and King David and how we should not look to a man to save the country but to seek the Lord and who He has chosen. This, of course, went hand-in-hand with expressing how God does not judge according to the outward appearance but judges according to the heart. After I preached for a while, Jesse took his turn and had more than a few watching him with interest. At the end, he unexpectedly received a small round of applause. God is certainly at work in the lives of Jewish people today.
I think the last day that we were in Israel was my favorite. Not only did we spend our day walking around the Old City, but we were able to preach in the open air twice at the Jaffa Gate; and we spent some time at the Western Wall reading Scripture aloud and putting some visible notes in the wall to point people to Jesus. Preaching at the Jaffa Gate gave me such a clear view of what the prophets of the Old Testament did when they would preach repentance at the city gates. What a marvelous work the Lord has done to revive this scene again! While we preached, there were some Messianic Jews that stopped by and thanked us for what we were doing. Many people ended up taking tracts, and at the end of Jesse’s preaching, an ultra-orthodox man came up and told Jesse how good the preaching was then took a gospel tract for himself. Israel has no shortage of religious traditions. The Muslims, Drus, Orthodox Jews, Bahai, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and whatever other traditions are vying for men's souls is just nauseating. But praise God, we serve a risen Savior. And, many heard His name in the open air that date in Jerusalem.
My time in Israel was truly invaluable, and I am so grateful to all of you that made it possible. Thank you, dear brothers and sisters, for the support, prayers, and encouraging messages you send our way . May the Lord return a blessing upon you for your deeds done in the name of Jesus Christ. Looking forward, Jesse and I have a lot of work to do as we prepare for this summer in India. I will be sharing at a few churches in April and early May, so I do hope to see many of you face-to-face and enjoy fellowship in the Lord together. I consider it my privilege to report to churches about the work they are involved with through Full Proof Gospel Ministries. Also, pray for Jesse as he is handling all the logistics for our Ladakh Summer Volunteer Team. And, please lift me up as I am putting together the trainings and teachings that these will need ahead of the work. Lord willing, we will have our summer team on the ground in northern India the first week of June. Jesse and I will be heading to South Asia first, sometime in mid-May, to make preparations and to get housing set up. Jesse will then stay on for a few weeks to make sure everything is up and running. When he returns to the States around the first of July, it will just be me and the team until August 15th, and then I will finish out the season in Ladakh alone until the end of September. Then, Lord willing, it's back to Nepal for a fresh influx of Israeli backpackers there.
Anyway, I am really looking forward to leading this group of young people for the summer. Please pray that they get fully prepared for the trip themselves. And, please pray for all of our spiritual welfare and for our provision. We are representing the King of Kings and Lord of Lords; and a healthy spiritual life is vital!
Glory to the Lamb.