FOI at 75—Looking Back to See the Future
The world has come full circle. Seventy-five years ago, Adolf Hitler was gearing up the greatest killing machine the world had ever known, implementing the strategy of his book, Mein Kampf (My Struggle). Its thesis was the elimination of what he deemed the single greatest threat to civilized humanity: “the Jewish peril.”
Yet Europe and America could not convince themselves to take him at his word. For naïve British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Hitler’s issue was land; give him the Sudetenland, Chamberlain said, and there could be “peace in our time.”
That stupendous blunder was followed by the rumble of German tanks and the beginning of a war that would cost 60 million lives, bring catastrophic ruin to the cities of Europe, and obliterate more than a third of the world’s Jewish population.
England, America, and the West, all in a state of denial regarding Hitler’s intentions to slaughter the Jews, did nothing to stop him until it was too late.
You could almost hear the ancient Jewish prophet Jeremiah weeping for his people in their hour of deepest peril: “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which has been brought on me” (Lam. 1:12).
Men Who Read the Handwriting
While the halls of great governments were silent, there were those who understood and were prepared to act. Among them was a brilliant young professor in Poland who sensed the anti-Semitic tidal wave sweeping over Europe. Victor Buksbazen was fluent in eight languages and served as assistant professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at the University of Warsaw. Already the young teacher was watching the anti-Jewish rallies in Germany and hearing the songs of the Third Reich, with such lyrics as “When Jewish blood from the knife spurts, things will go better for us.”
While time was still on his side, Victor left his beloved Poland and went west. Had he not done so, he no doubt would have been among the group of intellectual Poles murdered by the Nazis after they invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.
By God’s grace, Dr. Buksbazen ultimately arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In due time he was invited to become the first general secretary of the fledgling Friends of Israel Refugee Relief Committee, founded in 1938 by a group of Christian pastors and businesspeople who had heard the cries of Europe’s Jews and were not willing to stand by silently while they were annihilated. Years later the ministry was renamed The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Inc. (FOI).
Under the capable leadership of Victor and his wife, Lydia, the organization set the course for what would grow into an incredible ministry. It burst on the scene with a unique passion, vision, and love for the Jewish people and has adapted to innovation, opportunities, and new technologies, while never deviating from the steadfast commitment to defend and propagate the truth of God’s Word. “For such a time as this” would become a biblical injunction as applicable today as in the days of ancient Israel when Queen Esther was called on to risk everything to save her people from certain death (Est. 4:14).
Foundations That Matter
The ministry was committed to a balanced application of making Christ known to Jewish people and Gentiles alike. In addition to evangelism came a hands-on aid emphasis that would embody God’s compassion and love for Israel as expressed in Isaiah: “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!” (Isa. 40:1).
Through its rapidly expanding staff, the ministry disseminated the good news of life in the Messiah to an ever-widening circle, while continuing to send aid to people in 18 countries. By 1944 The Friends of Israel had workers across the United States, including Washington, DC; Atlanta, Georgia; Brooklyn, New York; and San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Oakland, California.
In fact, after World War II The Friends of Israel was the first mission to send a worker to spiritually ravished Warsaw, Poland, to supply material and spiritual help to Holocaust survivors.
Dr. Buksbazen’s contribution—as well as the addition of workers and expansion of influence through new fields in Canada, Argentina, Israel, England, India, and Germany—was the harbinger of a fundamental development in the ministry’s emphasis. Reaching out to Jewish people (the ministry’s central focus) would be supplemented by extensive programs of teaching in churches regarding the dangers of anti-Semitism; explaining the responsibilities of Bible-believing Christians toward the Jewish people; and teaching prophetic truth related to the church, Israel, and the end-times.
Victor Buksbazen’s vision and leadership laid the foundation and set the course for those who would succeed him following his death in October 1974.
Israel Finds a Friend
Since the rebirth of Israel, FOI has been a premier voice of support both inside and outside the Jewish state. In almost all aspects of the ministry, God has blessed FOI with positive, warm relationships with Israeli officials at all levels. And as the situation in the Middle East and America deteriorates and anti-Semitism and hatred toward Israel grow, the bond between FOI and the Jewish community grows stronger.
Jewish people who once believed most Christians only thought of them as “Christ killers” have seen, through FOI and our friends, that there are Christians who are true and unshakable friends of Israel and the Jewish people.
We once said The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry had workers in seven countries. At the time it was a worthy accomplishment. But as we lay down the 75th marker on our years of existence, that number has grown exponentially. Today, through staff, technology, and print resources, there is virtually no country in the world FOI cannot reach with ministry tools for growth and education.
The Future Is Now
How does all of this affect the future? Unfortunately, as I said earlier, the world has come full circle. Understanding the core issues of the end-times and being able to have a discerning ministry require recognizing the perpetual, satanic obsession to annihilate the Jewish people.
A prime illustration surfaced in a dispatch from London as America and its allies celebrated victory in Europe (V-E Day) following World War II. The dispatch reported the following from an underground Nazi radio station: “It is possible that we have lost the war, but we have not lost the war against the Jews. Against them we shall continue to fight.”
That demonic mentality has Israel under attack to this day. Anti-Semitism and violence against the Jewish people are on the rise. At the UN, forces are aligned against Israel and erroneously regard the Jewish state as an oppressive, apartheid regime. Even some Christian churches and organizations denounce and ridicule Jewish people and their evangelical friends.
Many of the warning signs that existed in the early 1930s are back. And the tragic, genocidal atrocities of that era, which was touted as a time that would be remembered forever, are being forgotten. The truth of the statement that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it is being demonstrated around the globe.
No Immunity for Christians
Unfortunately, another deadly component has come on the scene with a vengeance. Not only is there a war against Israel and the Jewish people, but there is a war against God and Bible-believing Christians. And it grows more aggressive and dangerous by the day. Already, many of our brethren abroad are being murdered or driven out of home and country. These tragedies increase our obligation to make the truth known and prepare believers for what lies ahead. And FOI is well-equipped to do so.
The essentials of good and evil never change. Evil men are as capable of unspeakable atrocities as were Hitler and his henchmen. On the other hand, through self-sacrifice and compassion, godly people can do all that can be done to reach out to the persecuted and suffering. Our great advantage over the past is that we have the ability to reach people needing help. That is the challenge of the day; the possibilities and necessary assets have been provided by the hand of God.
We are more privileged than all who have gone before us, and we at The Friends of Israel are challenged and humbled by being placed at the center of what is unfolding on the stage of world history.
At this historic moment, the closing words of Dr. Buksbazen when he stepped down as general director are appropriate: “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto His name be glory. He who has been with us till now will surely be with us in the days to come and will guide the Society [The Friends of Israel] to do even greater things for His glory.”