Joel of Jerusalem Aug/Sep 1990
As you know, we are experiencing a large immigration of people to Israel from Eastern European countries, especially from Russia. Because Israel is a small country, every area is receiving its share of these immigrants, and many have settled in our neighborhood. Naturally, they need a great deal of help when they first arrive, and since I can speak the Russian language, I have been the first Israeli to speak to some of them. I work with them, helping them to get settled in their new homes, and as we work I tell them about myself—my experiences in Europe during World War II, how I came to Israel, and my service in the army during the wars in Israel.
Of course, I cannot immediately tell them that I believe in Christ. That is not the way to witness in Israel because the ultra-orthodox factions are everywhere, and they are vigorously opposed to those of us who believe in Jesus. What’s more, they have painted us black before these new immigrants, telling them that we are apostates, traitors, and satanic. They warn the emigrés not to associate with “satanic Jewish believers.”
But these fanatics are not the ones helping the immigrants to take the first steps in their new country. They call themselves “ministering angels,” but not one of them would even dip his finger in cold water and offer it to these people.
I have made some repairs to the homes of several immigrant families, and they always say, “Thank you for your help, but I do not have any money to pay you.” I certainly don’t expect any payment because, as we always say, “Your own deeds will bring you near them, and likewise remove you far.”
I am grateful that the help I am able to provide is gaining me some new friends, and recently my wife and I invited two immigrant families to our home for lunch. It was evident that they were beginning to trust us, and on this occasion the conversation finally got around to the subject I had been waiting to discuss with them—faith in the Lord.
They assumed that we were orthodox Jews, and I didn’t want to use their wrong assumption to trap them into a discussion about God, because they would go straight to the ultra-orthodox people and say, “You were right about him.” Instead, slowly, very slowly, I told them about my faith and how I had come to believe in the Lord Jesus as my Messiah and Savior.
One man asked, “How many believers like yourself are there in Israel?” I replied, “There are many of us—probably more than you think. We meet together every Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, for a prayer service. We meet on Saturday because it is our only free day. If you would like to know more about how to have faith in God, you are welcome to attend one of our services.”
Another person asked if I had any Christian books they could look at. “No, my dear,” I said. “The only book we use is the holy Bible, the very same Jewish Bible read by everyone in Israel. And our prayers do not come from books but from our hearts. We believe that if we ask according to God’s will, He will answer our prayers.”
By now they seemed very interested and continued to ask questions. They were like children on the first day of school. One asked, “How do you know what to pray without a prayer book? Isn’t it true that God answers only prayers that come from those special books?” I read Luke 12:11–12: “And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, be not anxious how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say; For the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” I then said, “You can see that the best way to come before the Lord is with an open heart. You do not have to be an author; you do not need any special connections to come into the presence of God. Even the blind, the deaf, and the dumb can come to God in prayer, and He will answer them.”
One person asked, “How can a blind man pray when he cannot read the prayer book? How can a dumb man pray when he cannot speak?” In response I read Exodus 4:11–12: “And the Lᴏʀᴅ said unto him [Moses], Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing or the blind? Have not I, the Lᴏʀᴅ? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth and teach thee what thou shalt say.” This passage had a strong effect on them, and they went on questioning me. But I could tell that they still did not understand.
Another asked, “If you believe in Christ, why do you still read the Jewish Bible?” I explained, “The Bible was not given to the Jewish people only. It was given by God to anyone who is willing to read it with an open mind and an open heart.” Although these Russian Jews had never had an opportunity to read the Bible, they were sure it was for the Jewish people only. In situations like this, I must ask the Lord for great patience.
I again opened the Scriptures and read, first in Hebrew and then translating into Russian, Isaiah 34:1: “Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye peoples: let the earth hear, and all that is therein; the world, and all things that come forth from it.” I then said, “You can see from this passage that the Lord has spoken through His Word to all the nations of the world, and He will accept anyone who comes to Him in faith. In Leviticus 26 we are told that people who receive Him are blessed, but people who reject him are cursed. God rewards some for obedience and punishes others for disobedience.”
Most of these people were well educated in Russia, but they know nothing about how to have true faith in God. As I told them when we first met, they are under no obligation to me, except to listen with open ears, an open mind, and an open heart. I trust that through the help I am able to give from time to time and our developing friendship, these people will learn more about God and many will accept Him as their Messiah and Savior.