My life and the Gospel Revolution
“Arabs are the enemy”. That was my reality as a child growing up in a small, religious Jewish settlement in the West Bank, surrounded by olive trees and Arab villages. I was forcefully thrown into complex political struggles – it was all around me, in the news, in the streets, at kindergarten and at school. As kids growing up in this region, you are never sheltered from the concept of war and death, and your childlike view of a safe and a loving world fades away with every new attack.
As we were passing by an Arab village on our way to a big city, I would stare through the car window, and the foreign curly letters on the signs terrified me. But the sound of the Arabic language was what scared me the most. First of all because I couldn’t understand it, it was the unknown, and because of the connotations it had with the explosions and the shootings, and the rocks flying towards us on the roads, and of friends that were killed.
I felt as if I, as a part of the Jewish people, was deeply hated, but it all seemed so natural and normal because it reminded me of the biblical stories, where the Israeli people were always hated and attacked everywhere they went. For me it was the natural continuum of our existence.
But all that was about to change.
God according to the Bible vs God according to the rabbis
The thing that didn’t make any sense for me as a young child was the contradictory way that God was presented in the biblical stories versus the way the rabbis had presented him in the Talmud. In the bible I met the Great God of Israel, a brave, loving, loyal warrior. The Jewish religious books, on the other hand, painted a picture of a cold, robot-like, stubborn and distant God. One who wouldn’t think twice before striking you with a lightning bolt for daring to rip a piece of toilet paper on Shabbat, or for dropping your prayer book.
I admired the God of the Bible with all my heart. I wanted to follow him like Abraham did, I wanted to declare his righteousness out loud like the prophets, and to charge into the battlefield in his name, like King David. but at the same time I was angry at the god that the rabbis presented. How could he expect me to follow all these laws and rules, without even knowing what it feels like to be human, trapped in this rotten, fallen world, and in this corrupt body?
We moved out of the settlement eventually, and as a teenager I realized I didn’t want to pretend that everything was ok anymore, or that I was obeying the Jewish law. It was hypocrisy for me to pretend, and I feared God enough to not play this game with him. And as a teenager I decided to leave religion, but God was still there, a distant character, a name to call out in times of trouble.
Getting to know Jesus
Jesus was a foreign idea to me. A different culture of crosses, crusades and popes. Maybe a guy who had some good ideas that went bad over time. We don’t study about him in school, in a way we deliberately ignore his existence, and we never acknowledge him as one of our own. We would never even consider following him because it will be like betraying the God of the Bible – as distant as he was, God still has a strong grip on the Jewish heart. That type of blind paradoxical loyalty creates a barrier between Jesus and his people.
That barrier crushed into the ground when I read the forbidden chapter in the book of Isaiah for the first time, at the age of 23.
I saw him. I recognised him immediately, and everything made sense.
All the questions I had been asking throughout the years were answered: Jesus knew what it was like to be a human, and he made a way for us to be with him because we couldn’t. He was in my Bible this whole time.
My old thinking patterns were gone, like a blank page, and I started seeing the world through Jesus’ eyes. I wanted to know more and more, so I started my studies at Israel College of the Bible.
I remember my first chapel, during worship, they started playing an Arabic song. All those years of pain, fear, hate and war washed off of me, like old dirty rags with every note they played and every word spoken…
That same language that terrified me so much before was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard.
That is the power of the gospel.
The gospel heals and cleans.
It turns enemies to more than mere friends.
It make us one family.
I joined the media team at One for Israel as a director, editor, and presenter about two years ago, where I could finally combine my two greatest loves in life: theology and media. We are a very small team, and we produce all the videos in our humble little studio here in Netanya.
We do testimonies of Israelis and English-speaking Jews from all over the world who met their Messiah. We also take the most frequently-asked questions and the most common objections against Jesus, and tear them apart one by one in a series of apologetics videos, tackling the arguments from a philosophical, scientific, and biblical perspective.
For me it is much more than just videos, it is the start of the revolution!
You see, for 2000 years the Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus and hid him from the people. They are the ones with full authority and power, they have the final word and they are the ones who can easily stop the Gospel from being preached in Jewish communities. And throughout history, people claiming to be followers of Jesus made it easy for the rabbis to paint Jesus as the reason for all our troubles as a nation, as a traitor, as a forbidden name that you are not even allowed to pronounce.
But there is one thing that the rabbis have no control over. And that, my friends, is the internet.
It is neutral territory that leaves the gatekeepers powerless, and opens a door that has been sealed for 2000 years.
The revolution in Israel
Israelis nowadays practically live on the internet. They are there, non-stop, 24/7. In fact, Israel is the leading nation when it comes to using YouTube and other social media, second only to Taiwan. The internet has become a land of its own, at the uttermost parts of the earth!
People are watching the videos, and in numbers I wouldn’t have dared to dream of just a few years ago. Israel has around eight million citizens, and our Hebrew-language videos have already reached 18 million views. In total, worldwide, we have been able to reach more than 68 million views.
Now, almost everyone has been exposed to the Gospel in one way or another. Even the most guarded sects within Orthodox Judaism can’t prevent their members from getting a smartphone. They all know it’s out there, the secret “forbidden chapters” of the Bible like Isaiah 53 and Daniel 9 are no longer a secret. The truth about Jesus pops up on their Facebook newsfeed, on Instagram, and on YouTube videos… in their own language, spoken to them by their own people.
Jesus made Aliya! He is no longer a foreign idea. And his name is Yeshua again.
This article originally appeared on One For Israel and is reposted with permission.
Anastasia co-directs testimonies as well as is the chief editor for the Hebrew and English testimonies at One For Israel.
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UPDATE: Israeli evangelist Damkani undergoes dangerous heart surgery
Israeli evangelist and pastor Jacob Damkani suffered a ruptured aorta three years ago followed by an eight-hour surgery and a long but miraculous recovery. He was thankful to be alive, as the event occurred while he was swimming in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Tel Aviv.
“Ninety-five percent of those who experience this medical emergency die from it,” he said. “God spared my life because I have not yet completed my mission.”
A year later doctors discovered a dangerous fungus growing on the blood vessel that had been implanted in place of his ruptured one. Since Damkani was feeling well, doctors decided to avoid the risky surgery and instead carry out a series of infusions to try and wipe out the fungus.
But during a checkup on Dec. 28 doctors discovered that the deadly fungus had returned. This was the same day that the film A New Spirit – a drama film about Damkani’s life – was released in Israeli theaters.
“We are fighting a very real spiritual battle; not just for Jacob’s physical health,” Damkani’s wife, Elisheva, told KNI.
Several weeks ago on July 2, 2018, Damkani wrote on his Facebook page that he and Elisheva had decided that he would go through with surgery. The surgeon had never performed such an operation before and was not sure it would be successful. According to Elisheva, Damkani was fully prepared for the surgery to go either way.
A week later he underwent the 11-hour surgery and has since remained in intensive care. None of the operating team believed he would survive.
“We simply kept praying to the One who created this precious man and dearly loves him. What else could we do?” Elisheva wrote.
On July 12, 2018, Damkani began to breath on his own, although still with the help of a machine. The doctors have confirmed that his condition is improving, however he has been sedated since the operation.
“This type of surgery gets performed about once a year in the entire world,” Elisheva told KNI. “The doctors won’t say this directly, but people don’t usually make it. We don’t know how long Jacob’s recovery will take because there’s not much of a precedent.”
Elisheva asks for continued prayer as Damkani’s condition remains unstable.
Damkani, born and raised in Israel, came to faith as a young man while in the United States and then returned to Israel in the early 1980s with the mission of helping the Jewish people see their Messiah. The Damkanis’ ministry is Trumpet of Salvation. Two movies have been produced about Damkani: a documentary called The Messenger (2016) and A New Spirit (2017), based on his autobiography, Why Me?
Violet moved to Israel in 2013. She lives in Haifa with her husband and their daughter.
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Epicenter Prayer Summit encourages Christians to bless Israel, neighbors
The 2018 Epicenter Prayer Summit, held by The Joshua Fund, included one evening and full day of “teaching, prayer, praise and worship” at the Jerusalem Theater on July 11 and 12.
Speakers included Bible teacher and evangelist Anne Graham Lotz, pastor Ronnie Floyd and pastors and leaders of local believing Jewish, Israeli Arab and Palestinian Arab ministries, all of whom shared personal insights, prayer requests and calls for unity among the brethren in the land.
Local worship leader Sheli Myers led a group of singers and musicians in praise and worship.
The Power of Unity
The Joshua Fund founder and best selling author, Joel C. Rosenberg, opened the 2018 Epicenter Prayer Summit by welcoming attendees from Israel, Palestine and around the world.
“We are famously commanded to ‘pray for the peace of Jerusalem,’ and so we shall,” Rosenberg told the Summit attendees in his opening remarks. “But what exactly does this mean? …How do make sure not to simply pray for one group who live here to the exclusion of the others? How can we encourage one another to pray for Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, and for all who live in the Epicenter?
“This is exactly what this Summit is for — learning to pray for all the souls of this extraordinary city and region, from Scripture, with real faces before us, and with purpose and great power.”
Rosenberg amplified the Summit theme the next morning, presenting a teaching entitled, The Power of Unity: What the Church in the Epicenter Must Learn from Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer, based on Jesus’ prayer recounted in John 17.
Like a flowing river
Benjamin Spurr and his wife, Rebekah, from Canberra, Australia are visiting Israel for the first time. They attended The Joshua Fund Prayer Summit as part of a Chosen People Ministries tour.
Members of Hineh Yeshua Congregation in Canberra, Benjamin and Rebekah had visited the Dead Sea, the Galilee and, of course, Jerusalem by the time the Summit began. Of all their excursions, Benjamin best liked visiting the Valley of Elah where David fought Goliath, he said.
Rebekah, whose grandmother was Jewish, had long loved Israel but until this trip she had been the only member of her family not to have previously visited the Holy Land. The prayer conference helped her to better understand “the complexity of the relationships between the different peoples” who live in the Middle East.
Rebekah described their visit as “moving, overwhelming and even surreal,” while Benjamin characterized the volume of emotion and knowledge they had gained as being “like a flowing river.”
Prayer is hard
Each of the Summit’s keynote messages focused on a prayer in scripture which helped demonstrate, in Rosenberg’s words, “how you and I can be praying for the church and the people in the epicenter with clarity and specificity.” On Wednesday evening, Lotz began with a teaching on the prophet, Daniel’s prayer of Daniel 9:3-19.
“As God looks at the world today and His eye goes to and fro,” Lotz said. “And He sees His people who are called by His name, does He wonder that there are not more of us praying on behalf of His people in this city and this land?
“Prayer is hard work,” she told her audience. “If prayer is hard for you, it’s because prayer is hard, okay? One of the things that helps me is if I can find a model prayer in scripture after which I can pattern my prayers… Daniel was a man who prayed so powerfully and so effectively that God answered his prayer and a nation was changed.”
Conviction, boldness and assurance
Floyd began the Summit on Thursday morning by asking, “How and what shall the church pray?” then answered by saying that our prayers must be rendered with conviction, boldness and the assurance that God will answer.
“Stop being content in living life and doing ministries without the power of God,” Floyd implored pastors in the audience. “Pray!”
Local Jewish and Arab believers offered teachings, testimony and contributions to several panel discussions. Video and audio playback and downloads of many sessions are available online at epicenterconference.com.
Link of potential interest:
Cliff Keller lives in Jerusalem, Israel with his wife, Marcia after making Aliyah in the spring of 2011 from the United States. His most recent novel is a work of historical biblical fiction entitled The Lion or The Lamb: Samson Ruth and Salvation. Cliff also blogs at Standing by the Gate and has a writing website, goodStories.
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Studying stones and branches
During the Caspari Center’s Discovering Jesus in His Jewish Context course which took place recently, 13 participants had a unique opportunity to discover the Land of Jesus. Among the course participants there were some Norwegians, some locals and, like me, many Finns.
Observing the Ancient Rocks
The stones all around reminded us of what once was: whether the great palace fortress of Herodion, the intriguing Magdala Stone at the Magdala Village Synagogue excavations, or the Temple Mount’s fallen stones. It’s possible that Jesus himself, while tempted by Satan (Luke 4), had stood next to one of these such stones at the top of the Second Temple.
Gazing at the magnificent Qumran caves filled me with excitement. In the past, these caves could only be viewed in the imagery of school books, but now they were before us! Thanks to the faithfulness of the sect of the Essenes, who hid their texts in the Qumran caves, we have proof that God’s Word really hasn’t changed over the centuries!
All these archaeological sites, excavations, and ancient cultural phenomena shed light on what we call “Jesus’ Jewish context”. In addition to these excursions, we had the opportunity to meet some inspiring “living stones”, some of the special people who live in the Land.
The Olive Branch Theology
The very core of our 10-day-course was lectures on Messianic Judaism. The worldwide community of believers, Jews and Gentiles together, makes up the Body of Christ. We share the same nourishing sap of the olive tree (Romans 11). Some of the branches are native, while others have been grafted in. Paul made an interesting request of us Gentiles: “[…] do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches” (Romans 11:18). We must never forget that it is only through the Jewish Messiah that the Gentile Christians are connected to the original olive tree.
Israel being “chosen” instead of the nations may cause jealousy in those who are not a part of Israel. Alternatively, being part of Israel can provoke pride among the chosen. Hatred and jealousy have resulted in violence and persecution, as we have seen throughout Church history. And yet, the bible also states that the Jewish people will be provoked to jealousy because of Christians’ relationships with God through the Jewish Messiah (Deuteronomy 32:21, Romans 11:11). God used one chosen nation to bring all the peoples of the world together, and he did this by giving His one and only Son.
Paul also reminds us in Romans 10: “Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes”. In my opinion, Paul is reminding the Israelites not to build on the Law of Moses as if there were a way to salvation other than Christ. He is the fulfillment of the entire Law and is the only one who has followed the whole of God’s Law without any transgression. A person becomes justified through faith – and through faith in Yeshua alone.
With equality of all the children of God, the calling of Israel hasn’t vanished. Jews still carry on with the covenantal responsibility, for God doesn’t revoke His covenants. (Of course, this is a matter of theological discussion and interpretation.) A new awareness brought on by the course has prompted me to search deeper into contextual and covenant theology.
The Power of Resurrection
English lay theologian G. K. Chesterton once stated: “Christendom has had a series of revolutions and in each one of them Christianity has died. Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave” (The Everlasting Man). You can easily substitute the Nation of Israel for Christianity here. There have been many deaths in the history of Israel, and many resurrections, as well. Over the centuries, both Jews and Christians have shared this common experience of persecution.
This quotation brings to my mind the Holy Communion Liturgy at the Garden Tomb on our last afternoon together. Echoing Pastor David, we all shouted aloud: “Christ is risen!” Let us be reminded of Paul’s words: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. […] But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1. Cor. 15:14, 20).
God has prepared a magnificent salvation plan for all humankind. The Heavenly Kingdom is already here, while at the same time, it isn’t yet. And so we look forward to one day seeing the Son of Man on the Mount of Olives, having returned to redeem this corrupt world.
This article originally appeared on Caspari Center, July 10, 2018, and reposted with permission.
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First meeting of Messianic Israeli Momtrepreneurs
A conference held in Poria Illit last month aimed to establish a support system for believing mothers in Israel who balance hands-on parenting with professional fulfillment.
The organizer, Christina Cohen, is herself an entrepreneur and mother of three young children. A dozen women attended the conference, held in the Galilee region, while many more from across the country expressed interest.
Today, many women balance both children and careers. After putting in the effort and financial resources to obtain a university degree or other form of professional training, many women want to use their gifts, passions and talents in the workplace while still being available for their husband and children.
Whether they need to work for financial reasons or want to work because they don’t want to take a complete break from the professional world, most working mothers face the conundrum of spending quality time at both work and home without comprising their availability on either side.
In short, many women want to be working moms and stay-at-home moms simultaneously.
While several options are available, a rising number of women have found that the answer is to start a business or to find an employer that allows them to work from home.
“I spent my twenties and early thirties building a career,” said one participant. “But when I was pregnant with my first, I realized that I didn’t want the stress of arranging my family’s life around the full-time office jobs of both parents.”
There’s no doubt that working from home has its own challenges. Women can feel sometimes that they got the short end of the stick: Being the primary caretaker of a small child (or several) while meeting deadlines and running a household is a challenging undertaking. But many wouldn’t have it any other way.
This is where Cohen’s initiative, the Women of Valor Business Society, comes in.
“Our vision is to create an encouraging environment that supports mothers in integrating parenthood and entrepreneurship. This demographic faces unique challenges that are often overlooked,” she said. “Women who choose to be mothers and wives first, are a blessing to their families and I believe that God wants to bless their endeavors.”
The project’s objectives are:
- To create a supportive community of mothers who are in the same situation
- To encourage women and support them through challenges stemming from combining childrearing with entrepreneurship
- To make available professional and practical content that would otherwise be difficult to access including conferences, meetings and workshops accompanied by a children’s babysitter
- To provide assistance in finding a business idea and then through the process of starting a business
- To encourage and facilitate cooperation between businesses
About a dozen women, mostly residents of northern Israel who are mothers to children ranging in age from babies to pre-teens, attended the initial meeting. The session included introductions, roundtable discussions, group activities, dinner and brainstorming ideas for future meetings.
Plans are already underway to build a website containing the business information of each woman and to lay the groundwork for future collaboration. The next meeting is planned for October.
“We’re praying and looking for a person or organization to back us financially,” Cohen said. “We have a strong desire to reach out to mothers but need external support.”
If you are a believing mother living in Israel and are interested being a part of the Society, write to WOVisrael@gmail.com.
Violet moved to Israel in 2013. She lives in Haifa with her husband and their daughter.