Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Summary of 26 months in Israel, May 2009 to July 2011 . . . ministry, pilgrimage, sabbatical

A dream that began as a non-Christian at age 18 (1989) became reality for an amazing 26 months, May 9, 2009, to July 5, 2011. "Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart," Psalm 37:4.

With the first visit being for 10 days in December 2005/January 2006, I revisited Israel for the sake of spiritual pilgrimage and ministry.

The over two years of living and ministering in the land of the Hebrew prophets, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostles, the early church and 19th-century Protestant pioneer missionaries also served as a self-imposed and self-funded sabbatical.

Below are the four main entities I was involved with. Two were Christian, one Jewish-based but very secular, and the other one non-religious/secular. All provided a great cross-cultural volunteer experience. I highly recommend them all.

But first . . .

Israel Nature and Parks Authority
In addition to the below, I made visits to Germany (February 2010), Jordan (April 2010), Egypt (October 2010), the Palestinian Territories (numerous visits) and a 5-week break in Canada and the U.S. (June-July 2010).

With use of a vehicle for 5 months in 2009, and use of the inexpensive public transportation system (buses, trains), I was able to visit most of the major Israeli national parks that preserve archaeological remains from Old Testament, New Testament and post-biblical times. It helped that Israel is small (about the size of New Jersey).

Plus, I visited a wide variety of museums (art, historical, military), nature parks (for hiking) and beaches, and attended Hebrew-speaking Messianic church services, Arab Christian services, Jewish synagogue services, Christian Zionist conferences and one Christian anti-Zionist/pro-Palestinian conference in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, Arab and Jewish concerts, films (including the annual Jewish Film Festival in Jerusalem), lectures, Holocaust memorials, sporting events, English-speaking theatrical performances and cultural festivals.

On a sad note, two acts of terrorism in which a Christian was killed occurred during my time in Israel. On December 18, 2010, CMJ-U.K. worker Kristen Luken was stabbed to death while hiking in the Jerusalem Forest. On March 23, 2011, Wycliffe Bible Translator missionary and Hebrew University-Jerusalem student Mary Jane Gardner was killed at a Jerusalem bus stop bombing.

(1) CMJ Israel -- Investing in the Spiritual Rebirth of the Jewish People since 1809 . . . . Christ Church Guest House (Jerusalem)

The Church's Ministry Among the Jews (CMJ) was founded in 1809 in London by such prominent Christians as Charles Simeon and William Wilberforce. Although not the first evangelical Christian (Protestant) organization founded to serve the Jewish people, this Anglican missionary society is the longest standing.

The year 2009 marked the ministry's 200th anniversary, as well as the publication of Kelvin Crombie's Restoring Israel: 200 Years of the CMJ Story.

Christ Church Jerusalem
Church of England (Anglican)
Built 1849
CMJ has branches in Australia, IrelandIsrael, South Africa, U.K. and U.S.

To view a 10-minute video highlighting the history and current work of CMJ and entitled "Grafted Branches" (per Romans 11:24)," click here.

Completed in 1849 by CMJ, Christ Church in Old City Jerusalem is the oldest Protestant church in the Middle East. The Jewish symbols and Hebrew texts found in the church are reminders that the Christian faith is built upon the foundation of God's promises to the Hebrew patriarchs and prophets, and that His covenant purposes for Israel have not been canceled (Romans 11).

Christ Church is a founding member of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (est. June 2008).

In exchange for free housing, food, educational opportunities and a periodic group outing, I volunteered 40-hours per week as a front desk receptionist at the CMJ-owned and operated Christ Church Guest House.

A team of 10-15 international volunteers worked alongside paid local staff at the 30-room guest house. The paid local staff consisted of Arab, Jewish and Russian believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Currently, the guest house is #6 of the 48 B&B's/Inns in Jerusalem ranked on

Living and working among the tourists and 35,000 or so Christian, Jewish and Muslim inhabitants of Jerusalem's .35-square-mile Old City was a tremendous international cross-cultural experience.

(2) Voice in the Wilderness -- Preaching the Gospel in Israel
Founded in the early 1990's by a Jewish convert to Christianity, Voice in the Wilderness is a church and evangelistic ministry.

The British-born founder leads church services three times per week (one in English, two in English but with translation into Russian) and organizes weekly distribution outreaches--Bibles, Christian literature, CDs and DVDs--throughout Israel and the Palestinian Territories/West Bank. For instance, every Friday night VIW ministers among the many African and Asian immigrants in Tel Aviv, some of whom escaped from war-torn Darfur.

Voice in the Wilderness
Jerusalem, Israel
VIW also organizes periodic outreach trips to Egypt, Jordan, Kurdistan and Turkey. 

I especially liked the times of fellowship with other believers when on a VIW weekly desert hike in the Judean Mountains. Fond memories created.

Located just outside of Jerusalem's Old City, VIW served as my home church. I had the privilege of helping VIW by means of street evangelism and substitute preaching. With the founding pastor, I also attended the monthly Men in Ministry gatherings in Jerusalem. 

Here is a 10-minute video of VIW founder Antony S. and the story of his conversion to Christianity. It is entitled "How I Found the Jewish Messiah in Israel" and has been viewed over 43,000 times since 2007.

VIW is a member of the Fellowship of Independent Reformed Evangelicals (F.I.R.E.).

It is supported by, among others, Action International MinistriesHeart Cry Missionary Society and Zion's Hope Ministries.

Contact VIW if divinely led to volunteer or give financially.

(3) Sar-El -- The National Project of Volunteers For Israel
An affiliate of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Sar-El volunteers do non-combat civilian ("jobnik") work on an IDF base alongside and under the direction of the soldiers. 

Volunteers for Israel,
U.S. affiliate of Sar-El
Est. 1983
I spent a cumulative total of 10 weeks volunteering with Sar-El on 3 different Army bases: May 2009 and February 2011 (base on the Israel-Lebanon border), May 2011 (base near Beersheba in the Negev desert) and June 2011 (base in the Galilee area between Nazareth and Tiberias).

It was volunteering on an IDF Army base on my third "tour of duty" with Sar-El that I celebrated my 40th birthday.

The 5-day, 40-hour work week (Sunday-Thursday) was mainly in the logistical, maintaining, catering, supply and medical services.
In the evenings, there were various activities and educational presentations on such topics as the modern Hebrew language, Israel's ancient and modern history, Jewish holidays and traditions, and social and political issues in Israel.‏ Also, there were two Sar-El sponsored site-seeing trips for every 3-week program.

To view the 5-minute video "The Sar-El Volunteer Experience" produced by the IDF Film Unit, click here.

Since its beginning in 1983--during the First Lebanon War (Operation Peace for the Galilee)--and through the end of 2010, over 125,000 international volunteers have participated with Sar-El.

Last year (2010), 3,367 volunteered, with the most being from France (1,098) and the U.S. (1,045), and with 559 being non-Jewish (mostly Evangelical Protestant Christians), and with most being under the age of 25 (1,655).

Volunteers For Israel is the U.S.-based non-profit organization responsible for recruiting Americans to Sar-El. VFI seeks to "promote solidarity and goodwill among Israelis, American Jews and other friends of Israel."

Francis Kyle on IDF Army base in the Negev Desert, 1 of 3 bases
served on (non-combat) during 10 cumulative weeks (2009, 2011)

(4) Servas International -- Open Doors for Peace and Friendship
Founded in 1949, Servas International is the world's oldest international cultural exchange hospitality network. Its over 15,000 members are spread out in over 125 countries.

Servas International
Est. 1949
Though it has lost some of its early emphasis on world peace/pacifism, Servas has consultative status as a non-governmental organization (NGO) with the United Nations Economic and Social Council since 1998.

Though not a pacifist, I nevertheless signed up as an International Traveler with the U.S. Servas office. Over a 15 month period (April 2010 to June 2011), I visited 13 host families throughout Israel for a total of 38 nights.

Most of the hosts lived in rural areas (my favorite) and hosted me for 2-3 nights. All except one wife were secular/non-religious Jews (along with her husband, they were "illegal" settlers in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank), and all except one couple were over age 55.

Servas host in Ramat Gan, Israel, near Tel Aviv
June 2011
Once given a country's Host List, members schedule their own trips and pay for their own travel expenses.

Overnight lodging with the host is free though it is up to the host whether or not he/she/they have the time, energy and interest to accept a request for hosting.

Though not required, many hosts also fed me and gave me a tour of area sites.

For those wanting to meet locals in the country they are visiting, I recommend Servas and Couch Surfing.

Or, for those with space and a heart for people, become a host. (Travelers are not required to reciprocate and become hosts.)

Whether as a traveler or host--and though Servas is a non-religious organization--opportunities abound to be an ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Servas hosts in Arad, Israel
May 2011

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is an amazing experience you should be proud of. Thanks providing us an insight into it.