On a vibrantly beautiful Shabbat spring morning I am greeted at Netzer HaGalil Congregation with warm smiles and loving hugs. This fellowship was planted in Nazareth in 2004 by our own daughter congregation in Haifa, Shavei Tzion (Return to Zion).
Netzer, in Hebrew, is a sprout, shoot, offspring, young branch, or a descendant. “New life budding in the Galilee,” might be a free poetic translation of their name. This is indeed a season of new life and fruit in this growing congregation of 50 members. For its first dozen years, Netzer conducted worship services and operated a soup kitchen/food distribution ministry out of a tiny facility. If 25 people arrived for a Shabbat service the place was packed!
Last year, in a step of faith, the congregation took over the rent contract from a neighboring pub. It had finally closed after years of intercession to remove the seedy joint from next to their Messianic worship center. You can imagine the joy that accompanied remodeling and expansion. Now, the sanctuary seats 100 easily, and its high ceiling gives a far greater feeling of freedom and spaciousness.
As the Shabbat praise and prayers begin I am again struck by the creativity of God in His choice of vessels. Pastoring an all Russian Jewish community, Vakif comes from a Muslim background among the rugged Tatar people of Russia. He stands before his flock in a tallit ( Jewish prayer shawl), earnestly chanting prayers in Hebrew with a whole heart.
After the Torah reading I’m introduced and speak about “Expectation.” My text is Mark 2:1-12, the story of the paralytic lowered through the roof. I ask “What do you want to happen in your life?” and mention some causes for broken expectation: disappointment with others, frustration with ourselves, unfulfilled dreams. During the message I see precious faces, some with tears, some worn with weariness and worry, others with broad smiles. Their hearts are open. I invite those who wish to renew their expectations of life and of Yeshua’s promises to stand. Many do. Among those who come for prayer, Anna, a grandmotherly Russian Jewish immigrant asks prayer for physical healing. Vakif cues me that she doesn’t yet know the Messiah.
As I continue praying, I see Tanya, Vakif ’s wife, speaking with Anna in the back. A while later they return, announcing that both Anna and another mature visitor, Tamara, have asked Yeshua into their hearts! I’m overjoyed. Vakif then brings before the congregation Anna, Tamara, and a brand new couple who’ve just this past week been born of the Spirit. “Here are the new members of our Messianic family. Please welcome them,” he declares.
Such episodes are not to be taken for granted. The plight of elderly immigrants is not an easy one. Fellowships like Netzer haGalil reach out with compassion and hope. There is new life in the Galilee!
Are we not commanded to tell the ancient stories?
Is not our main text book in life, the Text Book of all text books – containing story after story of ancient people in ancient kingdoms, dealing with ancient challenges?
The answer is yes with a caveat. Yes it is a book of ancient writings, and each and every story tells of human beings who faced and responded to life’s challenges in good ways and bad ways, right ways and wrong ways. And it is those stories that God will use to strengthen and refine us (and here is the caveat…) as we translate and weave their messages into the fabric of our everyday lives.
For this year’s Purim play, our youth reinvented the biblical saga of Esther. Her story, which took place long ago in ancient Persia, was transformed into a compelling modern dramatic Israeli rendition. The book of Esther deals with our identity and making the choice to identify ourselves as following the God of Israel and belonging to Him – while at the same time being fully functioning in and engaging with society. This dynamic is of course totally relevant to teens in their school culture of relentless peer pressure. So, fittingly, the youth translated the story of Esther into a modern scenario in a high school for the arts.
The youth group, comprising some 40 teens led by their fearless and multi-talented leader Andre Gelbet, worked tirelessly for months with extensive rehearsals leading up to Purim – to dream up and then realize a modern day Esther who stands for truth and righteousness. In their version of the story, Esther was hired as the new dance teacher by a king-like Principal Ahasuerus. Sneaky and conniving Vice Principal Haman tried to do away with Mordechai the upright maintenance man, who uncovered Haman’s evil plot to get the principal fired and to take over the school.
On both Sunday and Monday night during their Purim vacation, the teenagers and a devoted team of leaders poured out effort and talent to tell the story of Queen Esther in a super fun and relatable way. In the final scene Haman was done away with, and the Jewish People were spared. Righteousness prevailed, and the teens broke into a contagiously victorious celebration! The participants did an excellent job and once again we were all challenged and inspired by the noble example that our beloved Queen Esther gave us all so many millennia ago.
We at Return to Zion Congregation believe that in order to receive good fruit, one must spend time sowing, watering and cultivating. After these tasks are completed comes the joy of seeing the fruit produced by our labors.
With this in mind, we have been gradually developing Project Eagle since 2015. The project provides a time of refreshing and renewal for Messianic young people who have recently completed their compulsory service in the Israeli Defense Forces. Through the project they are given the opportunity to receive renewal and discipleship in the beautiful setting of Norway, as well the opportunity to meet young Norwegian believers.
Project Eagle has revealed a great hunger for more fellowship, more of God’s Word and more answers to the many questions asked by this special generation. We read in I John 2:14, “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.” According to this verse the younger generation has a special place in the eyes of God. He has committed into their hands, the sword, which is the Word of the Lord. They must use that sword expertly in order to obtain victory against the enemy. We see this victory only occasionally in our midst. This fact should compel us to invest greater efforts in each of the young people in our congregations, that we might see good fruit in their lives – including them becoming the servant leaders of the next generation.
In response to this need, we decided to further develop the local aspect of Project Eagle with weekend gatherings every few months. Our most recent meeting took place in January. Young people from four different congregations participated. We hiked the trails of Mount Carmel. We learned how to study the Scriptures. We welcomed the Sabbath with fellowship and praise. We served the congregation. All of this we did with great joy.
Another special outcome of the project is the engagement of Noam and Rachel, two Israelis who became acquainted when they attended last year’s month long summer program! This is a wonderful gift for the program and the body of Messiah in the land. We pray a rich bounty of God’s blessings over them.
Once again I would like to encourage us all to devote ourselves to our young people. Let’s teach and encourage them that they may each find their place in the family of Messiah and bear much good fruit.