The tapping on the glass is what woke me, but it was the flashlight shining in my eyes that really brought me back to a place of consciousness. It was two o’clock in the morning and the police officer who had spotted my car sitting alone in the church parking lot wanted to know what I was doing there. Perhaps she suspected that I was homeless and that I was living in my car. I explained that I periodically came down to the empty church lot at night to pray and that it was not unusual for me to doze off while doing so. After receiving my explanation and checking my license and registration she was satisfied, bid me good night and drove off. I returned home to sleep in my bed. So the question is, “Why is Moshe talking about sleeping in a car 20 years ago in Baltimore when this article was supposed to be about the new facility that Congregation Shavei Tzion has purchased in downtown Haifa?”
There is a major connection between the two circumstances that illustrates the principle expressed in the book of Proverbs: “The mind of a man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9); “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Thirty one years ago my wife Katya and I founded Rosh Pina Messianic Synagogue in Baltimore. I led that congregation for the next 13 years until we moved to Israel. We barely knew what we were doing, yet God honored our efforts. The congregation prospered and continued to grow. We met in our apartment for the first 3 months then rented a church social hall for the next 9 years. Our hosts could not have been nicer to us. However, it was obvious we needed a place of our own. We prayed that God would provide us with a facility for years. I had my eye on every possibility that came along – from vacant furniture stores to old church buildings.
Then I found an old Methodist church. It was magnificent, made of stone yet very simple with a tower. (I began planning how my office would be built in the tower.) It was about a 10 minute drive from the main Jewish community in a beautiful country setting in an area of wealthy homeowners. The congregation was diminishing, only about 14 members, almost all ladies over 70 years old remained. Surely they would sell. The Methodist district superintendent thought it was a great idea.
Many evenings I would drive there and sit in the parking lot and pray for the building. Sometimes when Eitan came to visit we’d go and pray together for the building. But it was not to be. The members absolutely refused to sell, but God knew what was best. The building was beautiful inside but had only one toilet washroom in a closet. There were no classrooms. The basement was not even fully dug out. Yet I was so enamored with the place that I was willing to overlook all the potential problems and the immense amount of work and money it would take to prepare it.
Instead, the Lord took those prayers and redirected them. In perfect timing and understanding beyond our thoughts, He presented us with just the right place. The building was also an old Methodist church, but in the heart of the suburban Jewish sprawl, one mile from the Jewish community center. It had a fully refurbished kitchen and social hall and a new education wing. Like the other church, their members were old and few. In the years leading up to our purchase they had watched the suburbs swallow up the farmland and they planned for the many new young families that would want a church. One old farmer who had been going to that church since childhood told me that it never occurred to any of them that all the young families moving into the area would be Jewish. They were ready to sell. Rosh Pina congregation has been in that building now for over 20 years; the choice of God who knows what’s best for His children.
“To the Angel of the messianic community in Philadelphia, write: “Here is the message of the holy one, the true one, the one who has the key of David, who, if He opens something no one else can shut it, and if He closes something, no one else can open it’” (Revelation 3:7).
We would be naïve to think that we’re smart enough or clever enough to chart our path through this world, through this life without the ongoing guidance that comes from heaven. In life it is inevitable that there will be dangerous icebergs in our way as one might encounter in the extreme northern and southern hemispheres. An iceberg is treacherous because only about 10% of it can be seen above the surface of the water. The remaining 90% is submerged. This is why we so desperately need Yeshua. He can see what is hidden to us. And because He carries the key of David, He locks doors that are not expedient for us to enter and instead unlocks doors that will bless His people and further the kingdom of God.
Regular readers of this periodical are well acquainted with Leon Mazin, one of our original elders from when Tents of Mercy was founded back in 1996. He is from the former Soviet Union, married to Nina and they have five children ranging in ages from 5 to 18.
In 2001, with the blessing of the leadership of the congregation, Leon took a handful of people from Tents of Mercy and brought them together with another small group of people in Haifa and began Congregation Shavei Tzion (Those Who Have Returned to Zion) which has grown dramatically. For the past six years they have been meeting in a wonderful building in downtown Haifa – five stories high with space on the roof. It really seemed to be the ideal building for them. Plus, the owner wanted to sell at an ever decreasing cost. Just around the time they had enough money for the purchase, problems began appearing that prevented the sale from going forward.
When these sorts of things happen, it’s very easy to give into frustration and disappointment. But again our knowledge is limited because we can’t see the future or even things below the surface in the present. Perhaps the past has been satisfactory, the tools with which we had to work did a good job and we see no need for something else. It’s not hard to become fixated on what we think should be, especially if it is something good for the kingdom of God. But that is a good time to remember that He who locked the one door, has keys to other doors that He will open instead.
As it turned out, there were a number of problems connected with illegal additions and improvements to the building that would have come back to haunt Leon and the team had the purchase gone through. He who holds the key of David showed up and the door they thought was open was tightly shut and no man could open it. God’s superior knowledge protected them from a serious mistake.
And now Shavei Tzion has at last purchased a building for their congregation. It is four times bigger than the one they are currently renting. There is lots of space for a large sanctuary, a cafeteria, classrooms for a music school and Bible school and a dormitory/hostel for volunteers who come to help. The building is closer to a larger number of people from the congregation and there is even parking for visitors. Leon is grateful to God (and we are also) that He again proved Himself faithful in protecting them from making a mistake with the first building. Instead He has given Shavei Tzion a better tool with which to serve the Lord.
I was 22 years old when we moved to Israel. I was the oldest of six with four very much younger siblings. In the ensuing years, I watched with something approaching envy as they went off to a week of camp each summer. The camps changed as the kids grew. First there was the kid’s camp, then “Souled Out” camps and later the Katzir camps. When they were too old to attend as campers they went back as counselors. I was so proud of them and still a little bit jealous. I had never gotten to go to anything like this when I was growing up. My brothers and sisters didn’t realize it at the time, but they were part of something much bigger than just a fun few days away from their home and parents. Those annual summer camps, attended by kids from all over Israel were a place where God created a network of fledgling believers who are now in their 20’s and are serving God throughout Israel and the world.
In 2007 I sent off another little camper – my six year old daughter. She was attending a newly established summer camp – Camp Reshet (Camp Network), set up to provide a week of fun and spiritual instruction for the children of our congregational network. It was the brainchild of Eitan and Pastor David McQueen of Beltway Park Baptist Church in Texas. The hands on administrators were Pastor Randy from Beltway and my mom, Katya (our Shabbat School director). That first year was a success and we’ve been “camping” every year since.
Katya sees the camp as an extension of our ministry to the kids and families in our congregation. She said, “I knew it would be a lot of work, but I thought that a camp like this would be good because it would give us an additional opportunity to connect to the kids outside of a Shabbat school setting. The kids already know many of their counselors and each other. It creates a more intimate experience, almost like a family outing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the camp has also enabled us to train our teenagers to serve as counselors.”
Camp Reshet has a special additional feature. Each year, Pastor Randy brings almost 30 volunteers with him (the majority from Beltway Baptist), some of them returning year after year. These brave and generous individuals serve as handcraft teachers, baseball coaches, English teachers, kitchen staff and much more. The volunteers make our camp more than a congregational network camp. They connect us to the wider body of believers, serving our community with “practical love” and introducing the children to the concept of an international family of faith.
This year, instead of waving my kids off to camp, I got to go too. Forty is perhaps a bit old to be a camper, but I enjoyed the experience nevertheless. Katya was unable to come due to health reasons and so she handed the administration baton to me. I was honored and blessed to be able to serve in this unique setting alongside brothers and sisters from Israel and America.
Here are testimonials from some of the wonderful people that I was privileged to work with:“I’ve grown up going to kids camps and I remember looking up to my counselors and how much fun I had. Me being there as a counselor gives me the opportunity to provide that experience for other kids as well.” (Camp Counselor)
“I was just BLOWN away by the fact that God used people halfway around the world, from a different culture and that I never expected to meet, to show me things and answer prayers. I feel I was truly blessed by the fellowship between the American believers and Israeli believers. From this I received a greater understanding of the fellowship and unity that God desires for His children and how purely pleasant it is!” (Camp Volunteer)
“I’ve been a counselor at children’s camps all over the world and have never experienced such an overwhelming power from the Spirit radiating from children like I did at this camp – completely breathtaking. It actually made me jealous for the LORD in new ways.” (Camp Volunteer)
“I love that language does not have to be a barrier to express and show the Father’s heart…” (Camp Volunteer)
“The reason I come back again and again is because God has given me a charge to love and encourage the future of Israel. When I see these kids, I see leaders that will not only be placed in strategic positions in the Israeli culture, but these are also the people who will be used greatly by God to draw His people back to him through the lives they live. I feel a little guilty as I get so much more from camp than I ever give. I love being a part of something so amazing!” (Camp Volunteer)
“Our children have returned from the children’s summer camp put on for all the network congregations. They were filled with a right spirit and refreshed after making new friends and having new experiences. They had the opportunity to fellowship with one another as well as with other children and youth from believing families throughout Israel. The children experienced an awaking in the area of worship. This is a real answer to prayer.” (Guy Cohen, Katzir Asher Congregation in Akko)
These quotes sum up the heart of Camp Reshet. It is our desire that as we serve each other and the kids in work and play, God will fulfill His purposes in all of our lives, creating a true Kingdom Network.