Back First mission journey to Israel paves the way for two more this year
January 23rd, 2012
In October 2011, our first mission team journeyed to Israel. They walked in the footsteps of some of our Old and New Testament favorites (and not so favorites). They surveyed the valley of Armageddon where the it will all come to a close one day. They took snapshots—mentally and digitally—of the places where Jesus lived, died, and rose again.
Today, seven million people populate Israel. Three million of those are Muslim and four million are Jewish. And of the four million Jews there, 15,000 are Messianic—the fastest-growing demographic in any country.
It all began last year when some of our ministers went on a worldwide tour, scouting out new places to begin new partnerships. They met with three Messianic Jewish pastors in three congregations around Israel. From the start, these Israeli pastors were sold on the Brentwood Baptist-perfected Marketplace ministry.
Sharon Fairchild, Brentwood Baptist International Missions Minister, and Scott Harris, Brentwood Baptist Missions Minister, decided to send the first team to partner with a Messianic congregation. They recruited Dora Pop, Brentwood Baptist Missions Ministry Assistant, to take last year's Vacation Bible School curriculum and tweak it using Marketplace methods.
Vacation Bible School
In October, a team of 18 landed in the Holy Land and set up shop for a 4-day, 4-hour Vacation Bible School with 35 children from ages 5–12 that was closed to the public for safety reasons.
Each morning opened with worship followed by a biblical drama and small groups. The children received a bag of shekels and shopped at five different booths—carpentry, bracelet-making, wool-making, a dye shop, and pottery—and stopped by Mary's house for a story and snack. Then, each day ended with a closing rally.
"Children have much more liberty there," Sharon said. "At 18 years old, every Israeli has to enter the military. Since parents don't know what will happen to their children, they give them more freedom than American parents do. Those children tend to be a lot more mature as well because of their circumstances and the political issues surrounding them. They have to grow up quicker."
Ann Edwards, Brentwood Baptist Preschool Minister, was on the team. She said that even though the children are forced to grow up quicker under the cautious protection of their parents, the educational expectations aren't nearly as high as they are in the United States. For that reason, the team had to adjust to their culture.
"Most of them know Jesus is the Messiah, but they have a hard time understanding Him as 'personal Savior,'" Ann said. "We had to adjust everything—even our vocabulary. Instead of 'Jesus,' we said 'Yeshua,' and instead of 'Christian,' we said 'believer.' They didn't have a Bible or pictures in the room so we provided those resources for them as well. That's why taking Marketplace to them was so important."
The team left behind resources and crafts for the children, and, according to Ann, perhaps a few teaching methods for the adults to use.
She said, "Next year, I see us taking what we've done here and leaving it with them—Bible games, puzzles, crafts. I see us teaching them Bible skills for younger and older kids. We can make an impact on how they teach."
Visiting Biblical Sites
When the team clocked out at 1:00 p.m. each day, they immediately hopped a tour bus to see the sites, eating lunch on the way. Sharon said, "Doing all the touristy stuff really gave us a vision for the next team and gave us a taste of Israeli life across the board. It helped us plan for the next trip."
They visited famous biblical sites such as the Valley of Armageddon, the five Mounts (Moray, Tabor, Gilboa, Nazareth, and Caramel), Golgotha, Peter's house, Mount of Beatitudes, Nazareth, Garden of Gethsemane, Hezekiah's Tunnel, Pool of Siloam, Garden Tomb, Bethlehem, the supposed places of His birth and resurrection, and more.
Even though Jerusalem and the surrounding areas are now highly commercialized, the team knew each place they visited held rich biblical stories they'd heard since childhood.
"Every day, we went home with dirty feet because we all wore flip flops," Dora said. "Regardless of how we were marketed to, we all had to wash our feet at the end of the day. It still made you think that Jesus and His followers had to do the same thing too when they went home at night."
Team members felt like their eyes and hearts were opened to a whole new world in regards to their faith in Christ. Their Westernized pre-conceived notions of who Jesus was were irrevocably altered. After all, Jesus was a Jew. He came out of that culture. He lived in their world. He observed their holidays and practiced their traditions.
"Scripture moved into a new light for me because there was a new meaning to the people of Israel—His chosen ones," Dora said. "Yes, Jesus came for the world and for Gentiles, but He really came for the Jews. We just got to adopt Him. He came for them, yet we're the ones who believe. I was captivated by the fact that God sent Americans to Israel to tell them their Messiah had already come for them."
The Messianic Jewish movement in Israel is still relatively new. They foundation isn't completely set yet. The team hopes they added another layer of solidity during their visit—and look forward to adding more in the days ahead.
"Ultimately, we were there to share the love of Christ with all those in that congregation—especially the children. Hopefully, we paved the way for future teams that come after us," said Royce.
This year, the Missions Ministry hopes to return and thereby offer more opportunities for members to participate in Marketplace and construction mission journeys.
"We were really able to earn a level of trust that they'd never given anyone else before," Sharon said. "There's so much we can be involved in there in the future. We can be the bridge between Jews and Messianic Jews. We can be the bridge between Jesus and those who don't know Him."
Team Member Testimonies
"Seeing the sites was great, but there was something about the people and their culture and their love for their children and how they want to bless them. The Bible came to life. I feel like my relationship with God was so close there. He came to life there. I explained it to my mom like this: it was as if I were having coffee with her while we were on the phone as compared to going up to Minneapolis and actually sitting down to be with her and have coffee. Now, I read the Bible differently and can't put it down."
"The entire time, I kept going back to the Scripture passage: 'If you love and care for my children, I will bless you.' When the children of the congregation came forward, the pastors went to every child in the congregation and put their hand on each child's head and blessed each child. I saw that act role-played by two older children. It was a playful thing, but they still made the connection. They pretended to bless each other. We role play what we're learning, so one day we'll actually exhibit that behavior. I thought that was a pretty spectacular moment."
"It was life changing for everybody. The biggest moment for me was when we were at Megiddo at the Mount. When I think of Bible times, I think of huge spaces and hundreds of miles here and 500 there. The Valley of Armageddon was there before us and you could look out and see Nazareth as well as where the final battle is going to be as well as where Elijah called down fire. It all happened right there in a matter of miles.
"Having the commentary and interpretations from our guide while we stood at the places described in Scripture made it come alive for me. Several weeks ago, I was reading in the Old Testament when Josiah was king of Judah. He and his army went out to do battle with King Neco of Egypt on the plain of Megiddo. I knew exactly where they fought! It would've been just another name before, but now I know where it happened. It came to life for me."
"It was one of the best discipleship experiences I've ever had. It all came home for me when we went to the wailing wall. We saw all the Jewish sects and their religious traditionalism. They were praying and singing for the Messiah to come. It's the closest they can get to the holy of holies. I just wanted to say to them, 'He's already here! He's already come! And He can live inside your heart.' I have a new burden for the people who go to that wall—that the Lord would open their eyes to see He's here."
Get details or sign up for the upcoming Vacation Bible School Mission Journey from September 27–October 6 or Construction Mission Journey (of Baptist Village in Jerusalem) from October 6–13. Contact Sharon Fairchild at 615.324.6245 or e-mail her.