Pioneers & Planters
by Eitan Shiskoff, Executive Director, Tents of Mercy Network

By Eitan Shishkoff

Eitan & Avishalom
In 2001, six years after we opened the Tents of Mercy congregation in a Kiryat Yam warehouse, we sent out our top young leader to establish a daughter congregation in Haifa, 30 minutes away. It was not easy. Leon, the young Russian-speaking planter, was dynamic. His vital connection with our largely Soviet background members, had a lot to do with our growth.

Prior to commissioning Leon, I had been excited to see our numbers increasing. We began multiplying house groups. I thought:

"Hey, why shouldn't we have 100 groups of 10 each! That would be 1000 people - a mega-congregation for Israel."

But I noticed two things. First, our group leaders were inexperienced. They were struggling to develop healthy small groups. Secondly, I perceived a pioneering drive within the strongest young leaders. They were looking beyond the confines of the "mama" congregation to other population centers nearby. Was I to hold them back? Or was there something to the book of Acts model? In the first century, the apostles prayed and sent out evangelizing congregation planters to begin new works in unreached areas. This model had God's approval. He had already done it this way here, in Israel.

A Small, but Bold Step

Eitan & Guy
We sent Leon, together with 30 people, to Haifa. We dedicated the work during Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication) in 2001. It had the full blessing, continued financial support, and active oversight of the Tents of Mercy leadership. This first daughter congregation was called Shavei Tzion (those returning to Zion). It is thoroughly rewarding to see the fruit of this faith step. Today, Shavei Tzion owns its own building in an extremely accessible area of Haifa, Israel's third largest city. It sports a part-time Bible college, music school, food distribution, guest facilities, and a television studio. A mere three years after its dedication, Shavei Tzion launched another congregation - this one in Nazareth. That work continues, providing humanitarian assistance and pastoral care in Yeshua's hometown. Uniquely, it is led by Vakif, a brother from the Muslim culture of Tatarstan.

That was only the beginning of the "sending out" of congregation-planting teams. Several years later in early 2005 another promising young leader asked to be relieved as our general administrator, in order to found a congregation in Akko, Katzir Asher. Guy and Tali Cohen have poured out their lives, not only into their congregation, but into the city itself. As a native of Akko, Guy's relationships go far beyond the body of believers. His testimony as a local-born Israeli is compelling.

Each Congregation is a Sending Base

Former town councilman and business entrepreneur, Eric Morey, opened our fifth congregation in his Poriya home near Tiberias. His heart beats for new territory. In fact, each new "outpost" of believers creates another sending base from which to launch fresh communities of faith.

Eitan & Leon
The Tents of Mercy Network of congregations is now spread across the Galilee. Back home at the "mama" congregation in Kiryat Yam, the last few years have brought Avishalom to the fore as my protégé, courageously taking on both the pastoral and humanitarian ministries of our center, Ohalei Rachamim.

Why have we emphasized the planting of new congregations? It's because our predecessors did it this way. In the Book of Acts we find a clear pattern of exploratory teams being "sent out" (the original meaning of apostle, apostolic). These teams remained in strong relationship with those who sent them, including periodic visits for encouragement and oversight, as well as councils that brought together those who'd been sent out.

The classic example happened at Antioch, resulting in many new disciples (14:21) and the appointment of qualified elders (14:33).

"Now in the congregation that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers ... As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said 'Now separate to me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.' Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away." (Acts 13:1-3)

I fully believe that we are seeing apostolic life restored in Israel. The way of life exemplified by the 1st century Messianic Jewish apostles was one of bringing Yeshua's redemption to unreached population hubs. Then, communities of believers were formed in order to strengthen their faith, celebrate their salvation, and draw their friends and neighbors into the kingdom.

An Intimacy of Brotherhood

The group that prayed, fasted and sent out Barnabas and Shaul in Acts 13 did not leave behind a YouTube clip of the fellowship enjoyed that day. I wish they had. They'd been given an historic mission. We can sense their expectant camaraderie.

Quality time together
Another passage which demonstrates the intimacy of brotherhood experienced by the first century apostles is Shaul's farewell to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:17-38. We aspire to this level of affection. Our council of congregation/ministry leaders is a welcome opportunity to open our hearts to each other. We listen, laugh, eat, joke, counsel, pray, and speak into one another's lives. As papa/coordinator, I am submitted to these men and they to me. It is a rare gift to develop relationships over decades - pioneering together in our old/new land.

By the grace of God, new Messianic communities have been formed in 21st century Israel. Through the Tents of Mercy Network, the rugged founders of a handful of these congregations have chosen to walk in covenant brotherhood. The next step will be linking with other similar networks in Israel. After more than 30 years of trust-building with my longtime partner, Asher Intrater, the network he leads, Revive Israel, is the ideal candidate.

I believe that the Kingdom of God is extended through deep, committed friendship and the bonds that come from walking through persecution, apathy, and inexperience - yet overcoming these obstacles. Our apostolic team represents a wide range of origins. We hail from Belarus, Ethiopia, America, Tatarstan, and Israel. It is the privilege of a lifetime to participate in the restoration of apostolic life here, where Yeshua first called his disciples together and commissioned them to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

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