Moshe Morrison

Teaching Elder
Tents of Mercy
"We sat together in my home to do the interview for this article and I asked Leon lightheartedly what he would like to do with his life. With a smile he responded, "I would like to open a very nice restaurant and serve gourmet food." From my perspective that is what Leon is doing already."

Leon Mazin has been a part of Tents of Mercy from its inception. He served as an elder and is now the leader of two of our daughter congregations, Shavei Tzion (Those who Return to Zion) in Haifa and Netzer Hagalil (Branch in the Galilee) in Upper Nazareth. I have known Leon for more than 15 years and I greatly admire him. He is a dedicated, conscientious and highly motivated servant of the Lord. We sat together in my home to do the interview for this article and I asked Leon lightheartedly what he would like to do with his life. With a smile he responded, "I would like to open a very nice restaurant and serve gourmet food." From my perspective that is what Leon is doing already.

It's no coincidence that Leon's last name is Mazin. While there is no etymological connection between his Russian family name and the Hebrew word that sounds like it, I still find it very interesting that "mazin" is the same as the Hebrew adjective "nutritious" (referring to food). Leon and his congregations are providing both physical and spiritual nourishment for God's people. In Haifa and in Nazareth his congregations each operate a soup kitchen to feed the hungry. The center in Haifa is open 4 days a week and feeds approximately 400 - 500 people per week. In Nazareth they distribute weekly 35 - 40 packages of food to families.

The members of Leon's congregations have access to the spiritual food of the scriptures on a regular basis during Shabbat services. In addition, part of the ministry of Shavei Tzion is the Haifa Theological Institute that Leon started two years ago. Its goal is to provide a solid foundation for Russian speakers in learning the Word of God. It all sounds very nutritious to me.

Let's take a few steps back and look at the history of Leon and his family and then we'll return to the present. Leon is 43 years old. He and his wife Nina have five children, ages 4 through 17. Leon moved to Israel in 1990, from Belarus. Nina and her family came in 1989, from Ukraine. They were both believers and met each other at a Messianic conference here in Israel and were married in 1993.

Also in 1993, Leon was introduced to Eitan Shishkoff who was serving on the staff at Carmel Assembly. Eitan was starting to feel the call to reach out to the Russian immigrant population in the area between Haifa and Akko known as the Kryot. In 1994, a home group began meeting in the home of a Russian couple in the Kryot and Leon became Eitan's translator during these meetings. This was around the same time that my family and I also moved to Israel. We attended Carmel Assembly for almost 2 years, but in 1996 we moved down to the Kryot because the home groups (now there were two) were expanding into a full-fledged congregation, Tents of Mercy.

After some searching we found a warehouse in Kiryat Yam that had formerly been used to manufacture aluminum windows. We fixed it up as best as we could and began holding services there on Saturday evenings. Leon was hired to work full-time for Tents of Mercy starting up a humanitarian aid distribution center. In 1998, Eitan, Leon and I were ordained as the leadership of the congregation. We also moved out of our old warehouse into our new building just 100 feet away.

Around the year 2000, Leon developed a burden for the city of Haifa. Originally his thoughts were primarily in the realm of outreach rather than starting up a new congregation. God had other ideas and a new congregation was formed in 2001. There was a Russian speaking home group in Haifa that was part of Tents of Mercy and it became the basis for Shavei Tzion. They rented a hall and began meeting. However, after about 6 months, the owners of the building came under pressure by a religious Jewish group to get them out.

Their new meeting place was the Arab/Israel Cultural Center. This is a unique location in Haifa, a place of sharing for Muslims, Christians and Jews. Shavei Tzion was welcomed there and the people who ran the center were not susceptible to Orthodox harassment. In this new home, Leon's congregation truly began to take root and grow.

Leon's vision is to "build a congregation with a faith in Yeshua in Israel today as it was many years ago. Our services and our lives need to truly express the genuine Jewishness of the first believers and naturally connect with our people now." I asked him how it was going and his answer was honest and profound. "It is a big vision and a great challenge," he said, "but we try to do our best. We lay the stones and trust for God to provide the cement to hold it all together." Shavei Tzion in Haifa now has about 140 members which includes the children. 95% are Russian speakers.

The theological institute makes use of local Israeli leaders and foreign visiting teachers to instruct the students. There are about 70 students in various levels of commitment and there are over 1000 people who access teaching material from them online. The material is strongly Messianic in its approach to the scriptures.

Shavei Tzion also has a music school which was originally started as an outreach and now has an enrollment of about 25 students. The five instructors teach drums, clarinet, violin, saxophone and piano.

It is also important to mention that Shavei Tzion is reaching out to 150-200 holocaust survivors. This is a much neglected yet very needy part of Israeli society. Most are very elderly and their numbers diminish every year. As funds allow, Shavei Tzion provides concerts, shows, meals, and occasional touring trips around the country for these who have suffered so much and have so little.

In 2002, the Lord put it on Leon's heart to reach out into Nazareth. Lower Nazareth, the older section of the city, is almost entirely Arab with a population of about 60,000. Upper Nazareth is a relatively new development with a Jewish population of 55,000. Their initial efforts were unsuccessful, but in 2004, Congregation Netzer HaGalil was formed in Upper Nazareth. Now, after 7 years, the congregation remains small, only about 30 people. Leon's associate there is a young Russian man named Vakif, a good and dedicated shepherd. The biggest challenge facing this work is the strong spiritual resistance against the establishment of the Messianic faith in Nazareth. Many centuries of Jewish rejection still influences the spiritual atmosphere of the city. Nazareth is universally known as Yeshua's "home town" and this is very irksome to the rabbis who have synagogues there. They would much rather eliminate the connection between Yeshua and their town than to see it grow and flourish today in the form of a modern Messianic community.

Leon is a visionary. He is open to fresh ways to reach our people with the message of Messiah. These projects that we have briefly looked at here are the fruit of the Holy Spirit's work through him, but there is much more to come. He is one of the pioneers who has returned to Zion to build her up.

Shavei Tzion moved out of the Arab/Jewish center five years ago and has been renting part of a wonderful building in the heart of downtown Haifa. The landlord is willing to sell the building and has offered them an excellent price. They are currently in the process of raising money to purchase it. The facility has great potential and is five stories high with open meeting space on the roof as well. Owning the entire building will enable them to almost double their sanctuary seating space and build offices, classrooms, dormitories for guests and volunteers, and maybe there will even be a little place for a gourmet restaurant.

By Moshe Morrison
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07:03 03Sep11 Jacquelyn Bennett -
It is powerful for us to stay connected with believers and leaders in Israel. You are dear to our hearts and central to our prayers. You experience highs and lows that are unique to your calling. We thank G-d for you. You are truly blessed of G-d and among his dearest. Rest assured of that. May you be purified in this season of reflection and gain higher ground. We love and pray for you through Yeshua.

Also in this issue of the newsletter:
Daniel Juster: The World Needs Love
Avi Tekle: From the Middle East to the Far East and Back Again
Asher Intrater: Faithful Friendship