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
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.