Eitan is sitting behind a makeshift podium with his favorite Russian translator Sasha. Twenty or so students of all ages file in and take their seats. This is the 5th of six lectures Eitan is presenting on leadership development. He begins, "I want to talk to you this evening about three men you all know well, Kefa, Yochannan and Sha'ul ..." Eitan is no stranger to this sort of event and I have had the privilege of hearing him teach on many occasions but this night is special because of the setting. Tonight Eitan is teaching at Haifa Theological Institute. Conceived only a year ago, HTI began running a full slate of classroom instruction last August. Courses range from biblical studies to practical theology. Fourteen instructors are on the faculty, nine of these hold academic doctorates in their respective disciplines.
I am not an academic but I know something about organization and instruction and I also know that at least typically, one does not start up a theological institute in less then a year, let alone with an impressive roster of professors, all for around 100 Shekels ($25) a course. There is something going on here that seems somewhat of a marvel to me.
I've known Leon Mazin for about 5 years and I have come to expect his trademark ability to plan and organize programs and activities at breakneck speed. Leon is a man of action and his wife Nina can match him stride for stride. What I didn't know is that Haifa boasts three other Messianic congregational leaders that can move at the same dizzying pace - perhaps it is in the water or something, Haifa as a city has always had a reputation for getting things done. So about a year ago, Leon and his fellow congregational leaders began talking together about creating a formal course of instruction for their congregants. Wise leaders know their task includes replicating their skills and abilities in others. The majority of Messianic believers in the city are Russian speakers and few immigrated to Israel with a theological background.
Living in Israel is challenging enough, but to serve congregations in the face of sophisticated and well educated opposition, future leaders require sharp tools to address the historical, cultural and theological issues that are unique to Israel and especially to the Messianic community. In order to equip them to take over the leadership task, Leon and his colleagues determined that such a program of study must be "made in Israel," of high quality, affordable and accessible to Russian speakers. And so a coalition was struck between 4 leaders who themselves all come from different theological backgrounds; Leon Mazin from Shavei Tsion, Gennady Shykhostov from Even Ezer, Gleb Samburski from Israel Hai and Rotislav Kuharovsky from Mayim Zormim. These leaders had been colleagues and friends for many years but this was the first time such a joint venture took place in the Haifa Messianic community. Added to the mix was Dr. Ilya Lizorkin.
Ilya was originally from Uzbekistan and had lived in the USA for some 17 years. In 2008 when he and his wife made aliyah to Israel, Ilya was just completing his PH.D. as a research fellow at Hebrew University. Ilya brought the academic credentials and contacts that connected some of the missing pieces in the plan. He now serves as the academic coordinator for HTI.
Ilya told me that he took the leaders to Zichron Yacov for their first official meeting together to objectify the vision for the task they were undertaking. Sitting at a café in that historic town, Ilya reminded the men that Zichron started as a seemingly impossible dream by pioneers who were not afraid to go beyond the conventional. The prosperity of that beautiful city now testifies to what can be accomplished when a group of individuals dares to dream. HTI was also a dream that only those with a pioneering spirit would venture.
Talks among the 5 men continued on for several months, sometimes going on for hours, sometimes within the steamy confines of a Russian style sauna. With amazing speed the pieces came together and the first classes were held in August 2009. Between full and part time students HTI has some 70 people enrolled. They are getting ready to launch an online course for another 25 students in Germany. Requests have also come in from Russia and Russian speakers living in the States. Ilya told me he anticipated an enrollment of around 20 students for the first year. By any standards, over doubling the student body without any advertisement and attracting such prestigious academic resources represents tremendous growth. How can we account for such rapid expansion - even in Haifa, the city with a reputation for industry?
Ilya was at least able to give me a partial explanation: "The market was so ripe for this sort of program. There was a very strong need to educate the Messianic body in Haifa. Also, because the local leaders own the project and are not just adding their blessing to someone else's endeavor, they have made the significant investment in time and resources to make it work." Certainly the idea of helping to prepare leaders in Israel is attractive to academics and this also can help explain some of HTI's fledgling success. (Leon told me he has a great list of professors wanting to be involved.) But Ilya was quick to acknowledge that "unless the Lord builds the house those that labor do so in vain." Ilya the academic summarized his explanation with a very simple answer: "The Lord is on the move."
Fast paced growth usually means growing pains. 70 students is a huge number to account for when you had planned for 20. Both Leon and Ilya stressed to me that the challenge now is to continue to provide high quality instruction at an affordable price, all with very limited administrational resources. Ilya is the only staff person at HTI (all other needs are being met by volunteers from partnering congregations) and he needs technical and administrative support. If the Lord is indeed building this house somehow these challenges will be met. Perhaps He will use some of you our readers in the construction process. Challenges are to be expected and joys are some of the dividends paid out along the way. Not only is HTI delivering quality education to Haifa's Messianic believers, it is serving to build bridges between these 4 congregations and their leaders (they have students from 2-3 other congregations as well). Ilya also sees unexpected excitement among the people; even at this early juncture he can recognize how HTI is meeting their needs.
The program of HTI is still experimental and the leaders are seeking to determine the Lord's leading one step at a time. Ilya is optimistic but realizes the program is at a very early stage. The HTI leadership team is still finding their way towards establishing long term goals. Please, uphold them in prayer.
You can find out more about HTI at their website www.htinstitute.co.il. Leon Mazin invites you to contact him, email@example.com if you are interested in partnering with HTI's important work.
|Let us know what you think - why not comment to this article. The authors of these articles are often involved in intense ministry and are thus unable to respond to most comments. As is normal with print and online magazines, Tikkun reserves the right to publish only those comments we feel are edifying in tone and content.|
Also in this issue of the newsletter:
|Daniel Juster: Gilder & Goldstone|
|Moshe Morrison: Growing Faith from Generation to Generation|
|Asher Intrater: Was Mary A Virgin?|