24th February 2015
We want to share with you an exciting project happening in our daughter
Congregation, Netzer HaGalil - "Branch of the Galilee".
Over a decade ago, when Shavei Tzion fellowship was only two years
old, we attempted to launch a congregation in Nazareth Illit, a town
built during the modern era of Israel. The majority of the town's
inhabitants are Jews, and since 1990 it has been home to numerous
Russian-speaking immigrants. It is located above its older, counterpart
city of Nazareth, which has a population that is predominantly Arab.
At first, our plan appeared to be a complete failure. We seemed to struggle
to make any progress, and were eventually forced to scale back.
Nevertheless, despite this early setback, we remained hopeful and
appreciated our first experiences as we familiarized ourselves with the
town and met many of its people. We came back a year later, in 2004,
and this time we were successful, as Netzer HaGalil (Hebrew for
"Branch of the Galilee") fellowship was finally born. The choice of
the name is especially significant, as it ties in with the well-known
concept of the Messiah being called "the Branch" in the Hebrew Scriptures.
The congregation's leader is Vaqif, who is a Tatar. Even
though traditionally Tatars are Muslims, he was brought up in a secular
family. While living in Russia, he met his future wife, who happened to be
Jewish. At the time, both of them were atheists, which is not surprising,
given that back then atheism was a predominant ideology within the society.
However, their lives were transformed after they came to faith in God and
His Messiah. From that moment on, they were zealous to serve the Lord, and
they began to look for the opportunity to do so. Their testimony serves as
a reminder to us of how immensely great our God is. Despite Vaqif's
upbringing and years of atheistic indoctrination, God turned his life
around and led him to be a Messianic rabbi and teacher in the Jewish city
of Nazareth Illit.
For some people, even among Messianic Jews, it was unusual to see a man
like Vakif living and ministering in Israel. But to us it provides a great
encouragement that, for God, anything is possible. He can use anyone in
reaching out to the lost, revealing the truth and transforming
people's lives, no matter what others may think. This is what God has
been doing since the sinful fall of mankind, and for this reason everyone
is called to His mission, including Muslim Tatars!
We commenced to hold our meetings in about 9,000 square feet of space
formerly used for industrial purposes. Once we had prepared the space, we
began to conduct services, study the Scriptures, and organize special
events, including ones for Holocaust survivors. At the same time, we set up
a soup kitchen alongside the congregation, which allowed us to serve the
poor and needy of the town.
Our fellowship begun to grow, and over a period of time more people became
acquainted with it. Its role in the community has been recognized by the
local department of social services as we made friendships with its
representatives. Back in 2005, the local government's perception of
Christian missions and Messianic Jewish fellowships was quite negative.
Therefore, the collaboration with representatives of the local council was
a great encouragement for all of us. In a way, it was recognition of our
work in Nazareth Illit.
For a believer living in Europe or North America,
it is probably hard to imagine that such an attitude would exist in our
day. But in Israel, unfortunately, it has been the norm. It is hard to
pinpoint whether this was due to the history of the crusades, the
Inquisition or the general historic anti-Semitism that took place under the
watch of the institutional Church. The bottom line is that for many years
the name of Yeshua has not been favorably regarded in Israel.
Nevertheless, our congregation continued to work in the community, bringing
the message of the Messiah. However, about five years ago, a night bar
opened next door to the congregation. In the beginning, its presence did
not bother us, and after some time, there even emerged a joke that went
along these lines:
"Whoever wants to meet God goes to Nazer HaGalil, and whoever
doesn't goes to the night bar."
Not surprisingly, at some point, the relationship started to deteriorate,
especially when our neighbors decided to extend their activities late into
the night. Even though it continued to get worse during the last couple of
years, we did not get discouraged, as many members of the congregation
committed themselves to intercessory prayer for the situation to be
resolved. And praise be to God, for He does not allow us to be tested
beyond the strength He gives us. We have persevered, and the bar has now
As it happens, the owner of the space occupied by the congregation also
owns the space formerly occupied by the night bar next door, and we have
made a proposition to acquire it. So with God's help, the
fellowship's premises will soon double in size. We give thanks to our
Heavenly Father and believe that our fellowship will continue growing in
the coming years - in size and influence in the city.
As we are beginning to expand, we realize that it will be costly in terms
of our time, effort and finances. Nonetheless, we remain determined, for we
know that the Lord is with us. He is our rock, in whom we trust
wholeheartedly, and our reassurance comes from Him. Our God is an awesome
God. Just think about it - the place that used to be a den of drunkards
has been turned into a place for worshiping the King of Kings!
Actually, we find something similar in the writings of Paul to the
Corinthian believers, as he reminds them in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
about the things they were delivered from:
"Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of
God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor
adulterers ... nor drunkards, nor revelers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, and you
were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus by the Spirit of our God."
Given the task at hand, we will need prayer support, as well as ongoing
intercession for lost souls. Despite the city's geographically exalted
position relative to Nazareth, and its difference in demographics, it
continues to be challenging for us to preach the Gospel. It is as if the
exile of the Messiah has been extended to our days, following the events of
two thousand years ago, when Yeshua was driven from His hometown's
synagogue by the angry mob. Unfortunately, His words continue to resonate
in our day: "A prophet is not without honour, except in his own country,
and among his own relatives, and in his own house" (Mark 6:4).
Evangelism and good conduct, standing in prayer and growing strong in faith
- this is what we continue to pray for in order for us to succeed in
changing the attitudes of people towards the Messiah in this town. We are
calling upon Him to return home.
Therefore, we ask you to take a stand and pray with us. We believe that
this strategy will enable our people to see a horizon of God's light
that will eventually transform the future of Israel and the entire
We thank you for your faithful partnership with Return to Zion Ministries!!