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 closed!

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! It's incredible.

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 world.

We thank you for your faithful partnership with Return to Zion Ministries!!

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