ISRAEL (BP)–White and blue flags rustled in the breeze, and kebabs sizzled on the grill. Ben Martin* gathered the group around and offered a prayer of thanks for the food.
“Thank You for this food. Thank You for this nation. And thank You that after 2,000 years, You haven’t forsaken Israel.”
He hasn’t forsaken it — in fact, Jesus Christ is at work among the Jews more than ever, Martin said.
The crowd at this Israeli Independence Day party was more diverse than one might expect for a get-together celebrating the founding of the Jewish homeland in 1948.
There were Iranian Jews. Iraqi Jews. Russian Jews. American Jews.
“The face of the Jews here isn’t what you’d expect,” said Martin, a Christian worker among the Jews. “Because of ‘the return,’ it’s a very diverse group.”
The return of Jews after 1948 to what is Israel today brought the Diaspora — Jews scattered worldwide — back from different countries and cultures. But despite differences, the work among them is expanding all the time, Martin said. Baptist work in Israel started in the 1920s in an Arab town, and the Messianic work among the nation’s Jews is a growing phenomenon.
Now there are an estimated 150 Jewish congregations around Israel meeting in different languages. The number of believers is estimated to be around 20,000, growing exponentially from 1948 when 12 Jews who believed in Jesus could be counted, to 1987 when there were 3,000 and 1997 where there were 5,000.
“This is clearly the work of Jesus, because it’s very hard for a Jew to become a believer,” Martin said.
It’s fine for non-Jews to be Christians, but many Jews feel being a Jew by birth and a Christian by belief is inherently impossible, he explained. They feel the two are mutually exclusive. “It’s a lie of 2,000 years that the Messianic movement [Jews who believe Jesus is the Messiah] has to fight against.”
In the early years of the movement, when the Messianic Jews did street evangelism, they would often find Jews who already believed in Jesus but thought they were the only ones.
“We believe Jews are becoming more open to the Gospel all the time,” Martin said.
And not just in Israel itself.
David and Cindy Bufkin* spent 21 years reaching out to the people of Argentina before they felt a strong pull to join the work God was doing among the Jews in the South American country. The couple was at the May 10 gathering, as part of the year they are spending in Israel to learn Jewish culture and Hebrew language before returning to work among Spanish-speaking Jews in Argentina.
“We wanted to be able to have the cultural foundation to connect with them and build relationships,” Cindy Bufkin said. “It’s a wide spectrum of culture among the Jews in Argentina, but they all have [Jewish tradition] in common. We want to be able to connect with them and lead them to the Messiah.”
*Names have been changed. Ava Thomas is an International Mission Board writer/editor based in Europe.