ARGENTINA (BP) — Marcus Floyd* has a heart for Jews but he doesn’t meet them in Israel or the United States.
He meets them as they head through South America down the Inca Trail, through Machu Picchu, through the region’s famous Carnival celebrations and into Argentina.
“They come here to get away from responsibility, see the beauty of the land and do what they want because they’re not at home,” Floyd said. “And when they get here, they’re very open to talking.”
About 50,000 Israeli tourists pass through South America every year on vacation, said Floyd, a Christian worker there with his wife Jane*.
“There are certain towns where one in three tourists are Israeli, and certain campgrounds that host thousands of Israelis a year,” Floyd said. “God has been putting the pieces together, and we are finding ways to reach out to them — like giving them rides from the airport, providing places for them to come and hang out and giving them Bibles.”
Tourists aren’t the only Jews with whom the Floyds interact — but also established Jewish populations.
“There are Jewish neighborhoods and communities here with Hebrew-language signs and Jewish food, and they can go there and feel right at home,” he said.
It’s possible to grow up Jewish in South America and only have contact with other Jews, going to Jewish schools and Jewish hospitals and buying clothing and food from Jewish neighbors and friends, Floyd said.
About 750,000 Jews live on the continent, he said, noting that the last and biggest migration was just after World War II.
In one city, 100,000 Jews live in a 15-mile radius. Of those, a small number — maybe 10 to 15 percent — are Orthodox, Floyd said. “On top of that, 20 percent go to the synagogue about once a month and consider themselves ‘religious’ but the vast majority don’t do anything.
“Many are atheist and will say, ‘My parents are Jewish, but I’m not.'”
Their encounters with Christianity often are buffeted by a history of anti-Semitism both real and perceived throughout the ages, Floyd said.
“They might live right next to a church their whole lives but not go in it because they have preconceived notions about its beliefs and about how the people there might feel about them,” he said.
But the church’s presence isn’t without fruit.
“One guy I’ve met accidentally came upon a tract and read it. That sent him on a search, and I became connected with him,” Floyd said.
Another man in his 50s was prompted to start reading the Bible for himself and was startled at what he found.
“He came to Isaiah 53 and thought, ‘That’s Jesus,'” Floyd said.
The first man’s family didn’t mind when he came to faith in Christ. But the second one’s wife left him not long after. He wasn’t invited to his daughter’s wedding, and he has two grandchildren he’s never been allowed to meet.
“But he has deep conviction that Christ is worth it,” Floyd said. “He told me he wouldn’t trade a thing.”
The Floyds have lived among the Jewish community of South America for a decade now, working to disciple men such as these and to build relationships with neighbors and tourists alike with the purpose of sharing the Gospel. Two other families will join them soon.
“Please pray that the Lord will continue to provide divine appointments so that others might hear clearly the Good News about their Messiah,” Floyd said.
*Names changed. Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe.