Testimonies of Thanksgiving
Caught by God
I was born to an educated Jewish family in Kiev, Ukraine. My upbringing was like many of the Jewish people from the Former Soviet Union. I had some knowledge of my Jewish roots because my parents kept Jewish identity and some of the traditions, but I did not sense that I was raised with any real faith in God. The Communist educational system and culture shaped my ideas far more than any religious teaching. Still, I was glad when religious freedom increased during the late 1980s, and I started to attend synagogue. It was great to have fellowship with other Jewish young people, and I became a committed Zionist. In 1991, I managed to fulfill my dream when I moved to Israel.
Seeing Israel was a life-changing experience. I got an unmistakable sense of God’s presence there, but I also came to realize that there was more to knowing God and having a fulfilled life than simply living in Israel. I had to decide whether to stay in Israel or return to Kiev to finish my education. I asked God for guidance by putting my question as a note into the Western Wall, and on the next day, I understood I should go back to Ukraine.
I completed a Master’s degree in Computer Science and Mathematics at the State University in Kiev. But something happened there that was to change the shape of my life in ways that I could never have imagined. I met an old Jewish friend, B,* who told me something that I found shocking and unbelievable. He told me that Jesus is the Messiah of the Jewish people. I told him he was crazy; no Jewish person could believe in Jesus. I wanted to prove B wrong, so I immersed myself in the Scriptures, but it didn’t work. Instead of proving him wrong, I became convinced that Jesus is the Messiah! At the time, I was too frightened and confused to make a decision to become a believer. But once God had caught me, it seemed impossible to wriggle free of His grasp. About three months later, in 1992, I finally surrendered my life to the Messiah to immediately find a quality new and fulfilling life in Him.
“Lord, give me a person, and I will take them to you.”
For 49 years I did not know God…
I was delighted with the wonderful world around me, and was full of gratitude for the great miracle of LIFE. As a little girl, I was convinced that there was no God, and something closed in my mind. My unbelief became my second faith.
When I was 16, my dear mother died, and I was left alone in this rough world. But I always sensed that somebody was keeping me safe. I got married, had two daughters, then a grandson. After 22 years of peaceful family life, my husband left me. It took five years to recover from the shock of his betrayal. Yet, despite all the troubles, I was always full of life and joy.
And then it happened…
I was on a bus, reading the book How to Become Happy (which suggested such things as going to the sauna, etc.). A man sat next to me and began talking to me. Three weeks later, he was still telling me about God. His name was Alexander, and we lived in the same building. But, I could not understand what Jesus could do with me if He was crucified 2,000 years ago. I don’t know how long our conversations would have lasted if it were not for a miracle. We were drinking tea in the kitchen and talking about God. Suddenly, I saw someone in ancient Jewish robes. I knew it was Jesus, but thought it was a hallucination. Then I felt a touch on my arm—again, I thought our conversations have produced a tangible hallucination.
And then the touch became hot, deep, alive…it touched my heart, and my heart trembled after recognizing its Creator, and I ran after Him. I did not understand much then. I only knew that Jesus was alive, and that I had a touch of His love.
That’s how my new life with the Lord began.
He filled me with His love, healed my wounds, lit the sun of His joy in my heart, the sun of truth. I’ve been with the Lord for almost 15 years now. I’ve taken part in many evangelistic campaigns: in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ukrainian cities, Tashkent, New York, and Budapest. Many hundreds of people, most of whom are Jewish, have opened their hearts to the Lord.
My prayer is, “Lord, give me a person, and I will take him (or her) to you.”
“This is YOUR Prophet”
In the summer of my junior year in high school
I applied and was accepted to Penn State, my first choice. The following year, on January 17th of my senior year,
I was invited to a Bible study by kids who were working at a bridge tournament I was playing in. Having been raised in a secular home, I had no interest in the Bible study. I knew I was Jewish, but agreed to go because the kids doing the study were all from Penn State.
I didn’t own a Bible, but I listened as they read it. I knew they were talking about Jesus, and knew I was NOT supposed to believe in Him. Not wanting to offend them, I excused myself. Before I could get out the door, they stopped me. “Wait. Why are you leaving?” I replied that I was Jewish and didn’t believe in the New Testament.
They asked why I thought that they were reading from the New Testament. I said I wasn’t stupid, and knew the person they were talking about was Jesus. “Jesus isn’t in MY Bible, Jesus is only in the New Testament.”
They turned the Bible around and showed me where they were reading from. They said, “This is YOUR prophet—Isaiah.”
Sure enough, it was Isaiah 53.
Since I had already decided that the person spoken of in Isaiah was Jesus, I had no choice but to believe. So I accepted Jesus, but I didn’t understand what that meant. In fact, I thought I was the only Jewish person ever to believe in Jesus. I felt totally isolated. When my parents heard about my decision, they thought I had been brainwashed. The kids who shared this with me were from Penn State, so my parents forbade from me from attending that school. Having not applied anywhere else, I was at a loss.
I ended up going to another school and didn’t do very well. I dropped out of college and enlisted in the Army. For ten years, I did nothing about furthering my understanding of Yeshua (Jesus). It would be years later before I would find peace with my belief.
It was during those ten years that I met Kim in upstate New York and fell in love. Soon I was stationed in San Antonio for nursing school, and we decided to have the wedding there. It was during the planning of our wedding and our search for a Messianic rabbi to officiate that we were re-introduced to and accepted The Rabbi, Yeshua the Messiah.
I was raised in a blended Jewish and Christian family in upstate New York. I was exposed to the Gospel during my childhood through my grandmother, who took me to church.
I went to synagogue with my mother’s parents, too. However, our home was mostly secular, since we really did not practice anything.
I always believed in God and knew who Jesus was, but it would not be until many years later that I would find the Messiah while searching for a rabbi to officiate at my wedding.
You could say that I was always searching, but if you had asked me,
I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what for. I knew there was something missing, and as I searched, I made a lot of mistakes and suffered through those choices. My childhood belief in God began to tarnish.
Little did I know that I was about to meet Yeshua (Jesus). My fiancé, Neal, was stationed at Fort Sam Houston with the Army Reserves for nursing school, and we had decided to have our ceremony in San Antonio. So in April of 1995 every aspect of our wedding was in place…except for a rabbi. We began the frantic search, but we struck out everywhere we looked.
Desperately, I searched through the yellow pages and came across a heading that said “Messianic Judaism.” At that point, we felt we would have taken anyone, so long as it was a rabbi. We called the rabbi and agreed to attend a Friday evening service to meet him. At the service, many memories came flooding back from my childhood. It felt familiar, but yet something was different. I did not realize that the Holy Spirit was already working on my heart. The rabbi agreed to do the wedding, but wanted to meet with us one more time. So that Sunday morning, we met for coffee. It was during that meeting that we confessed that we did not know Yeshua, and he asked if we wanted to know more. Over that cup of coffee and conversation, Neal and I accepted Yeshua as our Savior. My search—and Neal’s—was finally over.
Opposition in Brooklyn Is Growing!
Shalom! We recently observed the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot in Hebrew—meaning “booths”), which is a big event in my home town of Brooklyn! Our urban landscape was dotted with little booths made of plywood, canvas and palm branches. These booths, in which religious Jews eat their meals and even sleep during the week, remind us of our vulnerability and desperate need of God’s love and power. He is the One who sustained the Israelites through the wilderness wanderings and cares for His chosen people. The week is dedicated to encouraging Jewish people to trust Him for everything: our life, food, family and safety.
This reminder of God’s care and protection during the celebration of the Festival of Tabernacles (also called the Festival of Booths) is especially meaningful in Israel this year. God has shown His Jewish people and the world, once again, that He is the One who keeps Israel against all odds. My prayer is that Israelis begin to see this and turn to the only One who can preserve the Jewish people through difficult times… And to His Son, our beloved Messiah and Lord.
Sukkot Booths in Brooklyn
We have been under spiritual attack from some of our Orthodox neighbors in Brooklyn because of our new and beautiful Charles Feinberg Center in Brooklyn. You can watch the video that was sent out by this group by visiting: http://vimeo.com/102548758.
Remember though, we love our people! If I did not know what I know now about Jesus and true Christians, I probably would have sent out a similar video! I wish every Jewish person understood how much true Christians, who love the Lord and the Word of God, also love the Jewish people.
We all know about Corrie ten Boom and her love and sacrifice for the Jewish people during the Holocaust—but there were many others. I can tell you about efforts during the Holocaust to save Jews—especially on the part of the missions to the Jewish people—that are somewhat unknown to this day. Jewish missions were actively involved in rescuing Jewish people from certain annihilation at the hands of the Nazis.
A Miracle in Vienna
Let me illustrate briefly by telling you the accomplishments of a group of missionaries in Vienna.
Hitler invaded Vienna on March 15, 1938 in what was known as the Anschluss, or annexation of Austria. There were 181,778 Jews in Austria at this time, more than 90% of whom lived in Vienna. Hitler and Goebbels sought their complete destruction.
Prior to the invasion of Vienna, there had been a major meeting of missionaries to the Jews; these leaders predicted what was coming and knew they needed to act. They worked out an arrangement with the Swedish Israelite Mission, which maintained a large property in Vienna, to become the focal point of rescue efforts in Austria.
The leader of the Swedish Mission in Vienna at the time writes:
The Swedish Mission to the Jews in Vienna could report when its doors had to be closed in 1941 that over 3,000 Christians of Jewish origin in its care had been able to leave Germany and Austria in order to build a better future in other parts of the world.
Your Mission to the Jewish People was also deeply involved in smuggling Jews out of Vienna. One of our staff members, Emmanuel Lichtenstein, who would eventually move to Argentina and begin our work among some of these survivors who settled in Buenos Aires, was working in partnership with the Swedish mission.
Otto Singer, working among the Jews of New York City on behalf of Chosen People Ministries, told the story of one family that had received Messiah in Vienna and was able to escape the Nazis. He reported the following in The Chosen People magazine:
Brother S. was a manager in a large department store in Vienna for more than twenty years. After the Anschluss, he lost his position and he could not get a job, because he was a non-Aryan. He came in contact with our Emmanuel Lichtenstein (a Chosen People Ministries missionary working in Vienna) at the Swedish Jewish mission in Vienna. In a short time he received the Lord Jesus as his personal savior and confessed his faith in baptism. He came to our services regularly and was a blessing to others.
By the end of the war, 70,000 Austrian Jews had been slaughtered and an additional 20,000 who had immigrated to other countries died as well, as the Nazis entered the countries to which they fled. Many more, especially the Messianic Jews, would have also died were it not for the heroic efforts of the Christians in Vienna.
But, this sacrificial love for the Jewish people is not simply a thing of the past during a terrible time. There are many stories today of Christians loving Jewish people and impacting lives for Jesus the Messiah.
Recent Ministry in Denmark
Believers from Denmark invited one of our staff members in Israel to bring a group of Holocaust survivors to have the kind of fellowship that would make a difference in their lives. The purpose of the trip was to enable the elderly survivors to rest in the midst of the recent war. More importantly, it was a time to think about God—why we need the Lord, and how to become closer to Him.
The majority of them were seekers and they asked many questions concerning the authenticity and the trustworthiness of the Bible. They enjoyed the beauty of the country; visited museums and two churches, and listened to concerts of Jewish, Messianic and Christian music. According to our staff,
The Christians we met were the most wonderful part of the trip because they are the ones who made the difference in the lives of the survivors.
Your Partnership and Prayers
I pray that your Jewish friends and family will learn more about the Messiah through your love, both in word and deed. And hopefully this will help Jewish people love the Savior who fills our hearts with His love. I am reminded of Paul’s statement in Romans 5:3-5 where he writes that God’s love is all we need to have hope in the midst of trials and tribulations. I need this hope—as do so many Jewish people who do not yet know Messiah.
And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Back in Brooklyn…
We now have Jewish organizations established within a few blocks of our Brooklyn facility that are seeking to oppose us. Again, this is not unexpected and we would much rather have the same Jewish people attending our Bible studies and services, but—for me it is certainly evidence of the fact they know something is going on at our center.
To help us expand our ministries at the Brooklyn Center, would you consider a generous gift to help us meet our center budget of $200,000 this year?
The costs for the Feinberg seminary program are a little higher, but whatever amount you can contribute—even today—would be a great encouragement and help embolden us to approach our “self-declared enemies” with the love of Jesus.
I know that the Lord is blessing our efforts and already we’ve had many conversations with Jewish seekers both outside and within the new center. We simply need to keep the doors open, the lights and utilities paid for and the staff having enough funds to care for their families.
Your financial help will make an incredible difference in our ability to preach the Gospel today.
Thanks so much for praying about this and for our work in the midst of Orthodox Jewish Brooklyn.
Blessings in Him,
President's Prayer Letter
Dear friend in Messiah,
We are still in the midst of the High Holy Days—one of the most important seasons in Jewish life. It consists of three Jewish holidays: the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot).
The High Holidays encourage us to draw closer to God and to appreciate our salvation in the Messiah Jesus in far deeper ways than usual. In fact, this is exactly why God created the Jewish Holy Days. He marked seven great festivals and a weekly Sabbath as times for Jewish people to refrain from everyday activities and focus their full attention on Him.
The Day of Atonement
Yom Kippur is the capstone of a ten-day period, beginning with Rosh Hashanah, called the Ten Days of Repentance or sometimes the Ten Days of Awe. During this time, we are supposed to repent before God and our fellow man, asking forgiveness for the ways in which we may have harmed others. It is this focus on healing that comes from forgiving and being forgiven that I believe is one of the true miracles of life. It is at the very core of the Gospel message!
To be forgiven and then be able to forgive is a gift. There are very few experiences able to heal the heart and soul as forgiveness can.
May I tell you a quick story about one of my heroes—Corrie ten Boom? She is a woman who really understood the power of forgiveness and the struggles that go along with forgiving.
It was in a church in Germany that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947, and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.
“You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,” he was saying. “I was a guard in there.” No, he did not remember me.
“But since that time,” he went on, “I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, ...” his hand came out, “will you forgive me?”
And I stood there—I whose sins had every day to be forgiven—and could not. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.”
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”
For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner.
I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.1
This powerful story reminds me of one of my favorite Scripture passages to meditate on during the Day of Atonement. Yeshua the Messiah, who observed the Day of Atonement before He became the Atonement, said the following in Matthew chapter 6,
For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
The Savior was making the point that Corrie ten Boom well illustrated,
…that authentic forgiveness is only possible when you have been forgiven.
Our salvation is not based on forgiving others, but it is also true that citizens of the kingdom of God cannot walk in fellowship with God if we refuse to forgive others.2
A person can only forgive as they have been forgiven! When we forgive others, it shows that we understand what it means to be forgiven by God Himself. Extending forgiveness releases others from their sin/debt to us and clears the path for reconciliation and restoration.
Bringing the Message of Atonement to the Jewish People
I love the Day of Atonement because it reminds me of what our work at Chosen People Ministries is all about! What could be more precious and more meaningful than bringing this message of forgiveness and reconciliation to the Jewish people—and to the world?
Thank you for your prayers and financial support. We could not possibly do this work without you! If you are able to make a generous gift this month to the work of bringing the Gospel to the Jewish people, let me assure you that your gift will be used exactly for this purpose—to bring the message of forgiveness to God’s chosen people.
May the Lord who forgives grant you great joy and the power to forgive others.
Your brother in the Messiah,
P.S. There is no better way to understand the Jewish people than to understand what was endured during the Holocaust. The experiences of Jewish people in Germany and Poland have shaped modern Jewish attitudes towards the Gospel. Chosen People Ministries wants to take you there on a Holocaust Memorial Tour to give you an opportunity to visit sites in Berlin, Warsaw and Auschwitz. The tour will take place June 14-24, 2015. Please visit the Holocaust Memorial Website for more information.
1 “I’m Still Learning to Forgive” by Corrie ten Boom is reproduced with permission from Guideposts, Guideposts.org. Copyright ©1972 by Guideposts. All rights reserved.
2 Louis A. Barbieri, Jr., “Matthew” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, v. 2 (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1983), 32. http://bible.org/article/issue-forgiveness-sermon-mount
Seniors Receive New Life in Messiah
Carole Bahm, who has been faithfully ministering among Jewish retirees in South Florida, has been witnessing to a 103-year-old Jewish man by the name of Aaron.* His sister-in-law, Kate,* has been doing likewise for many years. Recently, Aaron prayed to receive Jesus as his Messiah and Lord. Carole writes, “When I visited Aaron, I said to him, ‘I understand you accepted Yeshua (Jesus) as your Messiah and Lord. Is that right?’ He looked at me for a long time and then said, ‘Yes.’ To see someone like Aaron become a believer at his age has been a great encouragement. Oh, by the way, he just turned 104.”
Meanwhile in Israel, another Jewish man—a relative youngster at the age of 85-—responded to the Gospel at a weekly Bible study that staff member Eugene I. helps lead. He writes, “At the next meeting, he even prayed on his own. I am very excited for him. It is also an encouragement for many who attend our meetings who have not yet fully committed to following Messiah.”
Patient Prayer Bears Fruit for Kingdom
Staff member Anna Bortsova in Toronto knows what it is to patiently wait for a planted seed to flourish. A few years ago, at a women’s Bible study that Anna was leading, an unbelieving Jewish woman named Deborah* was “sitting on the fence” regarding a decision for the Lord. Later, she moved with her family to California and although Anna continued to pray, they lost contact. Then, Anna’s telephone rang. It was Deborah, calling from California with news. “I want to tell you something! I became a believer!” she said. “And I remembered our Bible studies so often, thinking and reading through the notes.” Now Anna and Deborah regularly call each other and pray together. Deborah is planning to start a group with two Jewish women who are interested in Bible study.
The Word is Getting Around
Dov,* a young Russian Jewish cab driver picked up staff member Joseph Ryan and his wife, Sarah, from the airport. When Joseph mentioned Chosen People Ministries, Dov began talking about a building in Brooklyn that he recently walked past—it turned out to be our new Charles Feinberg Messianic Center! Joseph began explaining to him that Charles Feinberg was a prominent Jewish believer in Jesus. Surprisingly, Dov interrupted, “I know. I googled him.”
Joseph says, “I was amazed! In all of Brooklyn, what are the chances this Jewish taxi driver walked past our building, was interested enough to google it, and then had us in his cab!” Please pray that Dov would be receptive to meeting with Joseph in person when he calls to follow up.
A Health Emergency and a Faith Decision in Israel – All in One Afternoon
Brian S., who ministers at Chosen People Ministries’ Food Distribution Center in Netanya, knows how to keep a cool head. While waiting to be served there, one of the recipients passed out, possibly having a heart attack. Brian began emergency assistance and by God’s grace, one of the others waiting for assistance happened to be a retired doctor who also helped, as they waited for an ambulance. Brian reports, “Praise the Lord, the ambulance took him away alive as our team prayed health and healing over him! All the more exciting, in the same hour, one of our recipients, a Jewish immigrant woman, asked us for prayer. At the end of our visit, she received Yeshua (Jesus) as her Messiah. God is good!”
Isaiah 53 Israel Outreach Update
Over 100 copies of the Hebrew version of Isaiah 53 Explained have been sent out across Israel so far—
mostly to Jewish seekers! People from all walks of life are ordering the book, from religious Jewish people to the very secular. Additionally, people are visiting our Isaiah 53 website and over 100,000 Hebrew speakers watched the testimony video for more than five minutes…this is remarkable! Our staff member Gabi G. is in continual communication with three Israelis in particular who continue to ask him questions about Messiah as they are reading through Isaiah 53 Explained. Please pray for the opportunities for one-on-one visits with those who are searching. Other Israelis who have ordered Isaiah 53 Explained are already followers of Messiah Jesus wanting to grow in their faith and/or share the book with unbelieving friends.
We also sent out hundreds of books to people in our Spanish-language Isaiah 53 Campaign in Argentina…it is tremendously exciting to see God at work. We are following up on the names from both the Hebrew and Spanish campaigns. We will be continuing these online campaigns and turning our eyes towards the great state of Texas in the fall. Please pray that the Lord would open the eyes of 100,000 Jewish people in Texas!
*Names have been changed