Without question, the present growth and maturing of the believing community in Israel is the work of God. As we consider the history of ministry in Israel, we can learn some important lessons about how the Holy Spirit works. Since the rise of the modern Messianic movement in the 1970s, many faithful servants of God have sacrificially spread the gospel across the Holy Land.
Ministry to children and youth has especially built up the church in Israel. To appreciate the scope of ministry in Israel today, we spoke with a few key leaders who have their hands on the pulse of the state of the Messianic community in Israel today. They lead children’s camps, disciple young adults, and have provided war relief to hundreds of people in Israel over the past several months.
The Start of Children’s Camps
Efraim and Jeannie Goldstein serve on our staff in Israel. God has honored their work running children’s camps for years and years in partnership with the Messianic Assembly in Jerusalem. These camping programs have been instrumental in fueling the current movement of the Spirit we see in Israel today. What God has done through them to help shape a new generation of Israelis for the Lord should encourage us all.
Efraim and Jeannie, can you tell us more about the Messianic camps in Israel?
The first Messianic children’s camp in Israel was held in 1972. I [Efraim] was sports director. Less than a dozen kids attended. The Messianic Assembly underwrote the camp. They did not turn kids away if their families were unable to pay. If we needed anything, the Assembly would supply it, and they were available if we needed any help. They took a grassroots approach to the camps, staffing them with local Israeli believers. This approach went on to shape many ministries in Israel. Until the 1990s, these Messianic camps were the only national camp program in Israel. In 1999, Jeannie and I became the camp directors. These Messianic camps are still going strong and, with the ongoing support of the Messianic Assembly, continue to enrich the ministries in Israel.
Tell us a few stories of young adults who went to camp as children but today are serving the Lord in very fruitful ways.
When we took over leadership of the Messianic camps, the missionary stepping down from the position told us we would know we were successful when we saw people we met at camp as children grown up and serving the Lord. We have now been leading the camps long enough to see a whole generation grow up. Many of those kids are now serving the Lord in different ways. One man who attended camp as a child had a vision to start a youth ministry. This outreach to youth is now the largest one in the country! We also know a young woman who now works with Chosen People Ministries’ Israeli backpacker ministry in New Zealand.
How should we pray for the camps in Israel today?
Great question! Please pray:
for the Lord to raise up people to minister to this generation of children because camps are growing
there will continue to be love for camps
the number of children and youth ministries will continue to grow
for God to provide wise and capable leaders
for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts and minds of Israeli children and youth to fully embrace the Messiah and become future godly servants
Camps for Immigrant Children
Another key person who has led camping programs for children in Israel is Maxim Katz. He and his wife Slavna have done an incredible job, especially reaching new immigrant children who have come over from war-torn Ukraine, and even some from Russia.
Can you tell us how you started doing camping programs among the new immigrants?
They started around 2002 through our ministry in Messianic congregations. The kids were mostly new immigrants from the Former Soviet Union. It was very difficult for them to be part of a new culture, and going to camp in Hebrew would have been especially difficult. About eight years ago, we shifted to doing camps in Hebrew with Russian and Ukrainian translation as needed. By then, we had older kids who lived in Israel for five or ten years and found Hebrew easier. In the past two years since the war started, we have done several smaller camps throughout the year for new immigrant children, allowing us to address the spiritual and psychological challenges these young people face. Our smaller camps have about twenty to twenty-five kids each, while our main camps have 100 to 120.
What are some stories about young children finding the Lord?
There are many stories! I remember one girl, now twenty-six years old, attended camp when she was twelve. She came from an unbelieving family, but the third year she came to camp with us, she decided to be baptized. She told us, “Last night, something happened to me, and I really want to be baptized.” Since then, she started to go to a congregation in the north and is still there today.
One boy, who is now in the army, was invited to our camp by a friend. He was from an unbelieving family too. After camp, he invited his family to our congregation. The whole family came to faith after six months!
Since you have been doing these camps for years among Israeli children, would you tell us about some of the young people who went to camp and are now serving the Lord in Israel?
On several occasions, I have run into people who told me they remembered me from camp and said how much camp meant to them. One man, who now is a congregational leader, said camps were very helpful to him. Another time, I met someone on a worship team who caused problems at camp as a child. It was very encouraging for me to see him serving the Lord as an adult.
Serving God and Israelis in Wartime
Over the past couple of months, our staff in Israel have been hard at work faithfully serving God and Israelis during this difficult time. Since Israel is such a small country—and the Messianic community even smaller!—they all know people who have died, are mourning immediate family members, or are serving in the military. In the midst of their own trauma and grief, they do all they can to assist those in need and proclaim the gospel. They could not do it without the grace of the Holy Spirit and your support. Here is what our workers on the ground in Israel have to say about how we can bless Israel during wartime.
Do not underestimate the power of prayer! We know a worship leader in Sderot, one of the southern cities terrorists attacked on Saturday, October 7. He was in a prayer meeting and reports they did not hear a single gunshot or missile during that time. As soon as they finished, the violence resumed. Though Israel is in a complicated situation, we trust God can do more than we can imagine.
So please persevere in prayer for us and for Israel. Pray for our staff, as we are all under immense stress trying to help others while grappling with our own grief. Please pray God will protect innocent lives caught in this conflict. Above all, we pray many in Israel will come to believe in Jesus our Messiah. Many organizations are helping Israelis in need, but it is a privilege for us to bring what others do not bring—the message of eternal and abundant life in Jesus.
Discipling Young Adults
Israel has many dedicated leaders, pastors, evangelists, and other servants of God. Some have done a marvelous job preparing younger Israelis before they go to the army so they can not only survive the challenges of military life but also have a witness to their fellow Israeli soldiers. This witness is especially crucial now as Israel mobilized hundreds of thousands of reservists for the war. Chosen People Ministries—Israel has done a lot of this discipleship, but we also partner with others who do such wonderful work among younger people.
Joel Goldberg, who leads a terrific ministry among youth, has this to say about the way God is moving among young adults today:
Today, the Messianic youth in Israel are bolder, more confident, and more direct about their faith than ever before. They are open and willing to talk about their faith in Yeshua in their schools and into their military years. It takes courage, faith, and understanding to be willing to risk what they work so hard to obtain and every person needs—acceptance and belonging. Praise God for supportive communities, solid teaching, and the growth of the body of Yeshua in the Land.
We are seeing tremendous gospel fruit in Israel unlike anything we have seen since the days of the early church. May these testimonies encourage you and spur you to continue to pray with us for Israel. These are only a handful of the stories we have collected. There are dozens—or hundreds more—testimonies of how the Lord is calling His people to love Him and follow Him!