New Life in Nazareth
by Eitan Shishkoff, Executive Director, Tents of Mercy Network
On a vibrantly beautiful Shabbat spring morning I am greeted at Netzer HaGalil Congregation with warm smiles and loving hugs. This fellowship was planted in Nazareth in 2004 by our own daughter congregation in Haifa, Shavei Tzion (Return to Zion).
Netzer, in Hebrew, is a sprout, shoot, offspring, young branch, or a descendant. "New life budding in the Galilee," might be a free poetic translation of their name. This is indeed a season of new life and fruit in this growing congregation of 50 members. For its first dozen years, Netzer conducted worship services and operated a soup kitchen/food distribution ministry out of a tiny facility. If 25 people arrived for a Shabbat service the place was packed!
Last year, in a step of faith, the congregation took over the rent contract from a neighboring pub. It had finally closed after years of intercession to remove the seedy joint from next to their Messianic worship center. You can imagine the joy that accompanied remodeling and expansion. Now, the sanctuary seats 100 easily, and its high ceiling gives a far greater feeling of freedom and spaciousness.
As the Shabbat praise and prayers begin I am again struck by the creativity of God in His choice of vessels. Pastoring an all-Russian Jewish community, Vakif comes from a Muslim background among the rugged Tatar people of Russia. He stands before his flock in a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl), earnestly chanting prayers in Hebrew with a whole heart.
After the Torah reading I'm introduced and speak about "Expectation." My text is Mark 2:1-12, the story of the paralytic lowered through the roof. I ask "What do you want to happen in your life?" and mention some causes for broken expectation: disappointment with others, frustration with ourselves, unfulfilled dreams. During the message I see precious faces, some with tears, some worn with weariness and worry, others with broad smiles. Their hearts are open. I invite those who wish to renew their expectations of life and of Yeshua's promises to stand. Many do. Among those who come for prayer, Anna, a grandmotherly Russian Jewish immigrant asks prayer for physical healing. Vakif cues me that she doesn't yet know the Messiah.
As I continue praying, I see Tanya, Vakif's wife, speaking with Anna in the back. A while later they return, announcing that both Anna and another mature visitor, Tamara, have asked Yeshua into their hearts! I'm overjoyed. Vakif then brings before the congregation Anna, Tamara, and a brand new couple who've just this past week been born of the Spirit. "Here are the new members of our Messianic family. Please welcome them," he declares.
Such episodes are not to be taken for granted. The plight of elderly immigrants is not an easy one. Fellowships like Netzer haGalil reach out with compassion and hope. There is new life in the Galilee!