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Early Years

Category Articles
Date April 22, 2004

I returned to Israel from studies at the WEC College in Glasgow with clear and well laid out plans. I joined hands with the local Brethren Assembly in Tel Aviv, began a work among the Assembly’s younger people and was employed in Dolphin Press, then the only Christian publishing house in the country. Our means were so few and primitive that the first books were set to type by the means of rubber stamps, one stamp per letter.

The head of Dolphin, Victor Smadja, was a pioneer and one of the earliest Jewish Christian leaders in the land. He and his wife, Suzie, endured much for the Gospel and for their faith in Christ. Years had passed and Victor had established Dolphin Press, later to be called Yanets Press.

Victor and I understood needs and opportunities in Israel in very different terms. We also differed in our theological convictions. Hardened under the hammer of persecution, Victor had become a man of very firm convictions. He could not brook disagreement. He also had a burning passion for the early Israeli church and was persuaded that he knew the only right way to pursue the good of the church. He had broken with many of his supporters because they could not see the legitimacy of matters in which Victor insisted – and on many of these issues he was right.

Victor insisted that I see things his way, which I found increasingly difficult. His overbearing character (of which I had no shortage myself) made this all the more difficult. My theological convictions had begun to mature into a more coherent, more systematic view of the Gospel and of life in the presence of God, and they troubled Victor greatly. Finally, under circumstances premeditatedly made difficult, I was forced to submit my resignation. By the time the war broke out in October 1973, I had taken up secular employment and commenced the publication of a privately funded, intermittent magazine, From Time to Time (Me’Et Le’Et). My desire was to address the local church with burning issues, provide translations of suitable Christian literature form the wealth available in the West, and to provide both a platform and a catalyst for serious devotional and theological reflection in Hebrew.

The first issue was published in September 1973. One month later, the October War broke out. With all Israeli reservists, I was called up. My unit fought on the Golan and then hastily moved down to the Sinai desert to share in the encirclement of Egypt’s Second Army. We remained in the Sinai for over four months. In March 1974, my six-month military service came to an end. Israel and Egypt had come to an agreement and, later, signed a peace pact. In the course of the time spent in the desert, I had plenty of opportunity to evaluate what I had done with my life: night duties, long hours of travel from one unit to another (I was a medic and travelled to care for the troops) and time off from duty gave me ample time to think and pray seriously.

Joining CWI
I had prepared to serve the Lord and the Gospel but had left that ministry and was gainfully employed in secular work. True, I had commenced a magazine, but my conscience troubled me. Some 18 months before the war, I had met and been graciously befriended by the Rev. Murdo MacLeod, Director for The British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Jews (people preferred short names in those days), later to become Christian Witness to Israel when it amalgamated with the Barbican Mission to the Jews. His engagement in the evangelisation of my people challenged me, stirred my heart, but made no practical impact on my life. Now I had to take stock and answer the charge of my conscience, stirred by what I believe were the workings of God’s Spirit. Surely, God had not opened the many doors I had found open before me, merely to enable me to make money, have a family and produce a little magazine. The needs were far greater, and I was ignoring them.

Finally, following consultation with Bracha, my bride and partner in life, I wrote Murdo on a sandy, wind-blown and busy day in the Sinai desert, offering to serve with CWI. In April 1974, two days after my military service concluded, we made our way to England to be interviewed and then accepted into service by the CWI Council. Upon our return, we took up the work.

CWI had a long-standing ministry in Israel that went back to the turn of the 20th century. In the mid 1900’s, the work focused largely on the medical abilities of Dr. James Churcher and his team of dedicated nurses, administrative assistants and, at one stage, two other doctors. We were to develop what was, in effect, a new branch of the work through which we would major in the production and distribution of Christian literature in Hebrew. There was a tremendous dearth of such literature in Israel, and we had set ourselves to make some contribution in an effort to correct this.

The Early Days
Our work began with no office, no typewriter and no clear program. We had decided to continue production of the magazine, now to be renamed A Word in Season (phonetically the same as our previous name, but with a different spelling). The text was laboriously written in longhand, typed by our printer on an office typewriter, and produced from paper plates- all 500 copies. We also produced our first book – Walter Chantry’s Signs of an Apostle. The magazine soon became a quarterly and was produced in the same manner. We distributed it free of charge to a growing mailing list.

Our choice of a first book to publish was unwise. We thereby labelled ourselves as reactionary rather than responsive, in opposition to what we disagreed with instead of in defense of what we believed was true. I regret that choice to this day, while my view of the issues at stake has not altered. I have also learned a bit more since then to respect those with whom I disagree and to learn from them. The early enthusiasm of a young convert has been replaced by what I hope is not the indolence of older age but the relative wisdom of experience and the fruit of God’s dealings with me. I have learned more from those who disagree with me than I could have ever learned from those who agree.

Efforts to add to the magazine an insert with news of the local congregations were greeted with consternation: the opposition was deemed to be far more dangerous that it really was. Most of the congregations operated almost clandestinely and were encouraged to do so by the missionaries working in the land, who knew their visas would be revoked if they were discovered to be evangelising. They therefore viewed any public news of their life, witness and endeavour as unwanted and therefore unwarranted exposure. We had to withdraw.

Learning to Translate
Slowly, we began to discover that the ability to converse in two languages – even to be considered linguistically articulate – was not the same as an ability to convey the intended meaning from one language into another. I had to work hard at my syntax, broaden my vocabulary and acquaint myself more thoroughly with the topics on hand, so I could understand both the message and the spirit of the message in its native language and then render it faithfully and convincingly into Hebrew.

This did not come easily. I am an energetic person who finds it difficult to sit at a table and labour over texts for 10-12 hours a day, yet that is what I had to train myself to do. Nor am I a man of details, as anyone who corresponds with me has undoubtedly discovered because he is forced to decipher my typos. Neither did I have the time for niceties: there was a lot of work to be done! As a friend once put it, “if a job is worth doing, it is worth doing badly”. I longed to do better, but knew that efforts to achieve this would come at the expense of doing more things that are necessary. So, I learned to compromise.

Early Growth
Slowly, distribution grew. A 16 page, 12 pt. font, stapled A4 magazine grew to a 36 page, 10 point, A8, production. Our original two hundred initial readers grew to about 1,000 – Me’Et Le’Et reached virtually every Christian home in Israel. Our books also began to find an audience within the small but developing Christian congregation among the Jews in the country.

Pressing needs remained unanswered, ever knocking at the doors of our hearts. Our first magazine was soon joined by Re’a Ne’eman (A Faithful Friend), geared to the 9-12 year olds. This magazine was illustrated, and printed in colour. However, our means were still very limited, so we had to prepare each colour by hand and print it separately. Glossy chromo paper was too costly, so we used simpler paper that cost us much less. Still, Re’a Ne’eman became a household friend in most Israeli Christian homes.

Bracha provided assistance between changing diapers, warming bottles, laundering clothes, and keeping an extremely busy house clean, tidy and inviting. A consistently helpful role was played by other members of what had by then become Grace and Truth Christian Congregation. Of special note were Dudu (David) and Etti Tel Zur, who assisted in editing the magazine, illustrating it and preparing suitable learning activities for our young readers.

In the course of this time we had served in the Jaffa Brethren Assembly, I had a share of the preaching and was responsible for the youth. God seemed to bless and we saw evidences of conversion and of spiritual growth.

The leader of the congregation was Shlomo (Solomon) Ostrovsky, one of the finest preachers in the land, an able and courageous witness for Christ and highly respected by all who knew him and his delightful wife. Bracha and I were young, inexperienced, but the Ostrovsky’s took us in. For a time, when we had nowhere to live, we were privileged to share their home.

Solomon often asked me to preach. One day he approached me about arrangements he was making for a six-month trip to family in Canada. I was asked to be responsible for the church while he and his wife were away. I declined. I had learned from the Bible and from Mr. Ostrovsky himself that the church is a shared priesthood, and that rulers of the church were appointed and recognized by the church itself.

– Are you challenging my authority, Baruch?!
– No, Solomon. You know how much I love and respect you and how eager I am to submit to your authority. But I cannot but question your authority to place me over the church. If the congregation is asked and agrees, I will gladly accept the responsibility. Otherwise, I’m afraid I shall have to decline.

Solomon was unwilling to bring the matter to the congregation, so he devised another plan: would I share responsibility with some others, who would not be in authority but simply help until he returned from Canada. Unhappy with the proposal, I thought it was a happy compromise and, knowing no better, agreed.

The Ostrovsky’s left and soon after the storm broke. One among those left to care for the congregation thought we should do one thing and another thought we should do otherwise. One liked my preaching, the other protested it firmly. One insisted that we visit congregants; the other insisted that we should not.

It was a mess and Solomon had to intervene from Canada. Upon his return, he reminded me of my refusal and made it clear that the difficulties arose because I had not acceded to his initial request. I was persuaded that I had been spared an insolvable difficulty by declining to accept his gracious but unilateral appointment.
The end result was that the congregation was told that I had rebelled against our much-beloved leader’s authority, had done despite to the church and should be told to come no longer. No specific charges were laid and I had no opportunity to defend myself. The congregation was called upon to vote whether or not it supported the proposal brought before it by Solomon, and the decision was made. Bracha and I were disfellowshipped.

We were dumbfounded. No opportunity was accorded me to defend myself. No specific accusations were made. No discussion was held. The congregation had to choose between supporting Mr. Ostrovsky and his proposal or opposing him. Some had an inkling of what was going on and assured me that they were cognisant of the injustice and would oppose it when it came before the church. None of these promises materialised because all loved and respected Solomon and were not willing to oppose him. If he presented our disfellowship as a vote of confidence in him, they did not see any option but to support him however much they disagreed. This painful experience taught me much about how discipline should be applied in a church, and how it should not. I could see the abuse of authority, even in the hands of good men such as Solomon, and resolved, God helping me, never to fail in this respect.

Such a step is terrible under any circumstances. It was worse than terrible in those days because Solomon Ostrovsky was a much-respected leader in the small Hebrew speaking community in Israel and I a brash young Christian whose Calvinist convictions and the fact he had studied overseas both made him suspect in the eyes of the fledgling national church. Consequently, Bracha and I were excluded from Christian fellowship for years.

CWI Israel Leadership
Meanwhile, Dr. Churcher had retired and Dr. Brian Pokroy took up the leadership of the work in Israel. After some time, Brian submitted his resignation. A young Couple arrived from overseas to take up the reins of the work, but this turned out to be a disaster. Finally, not because this was the best choice but because it was the only choice available, I was asked to accept the role of CWI Field Leader. After considerable hesitation, I agreed.

To be continued….

Construction Report
God has provided for us thus far beyond our wildest dreams. We give him glory. The shell is up, the foyer skylight has been installed, most of the plastering, all of the wiring, plumbing, sewage and drainage have been completed, the perimeter wall is constructed and a good deal of the flooring has been installed, with all of the flooring materials provided.

In the providence of God, we must now pause until further resources are available. This is of some concern to us, as insurance and protection against vandalism will continue to need to be paid, increasing our costs, and because our building permit is valid only for three years. We have been engaged in construction now for over two.

In order to reduce expenses, we let one of our three construction workers go in February. Since sufficient funds have not come in, we are forced to let the second one go as well. As of May 1st, Vasily will be working on the site alone.

Work remaining includes the cladding of the building, stonework on the inside (stairs, etc), the final stage of plastering, extensive woodwork, installing the sanitation, security and electrical fixtures, installing the air-conditioning (including the duct work), painting and miscellaneous other jobs that need be done. We have sought to reduce expenses by doing as much of the work ourselves as possible, and will continue in this vein to the extent of our abilities. We have a professional woodworker who would be willing to assist us in manufacturing the cabinets, shelving, pulpit, platform and so on, but we do not have the resources to use his abilities and goodwill.

We have come to the stage at which most of the projects relating to our building are no longer labour-intensive, rendering us incapable of working incrementally, as funds are available. We con only proceed when sufficient funds for one or another of the aspects of construction are available. In all we are short by some US $1,000,000. If we had that amount on hand, we could complete the building within six months.

We are grateful to all who have brought us thus far in this important and exciting project. In due time, we shall complete the building and use it to the glory of God.

Ministry Among the Deaf
The following was written by Rev. Walter Chantry during his teaching visit to Grace and Truth, and affords a glimpse into the church’s ministry among the deaf as seen by a visitor.

A group of some 20-25 Deaf folk attend Grace and Truth Church. A team of signers interprets for them all the teaching and sermons of the church. This group, all of them Russian immigrants, requested a special evening with the visiting minister. We met for Bible study, followed by a question and answer period, and concluding with a birthday celebration for the lady who began this ministry, herself a Russian immigrant. (In Russia the deaf are more belittled for their infirmity than helped, whereas in Israel they receive aid from the government. However, what the church has done here is outstanding. There are now five regular signers and more young people are learning. We heard that at one point, Baruch himself had attempted to sign as he preached, but this was by far too distracting for the congregation and he was asked to stop!)

The Deaf have a high sense of propriety. Joie was not allowed to sit at the back of the room. They made her move to the front, considered a place of honour! (Doesn’t that sound a bit like one of our Lord’s teachings?!)

Some of these dear people converse warmly through the interpreters, but then suddenly become shy. They are not accustomed to being in the spotlight. Questions had a different slant. One man asked: Since God can heal crippling handicaps, why does He not take away my inability to hear and speak? Another asked: Is it really possible that there will be a resurrection that will give us hearing? With such a major handicap as deafness, any additional trial can seem overwhelming. Yet the Deaf of Grace and Truth are a cheerful, delightful group.

One unbeliever was present at the meeting, and contradicted many of the beliefs of Christians. Oh my, how the excited signing and countersigning flew then! These dear people are eager to witness for Christ and to defend His honour. They worry about the constant warfare in the Middle East and are concerned about what will become of those who worship false gods.

We were asked whether churches in America had Deaf groups like theirs. We had to tell them that there were none in the congregations to which we have belonged. However, we do know that such groups exist.

It mattered very much to this group that we convey to Americans the love of the Deaf in Israel, particularly of course, those of Grace and Truth Church.

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