One Score Years and Ten

In February I completed thirty years of ministry with CWI and I thought it would be a helpful exercise to look back at the changes that have taken place in CWI’s ministry and in Jewish mission as a whole during the last three decades.

In early February 1984 I arrived at Seven Trees, a spacious three-storey Victorian house that was CWI’s international head office in the leafy Kent suburb of Chislehurst. There were ten members of staff and the pride of the office was a newly installed computer that occupied a cupboard the size of the wardrobe through which the Pevensey children entered the land of Narnia. Windows was not even a twinkle in the eye of Bill Gates, the computer had no mouse and no one had access to the internet! Sellotaped to the desk next to the computer was an A4 sheet of paper listing the various combinations of keys you had to press if you wanted to italicise, underline, cut, copy or paste text. When mobile phones appeared a few years later they were the size and weight of bricks, and tablets still came in small cardboard boxes from the chemist!

There were few tracts or promotional materials, so head office purchased a second-hand offset litho printer and in the following three or four years we wrote, illustrated and printed tens of thousands of tracts for street evangelism. By the time head office downsized from the grandiose premises in Chislehurst to the much smaller office in Sundridge in 1993, the head office staff were more computer savvy but, even so, it took about two years of wrangling, arguing and cajoling until it was unanimously agreed that it would be a good thing for CWI to have an email address! Just before the millennium CWI launched two websites – one promotional, the other evangelistic – to grasp the opportunities for evangelism online that could never have been dreamed about in 1984.

The Promised Land

In the mid-eighties, the Body of Messiah in Israel numbered less than 500 and the Grace and Truth fellowship met in a modest-sized living room. The congregation was recovering from a painful split and a period of persecution they had suffered at the hands of the Orthodox. The following year they would find themselves locked out of the premises they rented and would have to meet in a nearby forest. Now the Grace and Truth congregation meets in a beautiful purpose-built structure with David Zadok as their pastor and a congregation of over 200 meeting each week.

HaGefen Publishing, which started out in the 1970s as a small outfit operating out of an apartment in Rishon LeTsion, is turning out Christian literature in five languages. The greatest achievement of HaGefen in the last thirty years has been the translation of the Old Testament into readable modern Hebrew which has been published in a beautifully illustrated format for children.

But in the eighties, with the exception of a few brave pastors and evangelists, the Church in Israel was small, timid and virtually silent. Today, no one  knows for sure how many Jewish believers there are in Israel, nor even how many Messianic congregations exist. Evangelism is ongoing and bold. Believers, especially young believers, are open about their faith and young Messianic Jews in the IDF are finding favour with their commanding officers. About four years ago, a young believer was presented with the ‘Soldier of the Year’ award. Speaking at the award ceremony, his commanding officer told the audience that when he saw the young man reading the Bible he asked why he was doing so. When the soldier replied that he was reading it in order to be a better person, his superior told him he wanted him to be a better soldier. ‘Sir,’ he replied, ‘If I become a better person, I’ll be a better soldier.’

Turn of the tide

In my first six or seven years of speaking to churches about the ministry of the Society I was able to talk mostly of our ministry of sowing, rarely of reaping. One of my colleagues confided in me that he found door-to-door visiting difficult because of the hostile reception he had to endure daily. But a change began in 1991 when, early one Friday morning, I received a call from an imperious sounding lady who had received one of our tracts and demanded to ‘speak to someone.’ Our worker went to see Mrs Nadler and within two hours of visiting her she had come to faith.

More heat than light

Before I began working with CWI, I would never have guessed that any branch of Christian mission could be as controversial as Jewish mission or that attitudes to the people we read about on virtually every page of the Bible could differ so greatly. In the last 30 years, Christian attitudes to Israel have become polarised between a kind of theological anti-Semitism and an extreme philo-Semitism. And both extremes have adversely affected Jewish mission.

In 1983, Colin Chapman’s Whose Promised Land? became the first major evangelical challenge to what was the standard evangelical belief that the Jewish people continue to hold a special place in the affections of God and that the land of Israel belongs to them by divine decree. At the same time a movement was developing that laid a burden of guilt on Christians of all shades for the sufferings of the Jewish people over the last twenty centuries and which prescribed that it was the duty of Christians everywhere to repent.

Speaking personally

Today, I am more passionate about Jewish mission than I was in 1984. I want to see Jewish people come to faith in Jesus and I want Christians to gain a biblical understanding of the Jewish people and their continuing place in the purposes of God. I truly believe that, according to Scripture, the success of world mission depends on the success of Jewish mission.

I served my first 19 years with the Society as Communications Officer and for the last eleven years I’ve been General Secretary. Now my role with CWI is about to change for the second time in three decades. I’m about to lay down my administrative and managerial duties in order to devote my remaining years with CWI mainly to writing and speaking.

The Society is looking for a CEO who has the ability to take the Society further on down the road in the coming years; someone with biblical understanding, leadership skills, business acumen, the ability to communicate and a passion for Jewish mission. If you tick those boxes, we invite you to apply for the post. See page 15 for details.

In all, it has been a privilege and a pleasure to serve the Lord, CWI and you for three decades and I hope it comes as some relief to you to know that although my role in the Society is changing, I’m not leaving. Please pray that the trustees will be granted divine wisdom in the appointment of my successor and pray that in the years ahead the CEO, my colleagues and I will be more fruitful in Messiah’s service so that we play an ever greater part in hastening the day when all Israel is saved.

This article first appeared in the Spring Herald 2014

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