“Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
Fulfill your vows to the Most High,
And call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honor me.
Those who sacrifice thank offerings honor me
And to the blameless I will show my salvation.”
Psalm 50:14, 15, 23
Precious Brothers and Sisters in Yeshua the Messiah, These verses from Psalm 50 are among many that teach us about two key emphasizes for us, Yeshua’s followers, these same two points. Those of you receiving this in NZ or Australia may find it increasingly difficult to identify with those of our recipients in Scandinavia, Europe, the UK or the USA, or even with us here in Israel. Maala and I thank God daily for your relative safety “Down Under” with summer conditions and firm governance that keep the Covid-19 pandemic under control. This gives us enormous peace of mind.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere the situation is dire. We are presently in the grip of winter with all its “bugs” and in many of our nations, less-than-satisfactory governance has greatly added to our distress. In Israel we are in the midst of our 3rd lockdown, which will be extended every two weeks while the daily statistics remain high. Currently new daily case statistics exceed 10,000 and January’s death toll is expected to exceed 1000. Increasingly, we know more and more people testing positive and this week three of our families are in quarantine with the virus having been brought in by their children from kindergarten and primary school. We realize that for many of you the vaccination issue is extremely controversial and the Body and society is divided (also here in Israel.) To date over 2 million Israeli citizens, including Maala and I, have received their first inoculation; this is followed by a second, three weeks later. Tests indicate a 95% effectiveness two weeks after this second booster shot. Approximately 150-170,000 people are being vaccinated daily as more virulent strains of the virus emerge. Please pray for the health of our nation. Because international tourism is one of our primary industries, the Israeli economy is severely stretched. It is heart-breaking to see so many businesses closed. Our political scene adds to the national distress as we face a fourth round of elections in the coming months. With the PM facing criminal charges if he loses and many new parties emerging, outcomes are impossible to predict. Please pray for strong, resolute and righteous leadership.
Beit Asaph Update:
As we reported in our October newsletter, our first task upon our return home was to do a full evaluation of the congregation. This required phone calls to every home and daily elders meetings. As indicated, most of the community were keeping the faith and actively finding creative ways to fellowship. One of the greater concerns was the spiritual well-being of our large numbers of small children and youth. To our joy we discovered that parents of young ones were taking responsibility for their children, praying and having bible lessons with them and arranging field trips with other families. What a relief and answer to prayer. But in reality, since early March last year, Shabbat services have been limited to four gatherings in July with only 50 people each time following the protocols of wearing face masks, temperature checks at the door and seating 2 meters apart. This hiatus was short-lived, and we had to resort to virtual meetings with YouTube worship and messages and Zoom prayer meetings. Over time, however, interest in using social platforms for larger groups has waned, and we have had to rely more on our home-groups to provide physical fellowship and social interaction. Smaller groups seem to work good, and we thank God for the internet; we cannot imagine the situation should this privilege be taken from us? What does the near future hold? Evan and Lev’s interaction with other pastors around the nation, in both Jewish and Arab communities, shows a general trend of finding creative ways of keeping connected with their flocks. Some are live-streaming services and conducting prayer meetings and bible studies via Zoom.
In Beit Asaph we have decided to be pro-active. Our ‘reading of the signs’ indicate no end in sight and in fact our sense is that the situation will worsen here over the coming months. The pandemic and all its political and economic implications may not be the only challenges ahead. As a result, we have begun a process to lead the congregation through a major paradigm shift, meaning shifting the emphasis from collective Shabbat services (impossible anyway under current conditions) as the primary life of the congregation, to a system of “Life-groups.” We would like to close the contract on our large facility and seek something much smaller and closer to the city center. This would serve as a multi-purpose community center – for prayer meetings and training seminars and an outreach hub.
Once collective gatherings are permitted, life-groups can meet together for intermittent celebration services. Our yearly calendar certainly allows for many such occasions, whether on special Shabbat or around the Feasts. But most important at this juncture is the development of the Life-groups and much effort has gone into their design and function. They will remain small (maximum of 10 members) and weekly meetings will contain the basic elements of worship, prayer, study of the Scriptures, and the Lord’s Table. As well as providing ‘life support’ for its members, a fundamental goal of each group is to reach out and grow and then create new groups. Pastoral work for Evan, Lev and other senior lay-workers will be focused on training and discipleship of facilitators and of course they will be far more mobile. Social media apps will support communication within the life-groups and more broadly as a congregational network. Fortunately, the circumstances of this past year has raised our skill-sets and the networks are well-established! Despite the current lockdown the groundwork is well underway. Zoom to pray and discuss the strategies for the Life-groups. Time is of an essence as we prepare to help people back into a fellowship framework .
Our main track – to find and establish a suitable community center is also being undertaken. Our plea to you all is to partner with us in prayer – so that we would be like the “Sons of Issachar who could wisely read the signs of the times and then know what to do!” Exciting times!
I believe we have provided you with considerable material for prayer. For those of you in NZ and Australia receiving this appeal please find time during your summer holidays to remember your brothers and sisters living in distress. And those of you living out your faith in the nations of the Northern Hemisphere and sharing in the distress of the raging pandemic, our hearts go out to you. Your brothers and sisters here in Israel pray for you and your communities. Be well, stay safe and above all, keep the faith!
Evan and Lev (for the Beit Asaph team)