The growth of the church in Israel, since the rebirth of the country in 1948, has been remarkable. When the modern state of Israel came into being, there were, significantly, just twelve Jewish believers in the land.
Twenty years later, in 1968, the number of Israeli Jews who believed in Jesus was less than fifty. In 1988, they numbered less than 500, but today no one knows how many Jewish Israeli followers of Jesus there are. The lowest estimate is 10,000, but, according to others, there could be twice that number. The fact is that the church in Israel has grown at a phenomenal rate over the last 25 years.
One of the first fellowships to come into being was the Grace and Truth congregation at Rehovot. It was also the first to declare its commitment to the historic Reformed confessions of faith. And on Saturday 6 April this congregation’s building was officially opened.
Almost 300 people, most of them members of the congregation, gathered to give thanks to God for his faithfulness. The eighties were a difficult time for Grace and Truth.
Propaganda campaigns were waged against the congregation and against their pastor. Noisy demonstrations were organised and one Sabbath morning the congregational meeting was invaded by religious zealots, who proceeded to smash furniture and destroy hymn books and Bibles.
Although the local police station was a stone’s throw from where the congregation met, it took the police an hour to respond to the congregation’s call. In 1989, the congregation was locked out of the premises it was renting and for several months had to meet in woods outside Rehovot.
In the 1990s, following the collapse of Communism in the Soviet Union, many Jews arrived in Israel and the congregation commenced an intensive outreach to the new arrivals. Many Russians came to faith and, in a short period, the congregation grew dramatically from 50 to about 350.
It soon became apparent that the congregation needed its own building and a site was purchased in Gedera, in spite of intense opposition from the ultra-Orthodox. The ground-breaking ceremony took place in November 2000.
The project then came to a halt after funding dried up, but, throughout the difficult years, when some members of the congregation saw the building as an albatross around their necks, David Zadok, one of the elders, retained the vision. Two years ago, work began again and the building is now completed.
David Zadok, who is also the Israel Field Leader of the UK-based mission Christian Witness to Israel, came to faith in Jesus while in the USA and returned to Israel in 1983.
He joined Grace and Truth because of its commitment to Reformed theology, and was ordained an elder in 1990. He returned to the States some ten years later to study at Westminster Theological Seminary.
David was installed as the church’s pastor in January 2013 and, in his address to the congregation, reminded them of God’s covenant faithfulness to the Jewish people and the importance of ‘land’ and ‘place’ in the Old Testament.
God provided a place for Adam and Eve to live; he promised Noah he would not again destroy the earth with a flood; and he promised a land in perpetuity to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants.
The land provided, among other things, safety and security, but it was also the place from which God’s law would go forth to all nations. Even in the New Testament, Jesus promised to prepare a ‘place’ for his people.
The Grace and Truth congregation has experienced many changes over the years, not all of them positive, but the fellowship is now in a situation to reach out to the local area and to serve the wider Messianic Jewish community throughout Israel.
With the opening of the building, said Pastor Zadok, God had provided a place in the land for his people, which they must use for his glory and from which they must reach out with the gospel to their neighbours.
Reflecting on the recent history of the Jewish people, Pastor Zadok reminded those gathered that God had brought his covenant people back to the land promised to their fathers and had restored Hebrew as the common language in Israel.
The Jewish people in the land have come from all nations and languages to their ancient homeland, where the tongue of the prophets is the common language, making it possible for the congregation to reach their people with the message of Messiah.
Situated in the southern part of Gush Dan, the building is beautifully Middle Eastern in appearance and was designed to resemble both a church and a synagogue. Inside, light streams in from all sides and from the huge domed skylight, symbolising the light of Messiah.
When the idea for the building was conceived, it was for a multi-functional structure that would be open seven days a week throughout the year. Had the building been completed a few years ago, the congregation would not have been able to make full use of it, but things have providentially come together at a time when the congregation is in a position to make the best use of the facility.
Since work began on the building, a major new road junction has made access to the venue from all directions easy and quick, and a second major junction is currently under construction. This puts the magnificently designed building in a strategic position to serve not only as a house of prayer and worship, but also as a conference centre and cultural venue.
The building was completed through the generous financial assistance of the Isaac da Costa Foundation in Holland and of organisations from as far away as Canada and Finland. But outstanding loans remain to be repaid and the congregation, though growing, is financially challenged.
Christian Witness to Israel is appealing to Christians around the world to help Grace and Truth through prayer and financial contributions (Christian Witness to Israel, 166 Main Road, Sundridge, Sevenoaks, TN14 6EL).