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Twenty years of mercy

May 1998 | by Elders of the Grace and Truth

Jerusalem, Israel
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Elders of the Grace and Truth Christian congregation reflect on how God has led them.

Over the years, God has blessed the church, the Body of Christ in Israel, as well as our own congregation. We are here through the merits of Jesus the Messiah, our Lord and Saviour. It is our privilege to tell you about God’s dealings with Grace and Truth, which was founded in Rehovot in May 1978.

Opposition

Early in Grace and Truth’s life, the Orthodox Jews did all they could to obstruct us from meeting freely to worship God. On one occasion we witnessed the forcible visit of a number of Orthodox people who broke in to the meeting. Within a few short minutes they managed to destroy a number of Bibles and songbooks and to break furniture. In spite of the proximity of the police station, the police arrived only when our visitors had finished their rampage. Orthodox anger was focused especially on the pastor’s family, which was made the object of threatening telephone calls at night. There was vandalism on their vehicle. These efforts gave us a great deal of publicity and many in the city wanted to learn from us why the Orthodox were so irate. During this period, we were forbidden by the authorities to meet in our rented premises, so we met in homes, in the woods and in every other possible location. For that reason one of the most important notices given each Sabbath in the church was where we were to meet on the following week.

Also, during this period, the make-up of the congregation changed considerably. New families joined; students and foreigners were replaced by others. Translation into English was provided for those who could not speak Hebrew, and translation could be laid on in most other languages. The congregation continued to place a strong emphasis on evangelism. Eventually the church won its legal appeal and obtained judicial recognition of its right to pray in the city.

Growth

The congregation began to grow as more and more families joined it. Since we now had a larger hall, it began an all-age Sabbath school. There was an increase in the number of those who could preach and lead the services. New elders were appointed. Later on the church appointed a diaconal committee, which was a turning point in the life of the congregation. Until then the elders dealt with all matters pertaining to its life, but now the new committee enabled the elders to focus on prayer and instruction.

Important political events took place at the beginning of the 1990s. To our joy these events opened the doors of the former Soviet Union, and Israel was blessed with a wave of immigrants, such as it has never seen before. These began to fill the country as well as the churches. Grace and Truth was blessed with two Russian families, who paved the way for many others to find a spiritual home among us.

Immediate action was taken to help the newcomers. Translation was provided into the Russian, English, Yiddish and Romanian languages, so that all present could understand the services and hear the Word of God in their own mother tongues. Much effort was expended in helping these newcomers find employment, cope with the authorities, and deal with housing and other matters relating to life in a new country.

We met with other problems in integrating the newcomers into the life of the church. Especially difficult to sort out were differences over how the gospel should be understood and practised. Yet here was an opportunity to practise what we had hoped for and laboured for over many years — unity in the Body of Christ; to emphasize the importance of truth and the duty of mutual love. We all had the same serious view of the Word of God and the same desire to live by nothing but the Scriptures. This enabled us to find common ground. Sometimes we spent hours studying an issue from the Scriptures only to find, to our joy, that we all needed to correct our views and practices. We learnt to speak a little Russian and our new brothers and sisters learnt Hebrew. We learnt much from them about the Christian life and about faithfulness to Jesus. Together we grew in our spiritual lives.

New lessons

We ‘veteran’ Israelis have learnt that because we have always done something one way does not make it right. We have learnt that we must be willing to reform our ways according to the Word of God. It is possible that those who joined us learned something too. All of us have come to a fuller realization that we must respect those who understand the Word of God differently from us, and that it is possible to show this respect without compromising the truth. We thank God for enabling us to maintain the unity of the Body in the bonds of peace.

Over the last five years the church has grown by more than three times its previous size. Scores have joined, many through the evangelistic labours of the congregation. We now number around 180 and the meeting place is crowded, which is a most welcome problem. In all that has happened the glory and praise is due to our God. We give him thanks and devote ourselves afresh to his service, to the dissemination of his gospel and to the increased understanding of his ways.