God continues to shine on us at the Grace and Truth Church with favour. A local, secular endeavour to meet the needs of the homeless in our city has invited Alex, our senior evangelist, to hold a weekly meeting on the premises in order to address the homeless with the Gospel. Surprised, we made sure the proprietors knew who we are and what kind of Gospel we preach. There was no question in their minds: "That is exactly what these people need to hear!" Needless to say, we could not argue against that. Alex now holds a meeting there every Monday, assisted by Sasha A's musical abilities, and some of his hearers have begun attending church - would you join us in praying for their conversion?
Over the years, we have received decreasing response to our evangelistic newspaper advertisements and our tracts. We are therefore looking into other ways to present the Gospel in a manner that will evoke thoughtful response. From time to time we change the tracts used and significantly alter their appearance but other avenues are being explored. We covet your prayers as we seek divine wisdom for this important task.
The House of Grace and Truth
Although progress on the new church building is slow, the outside is now insulated. Due to a generous contribution from Patmos International, our staff are able to continue plastering, laying tiles, placing circuitry and building partitions for the duration of this year. A team from the Netherlands visited Israel in April and completed most of the tiling. Another team from Germany completed the internal plumbing. We are grateful to these and to many others who have helped us raise funds for the project. A sum designated for cladding the building will suffice for about one third of that part of the work, and we have a good deal of the ducting on site, ready to be installed for the air conditioning system. However, we are not yet able to install the ducting, doors, windows and electrical fixtures.
We have informed the architect and the Project Manager that their services will be put on hold as of the end of July until further funds are available for their continued services. In the ensuing time we shall seek to complete the erection of walls and laying of platforms on the site for the garbage disposal units, the transformer and the external electrical room.
God has watched over us and over the many volunteers who have worked on the site. He is wise and his purposes are always gracious. It is only right to trust him and to accept with joy whatever he sees fit to accord us. While we do at times strain at the bit, we are grateful to know that he holds the reins in his capable hands. In spite of the prolonged construction process and the simple methods we are forced to use, so far there have been no injuries.
Our situation is getting gloriously desperate. Last Sabbath I was asked to preach for another church. Following the service I made my way back to Grace and Truth. The hall was full and overflowing, as usual, but the parking lot outside was no less full. One hundred and twenty nine men, women and children were crowded under a canopy, with an industrial air blower making a feeble attempt to overcome the sweltering heat. I peeked into the hall. There was not a single space left, not even for standing. The doorway was crowded with people, the walls lined with them. Congregants were sitting on the floor in the corridor leading to our toilets. It was a glorious, heart-rending sight: these people love the preaching of God's word. They come to worship under circumstances that would drive away the less committed. But, how long can we continue in this way?
In the meanwhile, we are seeking ways to make it more comfortable for those forced to follow the service in the parking lot. We are also considering the purchase of a suitable tent for the winter because there is no way we can crowd everyone into our existing hall. There is considerable reticence to make such a purchase because it will siphon severely needed funds from the building project and we prefer to use every penny we have for that urgent purpose. The sooner we are able to occupy the building, the less it will cost us to build.
I am full of admiration at these people, who endure so much discomfort week after week, yet love the Lord well enough to keep coming. Other churches can offer them far more convenient circumstances - at least a chair on which to sit! - yet they come, and their numbers have not decreased. Will you help us?
We have decided to do everything in our power to forge ahead with the building project and to begin using the building as soon as possible. To that end we will forgo air conditioning, some doors and windows, the final stage of plastering, painting, cabinetry.... However uncomfortable that might be - it would be far more comfortable than our present conditions.
The major issue before us now is the cladding. We have a contract that will save us $49,000 if we are able to implement it within the next 10 days. We are some $300,000 short of the mark. That is about 40% of what it will cost us to complete the building so we can begin using it.
Life in the Church
It is an encouragement to note the eagerness with which so many in the church attend the ministry of the Word in spite of the difficult circumstances in which they are forced to listen. We are no less encouraged by the evidence of spiritual fruit that God's Word is bearing in the lives of many congregants in conversions and real evidence of growth in grace. An increasing number of young people are assuming responsibilities in the church and still others continue to bring friends and relatives to the services. One of our chief joys has been to see a spontaneous desire among our young adults to pray. They now meet every other week for the express purpose of seeking God's face. He is indeed shining on us with favour.
Visitation continues to be an important part of our church life. It is as we visit the people, share their struggles, failures and successes, pray with them and study the word of God that we are able to apply the preaching ministry of the church to the realities of our people's lives most intimately. Sunday and Monday afternoons and evenings are always reserved for visitation. Other visits are made as required.
Last Sunday we began by visiting the Portmans*, an extended family. Orna* is a youngish grandmother whose son and daughter in law died in their mid-twenties under differing but tragic circumstances in the space of 12 months. She now cares for their six year old son. Orna was shattered. She has not attended church for over a year now and has become reserved. We make sure to visit her every so often, bring communion and read and pray with her.
Orna's elderly father lives with her, her grandson and her two children (aged 16 and 21). He attends church, they do not. Dear Mr. Portman has undergone five operations in the last 12 months. He finds it difficult to sit for more than 30 minutes and cannot stand. It is becoming difficult for him to attend church, although he comes for part of the service when his health allows.
Leonard*, Orna's brother and part of the extended family, is a member of our Diaconal Committee. His wife professes no faith in Christ but attends church from time to time. His younger daughter used to attend services but drew away during her term of national military services. His older daughter Ada* is a faithful, devout congregant.
We visited Mr. Portman and Ada, and were delighted when Orna walked in toward the end of our visit, affording us an unexpected opportunity to talk and pray with her. Mr. Portman wanted to know why we do not follow certain practices familiar to him from his church in the former USSR, giving us occasion for an extended conversation with him and Ada about church practice. When Orna walked in we were just about to leave, but we extended the visit a bit longer than intended, prayed and left for our next visit.
The Dinors, Gila
Shinar* was brought up in a Soviet orphanage. She married young and has two children, Sapphire * and David*. Her husband turned out to be a drunkard who brought little home to feed the family, often disappeared for days and twice attacked Shinar with a knife. He was also consistently unfaithful to her. After years of trying to nurse him into a more wholesome way of life and constantly failing, she decided to divorce him. The church has stood beside her as she goes through the painful process of divorce, guiding her in the effort to bring normalcy to her life and that of the children.
Young David is facing serious difficulties. His life is in turmoil and he responds with frustrated anger. Shinar has little knowledge how to deal with him - she had never seen family life modelled nor had the privilege of an even moderately normal family life. We spent some time coaching her and recommended that she join the special course on family life that we are planning.
We then studied Hebrews 12, where the word of God teaches the nature, value and importance of discipline as an expression of God's wonderful love. We stressed the importance of not allowing relations with David to deteriorate into a personal conflict. Shinar must labour with David and for him with the goal in mind that David would partake of God's holiness, know his saving grace and glorify him in his life. We parted with assurances of our support and agreed that Shinar would call Alex whenever urgent advice or prayer was needed.
Harrassment in Arad
The small congregation of believers in Israel's southern city of Arad, perched on a mountain above the Dead Sea, are being subjected to a lengthy storm of harassment. Their homes are picketed, posters are being put up all over the city warning inhabitants from contact with them and their meetings are disturbed. Christian families or individuals who are spotted in town by ultra-Orthodox militants, are often followed and subjected to torrents of abuse, false charges and unworthy language. The local police are doing very little to bring an end to this campaign of verbal abuse and social harassment.
We encourage you to write to the Israeli Embassy in your respective countries and to the Israeli Foreign Minister, The Honourable Mr. Silvan Shalom firstname.lastname@example.org and to the Israeli Minister of internal Security, The Honourable Gideon Raphael, email@example.com
(* All names marked with an asterisk are pseudonyms)
For more information about the work in Israel, see www.GandT.org.il