Eight Months Old ... in Israel
When I was first approached with the opportunity to go with Global Missions Fellowship to Israel in the fall of 1996, I had only been following Jesus for eight months. But my heart for missions was growing. I really wanted to see other parts of the world and invest my life's energies into building God's global kingdom.
The abundance of min-istries in the U.S. caused me to turn my eyes overseas where there the need is greater and churches and Bibles are fewer. I did not know what I would face in Israel, but I knew that God would use me, and grow me in the process.
After arriving in Israel for a week-long trip, I realized how similar things were to the U.S. My romantic ideals of missionaries working in tribal villages were dispelled by the urban landscape I encountered.
Although in Israel, we did not work among the Jews. Instead, we worked in Nazareth, a predominantly Arab community.
On the first day, we met the host missionaries and a national pastor who was in the process of planting a church in the community. I was immediately impressed by their spirit. The missionary family modeled a depth of devotion to Jesus that I had never seen before. Working for 15 years in the spiritually-oppressive environment of Israel --in addition to the normal challenges of missionary life--had refined this family into a shining example of the love of Jesus. The national pastor was also a remarkable man. He taught in a local public school, had a beautiful family and was respected among the community.
Each day after breakfast and devotions, our team paired up with local translators to share our testimonies from house to house in the area where a new church was being planted. I was impressed by the hospitality of the Arabic people who welcomed us into their homes and served us hot, Arabic coffee and pastries each time. We shared why we had come, telling of God's work in our lives and Christ's work on the cross. Many people responded and wanted to learn more about following Jesus.
Each day concluded with a celebration service. After worship using the national instruments, a member of the GMF team would share their testimony, followed by a message from the pastor. As we shared during the day, it was wonderful to immediately invite people to these evening worship services. A healthy-sized group came each night, giving us hope that they would grow into a strong church.
As a new Christian, my experience in Israel taught me how to share both my testimony and key verses related to following Jesus as Lord. It was thrilling to see God working in the lives of people. One man said that he had always prayed for Jesus to stand beside him, but he had never known an intimate relationship with Jesus living inside and through him. As I looked into the eyes of his four precious daughters, I knew they each would have the opportunity to live in a Christ-filled future.
My experience with GMF was a critical step toward devoting my life to the global cause of Christ. God used my trip with GMF to further open my eyes to the reality of His global church. By working with missionaries, I saw the need to send forth people to be witnesses for Jesus among all nations. My love for Jesus grew deeper; my commitment stronger. As His messenger, I was amazed by His loving sacrifice in a whole new way.
Afterward, God led me to work briefly with missionaries in southern Mexico and then to serve at the USCWM. I look forward to a future of birthing the gospel inside new cultural contexts so that all peoples of the earth may worship Jesus.
Ryan Smith has worked at the U.S. Center for World Mission for two years in the Serve - Work - Study program.