I wonder what Abraham, David or Elijah would think about the Promised Land today. The truth is, modern Israel is not the romanticized place we learned about in Sunday School. On the contrary, I’ve learned it’s a messy melting pot of people who often carry a lot of pain—many of whom have found various self-destructive, addictive ways to numb it.
Take away modern technology, however, and life is not all that different from biblical times—instead of anti-Samaritan snobbery there is prejudice against Palestinians; instead of ostracized lepers there are discarded drug and alcohol addicts. And then there are the women who, just like their counterparts 2,000 years ago, believe they have no option for survival but to sell their bodies. For many religious Jews and Christians today, these kinds of people must be shunned.
Although I don’t know what the patriarchs and prophets would think of Israel today, I do know what our resurrected Jesus thinks—He loves these modern “untouchables” just like He compassionately loved the “tax collectors and sinners” when His feet tread on this earth.
Among the many living in the Holy Land today are more than a million Russian-speaking Jews who immigrated to Israel following the Soviet Union’s collapse almost 30 years ago. Many came to start new lives free from their addictions but failed; others became addicted when they discovered the dream of Zionism didn’t take away the pain gnawing at their souls. Today these disillusioned immigrants struggle with life-crushing addictions.
Providentially, I met Pastor Dov Bikas, a humble Jewish man who came to Christ after immigrating to Israel in 1971 from Lithuania, then part of the Soviet Union. My heart quickly bonded with this brother when I learned he routinely carries the heart of Jesus into the most unseemly parts of Israel—the places where some of the most desperate addicts live. Dov took me to his day shelter in Tel Aviv, into which scores of homeless men and women, most of them addicted to drugs or alcohol, wander, limp or stagger for a hot meal and a safe, soft place to nap.
The shelter, a non-descript storefront-type space, adjoins a sex shop on the left, and to the right, a line of shabby, unmarked doorways into the business establishments of local prostitutes. Thankfully it was still early afternoon, so the night’s evil had not yet arrived. I had no trouble seeing that the shelter’s location was perfect for reaching out to the “sinners” to whom Jesus likes to show His love.
Having accepted Dov’s offer to preach the gospel to the day shelter’s transients, I spoke while Dov translated my words into Russian. Not long after I began, a man, one of several wounded souls who were sipping soup at the table, interrupted with loud growling-like protests—it sounded demonic. He was visibly upset. One of the volunteer staff shuffled near and put his arm around him, but the guttural sounds continued.
Another volunteer across the room then began playing the guitar he had been holding. Soon, like the calming effects of David’s harp upon the tormented King Saul, this man’s growl turned into a dog-like moan; tears coursed down his rough cheeks. I never knew if it was demons, drugs or dementia that tortured this man in those moments, but my heart was moved to see Dov and his team tenderly minister to his need with God’s love.
Dov’s shelter is a place that offers a message of promise to many prodigals who desperately need God’s love and forgiveness. Fruit from this ministry takes a long time to ripen in the lives of those who respond to the gospel; for most it’s a steep upward climb to escape the bondage of addiction, but Dov is not deterred. He knows it’s what Jesus would do, so he keeps at it , trusting his faith will be rewarded.
I’m glad Heaven’s Family has the privilege of planting, watering and harvesting that fruit right alongside my brother Dov through financial support from the Prison & Rehab Ministry. I think that’s what Jesus would do, too.