For most Israelis, the time after the army is a time to live a free life and travel the world. Many go backpacking to India, Thailand and other Asian countries. New Zealand is another favorite destination.
As thousands of Israelis come to New Zealand every summer it is a prime location to interact with them and share about Yeshua. Only last month 150 Israelis joined together for a hike in Wanaka, New Zealand in memory of a fallen IDF soldier. Celebrate Messiah (CM) has been sharing the love of Yeshua with Jewish people in Australia since it was founded in 1995 by Lawrence and Louise Hirsch. The ministry, which started in Melbourne, is now active in New Zealand as well.
The CM branch in New Zealand has helped plant an innovative and effective ministry to Jewish people in New Zealand. Scott Brown, director of Celebrate Messiah NZ and a
Jewish believer in Yeshua, says the dream was to have an Israeli Backpackers hostel in Wanaka. In the hostel, Jewish-oriented Bible studies, evangelistic films and Jewish holiday celebrations could be part of the daily routine that provide opportunities for the staff to share the gospel with guests.
Last year (2015) this dream came true and Celebrate Messiah NZ was able to purchase a lodge in the town of Wanaka called the ‘Zula Lodge’. Currently a young, Israeli couple is volunteering in the hostel: Matan and Keren Ohana. After their wedding in the summer of 2015 they wanted to give a year to the Lord and are now serving Him in the lodge.
After they helped fix up the lodge and prepare it for the summer season, the guests started arriving. And many guests arrived, as Matan writes:
Last month the lodge was full almost every night with 20-30 Israeli backpackers. Thanks be to God, as every day we are able to converse with Israelis about the faith and the Gospel. All different kinds of Israelis just come to us and ask, “What does it mean to be a Messianic Jew? Who are you? What is this unconditional love that we are getting here? Who are these families that are hosting us with so much love? Why are you so loving and happy all the time?” These questions open up dozens of conversations about faith every day, every week. Israeli evangelism is our most important service here.
The hosting families that the Israelis want to know more about are believers living in New Zealand who host Israeli travelers for free. There are two organizations which provide a platform for this: Hosting Israeli Travelers (HIT) and Chiburim (which means connections in Hebrew). Through these organizations believers can open up their homes for Israelis travelling in their area. This gives them a chance to share the love of Yeshua with Jewish people, in their own homes!
An Israeli who was particularly moved by the love of the Christians in New Zealand wrote in an article:
As an Israeli, I was very surprised to see the amazing love and support I was given by the Christians in NZ who host Israelis in their homes. It was incredible to see that in the place which is the furthest away from Israel — the other side of the world, literally! — we are so loved, while in other Christian countries, such as in Europe, we are not treated in a similar way, and sometimes even treated in the opposite way! How do you explain the fact that in New Zealand there are so many Israeli-loving Christians?
In order to answer these questions, Matan and Keren, in cooperation with HaChotam (an Israeli Messianic publisher), published a small leaflet in which they explain about the love that Christians have for the Jewish people, and above all about the love which God has for all mankind through his Son Yeshua.
Every Friday evening all the Israelis in the area are invited to a Shabbat meal, which is held and prepared in the lodge. Matan relates that this is a prime opportunity to share about issues of faith:
Every [Friday] night I take a few minutes to share something from the Word of God and a little bit about the Messianic faith using some verses that talk about the love of God for us. A few weeks ago, I started to share 1 Corinthians 13, the chapter of love. In the beginning, I was afraid that they would not understand the verses correctly, and that in reading from the New Testament in front of the entire lodge I would be accused of being a missionary. But God showed us that He is faithful: “The Word of God will not come back empty.” (Isaiah 55: 11 )