Changing Attitudes of People Towards Yeshua in His Hometown

Upper Nazareth is a town built during the modern era of Israel. The majority of its inhabitants are Jews, including numerous Russian speaking immigrants. It is located adjacent to its older counterpart, Nazareth, where the population is predominantly Arab.

Over a decade ago, when the Shavei Tzion fellowship was itself only two years old, we launched a congregation in Upper Nazareth (Natzaret Illit) and “Branch of the Galilee” Fellowship was born. The Hebrew name of the congregation, “Netzer HaGalil”, comes both from the name of the town and also from one of the prophetic names of the Messiah – Netzer meaning branch: “… a Branch will grow from His roots. The Spirit of the LORD will rest upon Him…” (Isaiah 11:1-2).

Vakif overseeing a Torah reading
Vakif overseeing a Torah reading

The congregational leader, Vakif, is from the traditionally Muslim Tatar ethnic group. While living in Russia, he met his future wife, who happened to be Jewish. At the time, both of them were atheists. Then their lives were transformed when they came to faith in God and His Messiah. From that moment on, they were zealous to serve the Lord. God turned Vakif’s life around and eventually led him to become a Messianic “rabbi” in Upper Nazareth! With God all things are possible. He can use anyone to reach the lost – including Muslim Tatars!

We began conducting worship services in an industrial zone building of 9,000 sq. ft – teaching the Scriptures and organizing special events for Holocaust survivors and others. A soup kitchen allowed us to serve the poor and needy of the town.

The fellowship grew. Its role in the community was recognized by the department of social services as we developed friendships with its representatives. Back in 2005 the governmental perception of Messianic Jewish fellowships was quite negative. Therefore, the collaboration with the local council was a great encouragement for all of us – a recognition of our work in Upper Nazareth.

For a believer living in Europe or North America it is probably hard to even conceive that such a discriminatory attitude would exist in our day. But in Israel, unfortunately, it has been the norm. Historical Christian anti-Semitism including that of the Crusades and the Inquisition, led to the name of Yeshua being unwelcomed among Jews for centuries.

Bar Closes

Five years ago a bar opened next door to the congregation. Members of the congregation committed themselves to intercessory prayer for the situation to be resolved. And praise be to God, for He does not allow us to be tested beyond our strength. We persevered in prayer, and the bar has now been closed!

We recently made an offer to purchase the space that formerly housed the bar. With God’s help, from this January the fellowship’s premises have doubled in size. We give thanks to our Heavenly Father and believe that in the coming years, Netzer HaGalil will grow, not only in size, but in its influence in the city.

Expansion is costly in terms of time, effort and finances. Nonetheless, we remain determined, for we know that the Lord is with us. He is our rock in whom we trust wholeheartedly, and our reassurance comes from Him. Think about it – a place that used to be a den of drunkards has been turned into a house of worship to the King of Kings! It’s an incredible transformation. We find a comparison in the writings of Paul to Corinthian believers where he reminds them that they too were delivered from darkness.

“Do not be deceived. Neither…drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”  – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Given the task at hand, we ask for your prayer support and ongoing intercession for the lost. Nazareth continues to be a challenging place to spread the Gospel. It is as if the exile of the Messiah has been extended to our days. Two thousand years ago Yeshua was driven from His home town’s synagogue by an angry mob. His words are still relevant today: “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own relatives, and in his own house.” – Mark 6:4

Evangelism and good conduct, standing in prayer and growing strong in faith – this is what we continue to pray for that we may succeed in changing the attitudes of people towards the Messiah here in His home town where He grew to manhood. We are calling upon Him to return home.

This article originally appeared in Return to Zion Newsletter, March 2016.