It’s not by accident that the only Messianic Jewish congregation in the embattled, border town of Sderot near the Gaza Strip is called City of Life (Ir HaChayim) since it has persevered and survived thousands of rocket attacks over the last 18 years.
It was back in the year 2000 that a young Jewish-believer from Latvia named Dina came to Israel as a student and found herself leading a small group of other student believers in the Negev city of Sderot. Just a year later, rocket fire became a daily occurrence, hitting the small border town on a daily basis, making the lives of all its residents intolerable. The battered town, once home to 20,000 began to see its numbers drop to a mere 13,000 – 14,000 residents as people began to leave their homes for safer areas. Over this very difficult period, the small band of student believers had to, themselves, decide whether or not to remain, but as they prayed, they felt that they were to stay put – continuing to pray and fast for their city just as Abraham had done for his thousands of years before.
It wasn’t until 2006 that a young Jewish believer from the Ukraine came to the area as a new immigrant also searching for other like-minded individuals with whom he could freely worship his Messiah. That young man connected with these students who, by then, had grown into the beginnings of an active, full-fledged Kehila (congregation) also containing young families. For him, it was a joyful challenge to help Dina to guide and lead this group. It wasn’t long before a romance blossomed and the two were married. Today, Michael is the spiritual leader of Ir HaChayim (City of Life) appropriately named since Hamas terrorists vowed to turn Sderot into a city of death, wiping it off the map completely.
It was during that time, as the Sderot believers began to pray, fast and intercede for their city, that a vast number of miracles began to occur. Although a constant barrage of rockets were being launched daily, even hourly, the great majority of them failed to reach their targets and actually fell between houses rather than on houses. If they did fall on houses, it always happened when people were not home and the houses were empty. Whether they were shopping or on vacation, it was remarkable that this was the pattern. Michael also recalls a specific time when a bar mitzvah took place at a local, traditional synagogue with many people in attendance. Even though the event was still in full swing, the cleaning person began to pressure people to leave early, stating that she had to do a rush cleaning job in order to get home early. Just after the people had left and she’d finished cleaning, a rocket fell on the site, but since everyone had left early, no one was hurt.
Another incident involved a rocket hitting a large factory on a Saturday night. If that had happened during the week, there is no doubt that it would have done massive harm. Having seen the grave effects of a rocket falling near his mother’s house, Michael knows just what kind of destruction would have occurred. From that time on, many rockets fell in open fields but no real damage was done. The power of prayer and intercession surely made a huge difference in the outcome of this dangerous period of time.
Perhaps the best illustration of this was a rocket which fell at 11 p.m. one Friday night in a preschool which was just 50 meters away from Michael and Dina’s home. Often when the city-wide sirens would go off, they would not wake their children to take them to the bomb shelter, knowing how scary this was for them, but on this particular night, they ran to get their two children and whisk them away to safety. The rocket fell just 50 meters from their living room, causing these young 3 and 4 year-olds to suffer fear and trauma. Despite their scare and endless questions as to why this was happening, their parents were able to comfort them by telling them that God had sent His angels to protect them. Indeed, they were unharmed.
From the years 2001-9, some 13,000 rockets have landed in Sderot, but the enemy has not prevailed. God has continued to protect the city, its residents and the many believers there.
Today, some ten years later, Ir HaChayim is a full-blown, active and vibrant community with home groups, counseling and humanitarian aid facilities and a place which is offering abundant life and help to its community. Even municipal workers have taken notice of the charitable acts of kindness which is being showered upon this embattled community as the love of Messiah Yeshua is being poured out in so many tangible ways.
The congregation is involved with Holocaust survivors, the needy, single families and many others – providing food, funds, diapers, furniture and much more. There is a bible club which meets bi-monthly, teaching non-believers the Word of God. Seminars are also conducted on a variety of subjects – everything from marriage to families to other practical and useful help. In fact, Ir HaChayim has received many invitations from local groups and organizations, requesting to hear more about them and their faith. As Michael puts it, “We proudly speak about the God of Israel and the great things He has done for us.
They also conduct historical trips for non-believers, taking them to biblical sites where they relate the stories of the bible.
The congregation meets each Shabbat morning. Once a month there are Friday night meetings where congregants eat together. The congregation, although having many Russians is a Hebrew- speaking one which does provide English and Russian translation.
There are also native Israelis members with home groups tailored to them as well as home groups in Russian. In fact, there is even a home group in a neighboring kibbutz.
Michael hopes to develop home groups in two neighboring towns where a number of Russians live, but they have been areas which have a very strong spirit of orthodoxy steeped in rabbi-worship and superstition. Those areas have been difficult to penetrate, but with your prayers, Ir HaChayim believes that this spirit will be broken and the truth of the living God will be made known.
The goal is to establish a thriving congregation there as well.
You may ask how all this work is getting accomplished given the fact that Michael and his wife barely have any income. Some outside contributions are received, but God is moving nonetheless, and the proof is in the fact that they have been able to rent a new 450 square meters which they’ve begun to renovate. It includes a huge humanitarian warehouse and room for everything. They need an additional 250,000 NIS to finish the renovations. They say it has been a miracle that they were able to get this facility.
The municipality knows about it and quietly accepts them due to the helpful and respectable work they have done. In fact, Ir HaChayim organized a joint project this past summer, with the municipality for 400 children who had experienced much shelling. It was a fun day with trampolines and gifts for each child.
Perhaps that act of kindness has changed some of the minds of those who, in the past, engaged in targeted campaigns against the believers of Sderot where vicious anti-missionary groups went around hanging posters on doors stating that these people are dirty missionaries who want to convert Jews to Christianity and want to kill the Jewish soul. They also drove around the local neighborhood with loudspeakers screaming, “Beware of missionaries. They are thieves and liars.”
For now, there is relative quiet and peace. As Michael puts it, “We believe this is a period of grace with God has given to us, and we look forward to only greater things with God’s help.”