Throughout its 20 year history, Lech L’cha’s discipleship programs have provided a unique framework for more than 300 graduates, young Israeli Messianic believers (post-army service – ages 19 to 35) to deepen their knowledge of the scriptures and draw closer to the Lord, while being in fellowship with other young believers. Kehila News interviewed Lech L’cha’s program director, Shmuel Salway to get his perspective on the program’s success and how they managed to continue operating in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic this past year.
Lech L’cha runs a 3-month discipleship program twice each year for young Israeli Jewish and Arab believers. The program includes classroom training, Bible teachings, travel throughout the land and volunteer assignments. Salway explained, “We travel the land together, we study the Bible, we eat together, we actually live together – the boys and the girls are in separate dorms.”
In addition, Lech L’cha usually runs national young adult conferences each the year – in 2019, they held two conferences for approximately 330 participants – however because of COVID, they were obliged to cancel three scheduled events. They hope to host at least one Young Adult conference in 2021.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Salway explained that there were many challenges to running a program due to Israel’s three nationwide lockdowns and various government restrictions about how many people were allowed to gather together in one space. Even so, Salway said, “I can tell you that this year has been, I think, so far, the most blessed year. We had two of the largest programs, even though we had to juggle working around the restrictions. Usually, we would go to a large congregation in Beersheva or Tiberias on the weekend, but we weren’t able to this year, so we had to be creative. We met outside. We had some of our teachers on Zoom. We went camping more, inviting youth, young adult groups to join us outside. So, it was definitely a challenge, but it’s been one of the most blessed years, as far as discipleship here in Israel.”
Lech L’cha’s current discipleship program, which started last month, has 16 participants from diverse backgrounds. “We’re blessed that the local congregations know the work we do after 20 years,” said Salway. “We have participants from different congregations from the north to the south. They send their young people because they know that we focus on the Gospel. We see more and more young people coming to faith. This year, we even have a believer in the program from an ultra-religious background.”
Lech L’cha welcomes Arab believers to participate in their programs and Salway finds it enriches the sessions even more.
“There might be different opinions about the land of Israel, but we can agree on one thing – that God loves us so much, He gave His only begotten Son for our sins. We can focus on ‘The way, the Truth, and the Life’ and not on what separates us. We talk openly about our differences and our theology, but we come back to the foundation – building our lives ‘on the Rock’ – and this really helps to strengthen their walk.”
Salway shared his excitement about the program’s format, explaining how the first sessions are focused on salvation, the Gospel, our identity as believers and forgiveness. In the next segment, participants study Biblical texts, starting from Genesis through the New Testament. “One of the most amazing things is that you can study the Bible in Hebrew – in the native language – and actually travel to where everything happened,” he said. “Last week, we went to the Valley of Elah, where David fought Goliath. We were able to sit and study the story of David and Goliath where it happened. It’s amazing. It’s a privilege. I don’t think Israelis know how privileged they are to actually be here…seeing archaeology and history and seeing how the Bible is alive, the Bible is true.”
The last part of the program focuses on sharing the Gospel with others, i.e. making disciples. Salway said participants are faced with important questions like, “How do you share the gospel with Muslims? How do you share the gospel with religious Jews? How do you serve? How do you volunteer? What are your gifts and how can you use them for the glory of God?”
Lech L’cha was founded by Yochanan Stanfield and Alon Grimberg, two gentile believers who had a passion for teaching and discipling young people in Yeshua. Lech L’cha is translated as “Go forth!” – the words God spoke to Abraham when He commanded him to leave his home and go to Canaan (Gen. 12:1), and again when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Gen. 22:2). Furthermore, Yeshua said to his disciples, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matt. 28:19).
Often participants are invited to continue with Lech L’cha’s “Shaliach” program, going out from Israel on an outreach trip. In 2020, Lech L’cha was forced to cancel the planned trip to Africa because of COVID, but they hope to do a missions trip this year, depending on restrictions.
As Lech L’cha celebrates its 20 year anniversary, Salway says they plan to have a celebration this year – especially now that with COVID restrictions opening up – and hope to invite past alumni.
“Some are lawyers. Some own businesses. Some of them are in full time missions. We would like them to share their testimonies and encourage one another.”
Salway, himself, has had a unique career path leading up to his time with Lech L’cha. “I never thought I’d go into full time ministry,” he shared, “but I knew from a young age that I had a calling to serve God. I served as a combat medic in the Israeli army: We believe it is one of the best trained armies in the world. I worked for ELAL Israeli airline security: We pride ourselves on having the best airline security in the world. I worked for the Israeli Embassy and the Ministry of Defense: We like to think these are some of the best security agencies in the world. In the end, if you want to work for the best, you work for God. I dedicated my life to what He wants me to do. I work for the best boss and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Salway talked about the rewards of seeing transformation in the lives of young adults. “I think this is why I keep doing what I do,” he said. “It energizes me to see these young people reconnect and fall in love with God… and want to study the Bible even more. I can definitely tell you, everybody who comes here has changed. And it’s not because of the amazing program. I think God works in their lives. When they give Him time, God is amazing and He’s faithful.”
Clearly passionate about his role with Lech L’cha, Salway carries a vision for similar programs in the future. “I think there should be more programs like this, with disciples who are trained and who will teach,” he continued. “I see the fruit in the lives of these young people and they can touch other young people,” he said. I didn’t start the Lech L’cha program, but I am blessed to be a part of it, to lead and to continue something that belongs to God.”
“My vision for Israel is that more people will hear the gospel, more people come to faith, and there will be many programs like this all throughout the land, and Israel will be a light to the world.”