Voices in the Desert

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Avraham and Shilo Ben Hod

WHEN SHILO TOLD ME HIS DAD, Avraham, was originally from the UK, I was stunned. “Then how is your English so terrible… I mean, for someone with an English-speaking parent?” I asked him with a wink. He laughed, “My mother is a Sabra (Israeli-born) and I have lived my whole life on the same street. We moved several times growing up—but always to a different place on the same street in Ma’ale Adumim (a suburb on the desert side of Jerusalem).

Shilo’s mother grew up in a traditional Jewish family. In her later teens she and a couple of her friends heard about Yeshua. They accepted the invitation into the Kingdom and never looked back. Her parents, however, were not happy about her decision and rejected any attempt she made to talk to them about her faith.

Her prayers, however, did not go unheard. Less than a year before he died, Shilo’s grandfather would wake up from a coma having had a vivid experience with Yeshua. This changed the remainder of his life, though his wife, who lived through the horrors of WWII and could not accept that there was a God at all, remained hardened. It would be about 20 years later, and two months before her own passing, that Shilo’s grandmother would soften and accept the truth about the God who watches over Israel and His Son, Yeshua.

Avraham was young when he first felt a stirring for the land of Israel. But he would have to wait until he was an adult to take the big step of moving to the Land of Promise. Soon after arriving in Israel, he would meet his future wife and be married by the time he joined the IDF. After completing his military service (though he continued as a reserve until the age of 50) he got his master’s degree in botany at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Avraham loved nature, but he especially loved the desert, and so he and his wife moved to a then-small settlement called Ma’ale Adumim in the Judean desert. Looking for a community with other believers, they joined a congregation that met in Jerusalem on the weekends. During the week, a good number of the congregants—all from Ma’ale Adumim—would have a mid-week house meeting in different homes in their city, including their own.

The drive to the meetings in Jerusalem every week was draining (as Shabbat is the only day off Israelis get) and slowly members of the home group began feeling a need to establish a congregation in Ma’ale Adumim. Avraham went to the congregation’s leaders and asked if they would bless their efforts to start a congregation in their own city. The leadership asked him to wait a year and pray with them about it—he agreed and a year later their group was sent out with a blessing. They named themselves Ma’ale Adumim Congregation, after the city they were committing to impact. That was 16 years ago.

In the early days, Avraham’s house in Ma’ale Adumim was the meeting place. Every weekend much of the house furniture would be taken outside and stacked in the yard. The bedrooms would become the children’s classes and plastic chairs would fill every available space.

Shilo, Sarah, and the leadership team pray before the Shabbat service.

Pastor’s Kid

Shilo spent most of his life in this congregation. And despite the notorious reputation pastors’ kids can have, he never hit a serious rebellion streak. It was always obvious to him who was King. Admittedly though, as a teenager, being a believer became less a priority for him. Yeshua was important, but so were his friends and the life he wanted to live.

Around the age of fifteen, Shilo met Sarah in one of the summer youth camps. She invited him to attend the weekly youth meetings at a House of Prayer in Jerusalem. He liked her a lot and was happy to find an excuse to be around her.

In one of those meetings, a youth leader spoke about Yeshua’s parable of the wide and narrow paths. “I realized as the guy was speaking, that the wide and narrow paths weren’t about everyone in the world. It was only talking about people who bothered to even try and be on a path at all—people who thought they were believers. I looked at my life and thought to myself, if the path is narrow, it can’t be an easy path. Sacrifices must be made to walk on it—and I’m not really sacrificing anything to follow Yeshua. From that moment on, I changed how I lived.”

Worship Leader

Shilo’s journey in music began at the age of six. Upon expressing an interest in the instrument, his mother bought a piano and was unwavering in her demands that he practices every day. He hated it then but thanks her now as it opened such a vast world of creativity for him.

Shilo wrote his first worship song at the age of 13 and was leading worship in his father’s congregation and in a house of prayer in Jerusalem by the age of 15. “At first I led worship because it was fun,” Shilo told me. “But by the time I went in for my mandatory army duty I knew music and worship would play a significant role in my calling.”

Still, the army consumed everything, so for the next 3 years of Shilo’s life, everything was put on hold. Well, mostly everything. He did manage to squeeze in leading worship when he was allowed to go home for the weekends. And with his parents’ blessing, he also managed to squeeze in getting married to his beloved Sarah.

Upon finishing the army, Shilo already had a high-tech job offer. The contract was already written and he had spent the last year of his service training for the position. However, just a few weeks before the work contract was supposed to be signed, Shilo began hearing in prayer the name of the house of prayer where he had lead worship as a teen. “I’d never told anyone that I’d like to be on staff at a house of prayer because I had never wanted to. I wanted to work as a computer programmer,” Shilo explained. “But, when the head of the house of prayer called me to ask if I wanted to serve on staff, I knew it was the Lord confirming what He had been telling me.

“My friend who had invested a year in training me was beside himself when I told him of my change of plans. I apologized profusely and explained I had to follow what the Lord was telling me. Inside, I was wrestling, though, because I really enjoyed the hi-tech world and as an Israeli, playing the guitar and singing songs didn’t really feel like a legit job to me—for sure the difference in paychecks would be notable.

“Two years later that same friend called me out of the blue and offered me the same job with better terms and the option of working from home when I had free time. It was like the Lord saw I had given up something I loved for Him and He, in turn, gave me the ability to do both.”

Outgrowing Home

As the number of Ma’ale Adumim congregants grew too large for Avraham’s home, they moved to a field with sparsely planted trees —which only an Israeli would look at and think to call a “forest.” Within several months, however, the summer heat became too intense for outside services. They would need to get creative since renting a meeting hall was too pricey.

In the end, the only place they found within their budget was a cave on the edge of an archaeological park near the Dead Sea that dated back to the time of Yeshua. They got along great with the park authorities, but it wouldn’t take long for the younger families to express how difficult it was for them to try to engage in a service while watching their kids at an archaeological site. Finding a new place to meet was an immediate need.

One night as Shilo’s mother prayed about the situation, she heard the word “bowling.” The next day, as she drove around with a friend in search of potential meeting places, they drove by a place with a big “Bowling” sign outside. With the word fresh in her heart, they went in to take a look. There was, in fact, a bowling alley open for business, and the floor below was available for rent! Of course, the owner “happened” to be in, so they were able to check out the place (which was a recently closed-down nightclub). The owner was a gem of a person and gave them a very reasonable price for the size of the place.

It all seemed so perfect until they talked to their accountant, who promptly explained to them that they didn’t have the budget to rent a place like that. They were not a congregation funded from the outside. They existed from the tithes and offerings of their 80+ congregants. Still, the leadership felt united in their confidence that this was the place God had for them and signed the lease. From the very first month they moved in, the congregation’s giving doubled to cover the rent. That was nine years ago.

During Shilo’s army service, Maoz recorded a music video for one of his songs

Beyond the City

“The first time I ever left Israel for a ministry trip was with Maoz when they took a group of Israelis to the MJAA Conference in Pennsylvania,” Shilo explained. “I got special permission from the army to go for a couple of weeks and went as a part of Maoz’ music delegation, we affectionately referred to as the Band from the Land. The name stuck.

“I had never been to the U.S., so the culture shock was a bit jarring, but the amount of food I encountered was overwhelming. Overall, the experience was amazing and opened my eyes to the blessing we Israelis can be to the world. The response to the “Band from the Land” was so positive that upon returning to Israel, Maoz recorded a Band from the Land album. Two of my songs were recorded during that time.

“The first time I went overseas on my own to minister in worship was also Maoz. One of their partners from Singapore wanted to put on a conference and asked them to recommend a worship leader from Israel. They recommended me and I went. It was my first time in the big world ministering on my own with Sarah and I was surprised how doable this was. With that glass ceiling shattered, I began to travel regularly and lead worship.

“A few years into this, one of our congregants came to me and said, ‘You have a lot of great songs! You need to record them.’ I told her lots of people have songs, but that did not necessarily mean they should record them. She encouraged me further and even offered to cover the costs, and so I agreed to look into it.

“Avi Perrodin, who had worked on the Band from the Land project, agreed to produce my album and recommended we record at Maoz’ Fellowship of Artists studio in Jerusalem. I didn’t know much about the FoA or their vision at the time, but I’d had a good history with Maoz, and their facilities were high quality, so it made sense.

Shilo recording his second album in the Fellowship of Artist studio as the nation sat in lockdown

“By late 2019 I had written enough new Hebrew worship songs for a second album and returned to the FoA studio to plan the details for a new recording. They had a few projects lined up for early 2020 so I planned to begin sometime in March.

“Then COVID hit, and everything went on lockdown. Everything, that is, except emergency crews, grocery stores—and (because of a technicality in the law) the FoA studio! So, while the nation sat at home during the first wave, Avi and I sat in the studio arranging and recording ten Hebrew worship songs and bringing in one musician at a time to record their parts.

“As we were finishing up the second project and things were opening back up again (a little!) I really started to appreciate the “Fellowship” part of the Fellowship of Artists. I learned more about their vision for Israeli worship and supporting local musicians and worship leaders. They weren’t just a studio—they were building a community for talented believers from different ministries and congregations who could not just collaborate together, but also build each other up in the Lord.”

A House to Meet, a House to Pray

Ma’ale Adumim is a city in the very desert where Isaiah described a voice crying out in the wilderness—prepare the way of the Lord.  This desert has a long and beautiful history of people who cried out to God and were answered by the Maker Himself. King David, Elijah, John the Baptist and even Yeshua are just some of the voices that rang across the rocky hills of this land. Even during the centuries of Israel’s exile, monasteries sprung up in this very area as they, too, recognized the spiritual richness of Israel’s desert land.

Sixteen years ago, Avraham played a role in providing a place for believers to congregate in Ma’ale Adumim. Now, after 13 years of participating in a house of prayer in Jerusalem, his son Shilo is playing his part in planting a house of prayer as a part of the MA Congregation—where many voices will cry out in the desert.

Over the years, this congregation has not only grown in numbers, but has also grown in influence within the community. Many unbelievers view them as good people (an accomplishment considering the stereotypes most Israelis have about Jewish believers) allowing them to shine the light of Yeshua and help those who are struggling around them.

About a year ago when COVID was changing the way everyone did worship services and Israelis sat in lockdown for months, the congregation’s leadership wrestled with the issue of paying rent for a building they could not use. Moving out would save money in the short term but when things opened again, their congregation would be homeless. The conclusion was unanimous. It was time to buy. The need for a place to meet would not go away and this place had proved to be good for their people. Ultimately, purchasing the meeting hall would solidify their congregation’s place in the city.

The owner of the building (who also recognizes the positive influence the congregation has had on the area) agreed to sell the property to them below market value so long as they could make a down payment by December 2021. They signed an intent to buy and a few months later when things began to open up, real estate prices for everything in the area skyrocketed. The reason? Design City, an ambitious architectural and technological development inspired by desert cities like Dubai—was being built up within view of their neighborhood.

Only God could have known nine years ago to direct Avraham and the MA Congregation to plant their feet in an obscure location that is now a stone’s throw away from an area that will become a cultural, fashion and commerce hub for all of Israel. One can only wonder what He has in store for this new development. What is for sure—His people are already being stationed there to do their part in making Israel a land of the Presence again.

This article originally appeared in Maoz Israel Report, November 2021, and reposted with permission.