Having led Chasdei Yeshua through many years of ultra-Orthodox persecution to calmer waters, Yoyakim Figueras told his congregation two years ago that he was stepping down as Pastor to focus on working with children and youth. There follow some of his reflections on this decision and God’s calling on his life to minister to the young.
“As I served my congregation I saw children disappearing into the world, while I was largely ministering to mature believers,” Yoyakim begins. “Stepping down was a difficult decision but I believed God was asking me to. I also received strong confirmations from different sources about it.”
One such confirmation came through Yoyakim’s wife, Debbie. “When Yoyakim first told me he was considering this,” Debbie affirms, “I asked the Lord to give me a word that would help him be sure. It came to me to say: ‘If you don’t put your foot into the water, the waters won’t part.’ As I shared this, Yoyakim responded that what I had said was exactly the same thought he had about this.”
Yoyakim has had a heart to help youngsters for many years. His first assignment as a social worker out of university was at a boarding school in Beersheva. “I was in charge of a section in the school for very disturbed children,” he recalls. “It was a tough job and they wanted a male social worker to manage it.”
However, when the persecution of believers in Beersheva got underway in 1998, Yoyakim (who was a deacon at the Nachalat Yeshua Beersheva congregation) came under attack at his school. He was accused of proselytizing children, which is against the law without parental consent. “This was not true,” he asserts. “I knew Yeshua was the Answer to these children’s problems but it was a government-run school and I could not tell them about Him. It was very frustrating.”
This frustration, and the accusations which were building up to demands for his dismissal, led Yoyakim to resign. “I had always wanted to work with people and for my work to be an expression of my faith. I wanted to serve in a place where I could share about the Lord.”
In particular, Yoyakim was aware of a special connection to children and youth. “When we moved to Arad from Beersheva (because of the clean air) I worked in construction for a while and we started a house group for fellowship and Bible study. I saw the group was full of children,” he confirms.
This continued after Chasdei Yeshua was formed as a congregation. “During the week we held meetings in our home and there were many children who came. Some of these had no father and I was, and am, able to be a father figure for them.”
Since stepping down as Pastor, Yoyakim works with children and youth and has formed two groups for weekly ministry. The first is for children aged six to twelve and the second for teens aged 13 and upwards. “We have fun, do activities, and have serious talks – but Yeshua and His Word in the Bible are always at the center of everything we do.”
While being present for the young to lead them to the Lord and help them grow in Him, Yoyakim still teaches from the pulpit once a month and serves as an Elder. He has also just completed a year-long course at the Israel College of the Bible for a Masters’ degree in Pastoral Ministries. “You could say I am in a period of transition,” he reflects. “But I am praying about a big vision I have that has to do with children and youth and ministering to them full time.”
“We have to invest in our children,” Yoyakim concludes. “We must not let them just disappear into the world.”