Common pitfalls that can catch believers volunteering or studying in Israel

For believers, Jewish or Gentile volunteering or studying in Israel, I thought I would offer a list of pitfalls that can trip up followers of Yeshua who are staying in the holy land for any length of time.

Cultural sensitivity

Try and avoid wearing Tshirts with religious or political message.  Making sure you the right attire for religious sites which means arms and legs must be covered, and the Orthodox Jews don’t like women in trousers, you need a long skirt in you are a female and wish to go through religious communities.

Staying in your flat all weekend

Theres lots to see if you are in Jerusalem, when Shabbat is over its fun to get into the centre of town and meet with friends at a coffee shop or ice cream joint.  Usually there is people playing music in the streets in Ben Yehuda Street and the place starts to become alive Saturday evening.

I’ve noticed what I would describe is a habit that some people never go out.   I had two housemates like this.   This has happened to me too often.   I think its a spiritual thing that can cause people to hide away sometimes.

Not praying over yourself

Pray for the armour of protection.  THIS IS A MUST.  Before you leave the house.   This place is a spiritually volatile as it is politically volatile.   No need for alarm or panic, but be aware any worries, negative thoughts can intensifying and depression can creep in while you are in Israel.

Ephesians 6 : 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

This passage is saying about praying protection on yourself like the pieces of protective equipment worn for a war.   This is a quite a good metaphorical statement needed.

If you don’t understand this passage, then get familiar with it.   If you don’t want to understand this passage or would rather ignore this, don’t come to Israel.

Working on Shabbat

Don’t do it, stick to the biblical week, and shut down normal week friday evening.   I’m not saying when you return to your original country you have to change away from your traditional working patterns, just while you are in Israel, observe the Sabbath and get a nice meal and invite some friends over, or get together with family, its good to invite someone outside of your usual group of friends who might otherwise be on their own that evening.

Because of spending all the time working, making every day the same, I’ve sadly seen some believers here and in my own country fall away this way.

Some ministries are working to a very tight deadline to make a complex project happen, and I’ve done it a few times only to find the project I was working on went wrong.  Seriously friends, if you are doing ministry in Israel, don’t work Shabbat, its meant to be special for a reason.

Not going to a congregation of believers

Sadly some Christians have this idea if you work in a ministry, do a bit of private bible study or a visit an Orthodox synagogue you don’t need to go to a congregation, this is not true!! As well as get teaching and participate in worship, you need to have fellowship with believers, its also great to meet other foreign Christians, Jewish believers and sometimes Arab believers this way, take part in Jewish holidays, Torah portion (both Tanakh and Brit Hadasha, ie: Old Testament and New Testament)

Hebrews 10 : 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Once you build some good friendships in your congregation (this took quite a while for me)  its a great way to get mentored or be a mentor.   If you find your life is completely peachy and never have any worries or struggles (you must be an extreme rarity!)  use your experience of overcoming struggles to help others.   Ok, realistically, if you have overcome many struggles you might also be called to look out for those who are on their own or going through a tough time.

 Not drinking enough water

This happens a lot, it seems that a human being’s thirst doesn’t quite get calibrated right, and you may stick to usual pattern of fluid intake in a cooler country, don’t rely on this, you often need to drink about 2-3 times as much as you are used to especially if you are outside a lot.

If someone you are with doesn’t pack water on a trip and after you remind them they say ‘no I am alright’ don’t accept this and keep reminding them in making sure they are taking enough.   A hike for some hours in the desert necessitates 3-4 litres of water at least.   I find it best to get into a pattern of drinking some at least every half an hour.   Dehydration takes places quickly and can really spoil your day or at the very worst make you very ill.

Don’t bash regular Christianity

If your brothers and sisters in Christ don’t show the same interest in the Holy Land, don’t get into a them-and-us mentality.  There’s nothing worse than religious arrogance.

We are meant to be ambassadors for Jesus whilst we are away from our places of origin.   It gives a bad impression if we show there is division among our fellow Christians.

When churches go with the world of plans to redefine marriage and family structure to appease a twisted society, people get angry and blame the whole church system as going down the tubes.   I think the institutional church is not what it was but its crucially important we give a good impression of us as servants of the Lord.

When I see Hebrew roots movements telling people ‘listen to our theology, not pagan Christianity’  this makes me very cross.   Don’t listen to any arrogant person who attacks the wider body of church, but do pray for the body of believers in our own respective countries.

My observation is that many Christians simply don’t know a lot of the bible, and don’t know the importance of Israel and the Jewishness of Jesus, but don’t know many other aspects of their faith, just because (particularly me) getting familiar with all aspects of the scriptures in the entirety is hard work.

Don’t try and be something you are not

If you are a gentile Christian with an interest in Hebrew Roots or Jewish foundations of Christianity, please don’t put on a kippur or tzi-zit.   Don’t try and be something you are not.   This causes so many problems.

Here’s a classic anti-replacement theology passage:- Romans 11 : 11 Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.

The bible tells us (regular gentile Christians) that we are to make the Jews jealous from our salvation from the Jewish Messiah.

Some overly enthusiastic Christians get their theology back to front and try and wear clothing used by observant Jews.   This can be interpreted as Replacement Theology, that Christians are the ‘new Jews’  and the almost certainly the reaction from other Christians as they are being just being plain daft.

Studying Hebrew roots can be great, but its not meant to be a religious dressing up game.

Be aware of unusual teachings and having discernment

Which way round do the events in end times event happen?  Is the New Testament written originally in Greek, Aramaic or something else?  Jesus’s birthday is 25th December?

Often people come up with some ideas that seem different from the norm, so be careful and research everything thoroughly yourself.

1 Timothy 1 : 3 As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer 4 or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work—which is by faith. 5 The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. 6 Some have departed from these and have turned to meaningless talk. 7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.

Sometimes there’s aspects of the bible that have several plausible explanations that we will have different interpretations, they often aren’t significant enough to argue about.    I admire my friend Judah’s earlier blog post about tolerance of different ideas from our brothers and sisters in Christ, but robustly challenging anything false.

Body of Christ in Israel

I was thinking about the different types of people I know in various Christian organisations in Israel, one thing we have in common is as volunteers we have put our careers in hold, often got rid of our cars and sometimes houses, are away from our families to help serve in all different types of roles.

From this, I have realised we all have gifts and talents but often our nations of origin hold significant strengths and abilities also that define us.

This isn’t meant to put any us in boxes as such, but these are some of the common abilities I have seen amongst fellow volunteers in Israel.   Sadly I have not included the UK, as there is very few Brits I see here.

1. USA

Traditionally the media have always labeled America has been the biggest supporter of Israel, and its true but as the US has more Christian organisations than anywhere else in the world, so I would say American Christians have particular talent in leadership.

American is the pioneering force behind Christian media and press, and a lot of great lot of the gospel has come up from TV, radio, newspapers and magazines, it has helped to shape the message of Jesus to spread all over the world.

At the moment America has a heck of lot of debt, I tried to work it out but I couldn’t fit all the numbers onto the LCD screen on this calculator, I can’t see a clear solution to fix this, but I hope this encourages a shake up of America’s Christians to pray and intercede for their government.

2. Japan

Believers in Jesus in Japan officially only make up less than 1% of Japan, the ones that truly know the Lord and I really admire they the most servant hearted people I have seen, especially in the food bank here at Bridges for Peace putting together bags and pallets of food that are going to the needy.  They are not recently threatened by war, but more of geology related problems can be just as destructive, and its great there is great relationships between Israel and Japan, as Israel helped out with the most recent devastating earthquake.  They also seem to be the politest people in the world too. 🙂

3. Suomi (aka Finland)

There isn’t any Finnish people at the organisation I am at the moment, but there are a lot I know in other Christian organisations here.   Interesting enough I know most of them speak Finnish and Swedish, the ones in the west of the country next to Sweden prefer to speak Swedish.

Given that Finland has only 5 million people – less than Israel, but many Finns tell me that all the churches they know support Israel.   It seems like replacement theology is a foreign concept to our friends from the chilly top corner shelf of Europe.  The Finns seem to have a knack for good sound biblical teaching I think, and there are a few dedicated Finnish Christian organisations in Israel.

Thus, Kudos and Kiitos for the dedication from the Finns. (Kiitos is the only Finnish word I remember which is thankyou)

4. Australia, New Zealand and South Africa

Our Commonwealth brothers:

These guys seem to have more of a sense of adventure than anywhere else, going traveling around other places.   For instance, I have been to a few Youth hostels in France and America and always see Aussies, Kiwis and Bokkies there, and they make good travel companions.  The seem to be attracted to the outdoors and getting their hands dirty, which is why they also excel at sport, but excelling even more at trying to be super competitive over each other.   So they seem to naturally take to doing overseas volunteer work in a Christian ministry..

And they drive on the same side of the road as us Brits too. :o)

5. Nigeria

I don’t think we have any Nigerians volunteering in any Christian organisation I know of here, but since a few years ago, when the Nigerian government told the Muslim population they can have a free paid for trip to Mecca, the Christian population complained they ought to have a free trip to Jerusalem as well, the government obliged, and now we see a lot of Nigerians here showing their support for Israel, so they bless this land by just being here touring and seeing places.

6. Canadians

They don’t seem to get too cross if you call them Americans by mistake.  They seem to not moan about cold, and they like hunting.   Canadians seem to stand out by their warmth, cheerfulness and great humour especially under pressure.

Canada probably has the best government of anywhere at the moment as PM Stephen Harper proudly makes his unwavering support for Israel as a Christian, not caring what his fellow peers think but trusting in the bible.   I can only wish we had more leaders like this.  Fer sure Eh.

7. The Netherlands

The Dutch have a talent for prayer and intercession, this is reflected by a hardcore group of Christians from Holland that go praying along the walls of the old city every day, 6 days a week, just not Shabbat or Jewish holidays.

8. Thai and Filipinos

I see a lot of people from East Asia here working with the elderly and holocaust survivors.   These people have such abundance of patience and love for the infirm.   I see a lot of people from these countries in the UK too working as nurses and carers also.

9. South Koreans

The last Asian country to mentioned here but with the largest amount of Christians in Asia I think.  I don’t see many volunteering here, but theres a lot of them on Christian tours here, the Koreans seem to excel at worship I think.   I see them playing guitar in Ben Yehuda Street every weekend and in the parks too.  Its funny seeing a small boy playing a big guitar thats the same size of him too doing a Hill Songs cover in their own language.

10. Israelis

Last but not least, Messianic Jews I have met here in Israel, seem tough and well prepared for all kinds of situations, due to training in the army as well as being people of the book, therefore having to deal with threats from neighbouring countries, inaccurate, dishonest or slanderous news in media around the world, as well from harassment from Jewish anti missionaries.  I like the fact that Israelis seem very outgoing and like travelling and going to see live music a lot too.

Lastly, this is not meant to be exhaustive, only a sample of people I have seen here, there in fact other groups of people, such musicians from Denmark and even in recent times there Arab people who have a passion for Jesus, this is something I would like to find out and write at another time.