Not so many months ago Sid Roth called us from Washington, D.C. and discussed with us a dream he had -- to have a Messianic Jewish conference in Jerusalem on Israel's 40th birthday.
We immediately caught the vision, as we had been thinking also about a national gathering of Messianic Jews. Sid brought in the ingredient of North American Messianic Jews coming to participate.
We felt the idea came from the heart of God, and we settled on the holiday of Shavuot (Pentecost), the day when the Holy Spirit descended on the 120 disciples, 40 years before the destruction of Israel. We immediately began to coordinate the logistics of such a conference: Sid in the United States and ourselves in Israel.
Now it was only ten days before the Shavuot Messianic Jewish Conference was to start. The leaders from seven Israeli Messianic congregations who were acting as the Spiritual Leadership Committee to the conference gathered in Jerusalem to pray.
It was the 38th day of the Omer, according to the Biblical command to count the days between Passover and Shavuot (Deuteronomy 16:9). In two days it would be the 40th day of the Omer when Yeshua ascended into heaven and told his disciples to wait until the Spirit should come.
In four days (May 14th) would be the 40th anniversary of the rebirth of Israel according to the Gregorian calendar. Last minute preparations were being made by believing Israelis in several cities for the conference.
"STOP THE REGISTRATIONS!"
A week before the conference began, we cut off registration. More than 500 Messianic Jews and residents from Israel were already registered; 500 from the States and another 100 from places like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Scandinavia and Mexico.
We had gotten the largest hotel ballroom in Jerusalem, which held 1100 maximum. That meant we were already filled up. We begged the hotel manager to put in more seats. He adamantly said it was impossible. But he finally arranged for another 200 people in standing room only.
We called Sid Roth in Washington D.C. -- who by then had already booked 563 people -- and said "Don't book one more person! We are turning away people here in Israel." Sid's office then began to turn down last minute applications.
Both the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations and the Alliance of Messianic Jews were cooperating wholeheartedly in this conference. The Alliance also sponsored their own tour with many of the leaders of their organization coming to the conference.
On Wednesday, May 18th, amid much expectation, most of the Messianic Jewish delegates arrived from North America, aboard Israel's EI Al Airlines. At the airport a group from "Yad L'achim", a so-called anti-missionary group which has an even greater hatred and fear of Messianic Jews than they do of missionaries, demonstrated at the airport as the delegates for the Shavuot '88 Conference arrived. The police promptly arrested six of them.
Later, a Yad L'achim activist called one of the conference speakers and apologized for the protest, saying he did not agree with what his group had done. He then attended the entire conference, bringing his wife and staying late into the nights discussing the faith with many believers. We believe he is searching for truth. Our prayer for him is that he will receive a revelation from God.
That morning the English-Israeli news had carried an interview with Ari, explaining why Messianic Jews were coming to Israel, and just exactly what Messianic Jews believed. There were also bulletins on the Hebrew news.
Thursday morning at 8:30 am, Gary and Shirley Beresford went to their trial at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, where they are writing history by challenging the Interior Ministry of the State of Israel for the right to immigrate to Israel as Jews, on the premise that Messianic Jews are totally Jewish. Incredibly the judges had fixed the date for the trial on May 19th, a day before the beginning of the conference, which was emphasizing aliyah (immigration) of Messianic Jews.
Also on the same day, Ari went for his trial at the Supreme Court, where he is confronting the Israeli Army because of discrimination against him for the sole fact that he is a Messianic Jew who believes that Yeshua is the Messiah.
FIRST ON THE SIGHTSEEING AGENDA: PRAYER MEETING
Instead of going out sightseeing, on their first morning in Israel, the more than 500 Messianic tourists met together in the hotel ballroom for a two-hour prayer meeting for these historic trials. Many of these Messianic Jews are themselves considering the Biblical exhortation to come back to Israel to live (Deuteronomy 30:1-4).
Also, throughout Israel, congregations and individuals were praying during the hours of the trial (8:00 am to 2:00 pm) while our "liaison" left the courtroom hourly to call the praying congregations informing them as to what was happening in the proceedings.
In fact, our congregation had had a prayer chain going for the last ten days. Indeed people allover the world have been praying for the past 18 months since this trial began.
After hearing our lawyer's appeal for Israeli citizenship for the Beresfords as Jews, and also for equality of all soldiers in the Israeli Army, regardless of a man's faith in God, the judges decided that they wanted the arguments and summary of our lawyer in writing.
Obviously, we had desired an immediate decision for the Beresford case. However, we have all learned patience and perseverance. Another "Messianic Jewish freedom to worship" case that we fought in court, took us three years of battle before we saw the victory.
Our job now -- and by "our", we mean those that believe that God wants born-again Jews back in the Land of Israel -- is to continue to call on the Name of the Lord, that He and He alone will turn the hearts of these three judges towards righteousness and justice, and let Jews who love the Messiah of Israel, into the country publicly and without harassment.
Friday morning, the hundreds of Israelis who had pre-registered began to arrive. A large banner was put up by the tour company at the front door of the hotel that read in English and in Hebrew: "WELCOME MESSIANIC JEWS TO SHAVUOT '88 CONFERENCE".
But with the crowd came others who had not pre-registered. Where would we put these people? We rented a video screen and put in an overflow room with a couple of hundred more seats. Our last count was 1400 registered, and then because of the crowd, we literally lost count!
THE LARGEST GATHERING OF MESSIANIC JEWS IN JERUSALEM SINCE...
As we walked through the lobby we heard one of the U.S. leaders telling a T.V. network executive that this was, without a shadow of a doubt, the largest gathering of Messianic Jews in Jerusalem since the days of the Apostles.
Certainly in the Diplomat lobby we could see hundreds of Messianic Jews from around the world fellowshipping with their Israeli counterparts. What a sight!
We found we were needing many more meals than the hotel could offer us. And there were no restaurants in close proximity open because of the holidays. The hotel manager kept telling us they had to keep aside 60 meal places for a group of Hondurans that also happened to be in the hotel at that time.
We must mention that with tourism down, many hotels in the city were close to empty. Beside the Honduran guests, the Messianic Jews were virtually the only ones in the Diplomat.
IS THIS REAL?
Many Israelis kept commenting, "Is this real?" or "Can you believe this? A hotel in Jerusalem full of Jewish believers in Yeshua!!"
We had our own security system made up of Israeli believers who are serving in special security services, the Border Patrol and the Israeli Army. We had also hired policemen. We had no disturbances of any kind during the entire conference.
Then it was 4:00 p.m., and the conference began with the songs arid praises of Lisa and David Loden, the early pioneers of Israeli Messianic music. Virtually all the praise of the weekend was in Hebrew, with transliteration In English for the tourists.
The auditorium was crowded, with many standing, from the first service till the last. In the midst of this, a small lady walked up to us and said: "We are the group of Hondurans staying in the hotel. There are 59 of us, and we are all believers. We heard that there was going to be a Messianic Jewish Conference in Jerusalem, and we all felt from God we were to come. So here we are! We need 59 more seats." She pointed to her hat and said, "See, we all have hats on which say, 'Pentecost '88'." I stared at her in disbelief! Where were we going to find 59 more seats? How in the world did these people even hear of this conference?
We finally put them in the overflow room where their translator, listening to the video screen, translated the messages into Spanish. Besides that, we had earphones in the auditorium, U.N. style, where people were hearing the services in French, German and Spanish.
The speakers were a mix of Israeli and American Messianic Jews. Both sides of the ocean had the opportunity to meet and hear each other. For example, the evening speakers were Shaul Zuella, a fisherman from the Sea of Galilee -- now congregational leader in Tiberias; Dr. Mike Brown from the Washington, D.C. Messianic Yeshiva; and Lance Lambert, a Messianic Jew from Jerusalem. Other speakers were leaders of the Alliance of Messianic Jews, as David Chernoff and Paul Liberman, and Union speakers such as Rich Nichol and Dan Juster. Sid Roth held a healing service. Then there were all the Israeli speakers ... We cannot name them all. The richness of the root of the Olive Tree was again being received into the Body of the Messiah.
AND THEY SHALL LOOK UPON ME WHOM THEY HAVE PIERCED
The purpose of the conference was to lift up Yeshua, the Pierced One, and to present Him to our people. To believe God that the same Spirit that fell some 1950 years ago is poised to fall on us again. Indeed, as Mike Brown cried out to God to send His Spirit and His fire, the fire did fall, although not a physical fire. People in the audience began to call upon God to burn out the dross, the baggage that crushes us and hinders us as individuals and as a corporate Body from giving God our best.
Yes, people were serious with God. We were not able to hear from many of the tourists, but we know that momentous things happened among the Israelis that Saturday night, when the Holy Day Shavuot was ushered in. To describe the privilege of sitting in the presence of God most of the night is where language breaks down. But as we sat there, we said to ourselves, "It's really happening! God is visiting His Jewish people again!"
Even as throughout Jerusalem, Shavuot is the traditional night when the Orthodox stay up all night studying the Torah, so we stayed up -- hundreds of us -- until the wee hours of the morning, allowing the cleansing action of the fire of God to operate in our lives.
Israelis who had not been speaking with one another hugged and kissed. People repented to God and to one another, where severe wounds had been inflicted. Life-long hatreds such as towards Germans vanished, as Israelis looked for Germans to hug.
A sense of wonder and unity arose from the auditorium as we prayed and worshipped and sought God for our land. At 3:45 a.m. Ari reluctantly dismissed an estimated 600 people still praising and worshipping in the auditorium, for we had meetings scheduled for 8:00 in the morning!
NORTH AMERICAN MESSIANIC JEWS CONSIDER ALIYAH
Another of the goals of the conference was to encourage aliyah (immigration) among the Messianic Jews of the world. Barry Segal, one of the organizers of the conference spoke convincingly, pointing out the Scriptures that prophesy the return of believing Jews to the land of Israel. Later, those who were potential candidates were able to ask their questions in an aliyah forum.
Shavuot, the closing day of the conference, was celebrated with more messages and a concert with the music groups Lamb, Israel's Hope and Betty Grodinsky. Lance Lambert closed with a fantastic prophetic message on why Israel has the troubles she does, and what God is going to do about it.
One of the most exciting features of the conference was the testimonies of Israeli believers, how they have been saved and healed in cities, kibbutizim, villages and farms; how they have witnessed in the army to literally hundreds of soldiers in time of war; how they have seen their families and relatives come to the Lord through prayer.
HEY, THERE'S A LOT OF US AROUND
One believer told us that he thought one of the greatest results of the conference for the Israelis is that upon seeing so many believers in one place, much of the fear of sharing their faith has vanished. They were able to look around and say "Hey, there's a lot of us around; I'm not alone."
No doubt, God orchestrated a great leap forward in unity among the believers in Israel. As spiritual leaders around the country worked tirelessly together, they got to know each other and see that their visions, hopes and prayers blend much more than they divide.
The newspaper coverage was incredible! Articles appeared in most of the leading papers of the nation, including two feature articles in weekend magazines. Some of the articles were sarcastic but most were quite favorable; some extremely so. Dr. David Stern, the Conference media spokesman, was busy talking to reporters and photographers. Although we kept the filming and photographing down to a strict minimum, so as not to offend the sensitivities of Israelis who were in attendance that were not yet committed to the Messiah, the newspapers still seemed to have gotten the pictures they needed.
Sid Roth also videoed parts of the conference for posterity with the goal to encourage aliyah among North American Messianic Jews. Reporters from C.B.N. and Charisma Magazine were also in attendance.
Meanwhile, the tourists who had come for the conference continued to tour the country. Among the many out-of-the-way events and places they experienced was to plant 500 olive trees on the farm of a Messianic Jewish sheep raiser as a first-fruits planting in the land.
As the tourists prepared to leave Israel, the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, which had earlier publicly stated they were not happy that Messianic Jews were coming to Israel, now sent representatives to their hotel for the farewell banquet. The government official told them that they were the largest tourist group at that time in all of Israel. "The Messianic Jews", he said, "are welcome to come back at any time".
"Everyone" is saying that there is a change in the air. Israel is being prepared for her day of salvation! Indeed, there is a spiritual momentum that we are witnessing after the conference. Israelis are hungry for God's salvation. At one of our last congregational meetings, five people submitted their lives to the Messiah of Israel.
THEY CAME AND SAW
Incidentally, one of the most faithful and generous congregations which has supported Maoz for eight years was represented at the conference. The pastor, who had come with 20 of his congregation, also visited our Ramat Hasharon congregational service while he was in Israel. We had a sense of satisfaction that this generous co-worker in the work of God with us could come and see the fruit of his investment.
To those of you who cannot visit, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your investment which you have made and are making in the Kingdom of God.
God, of course, could do it alone -- but He wants to share the spoil with us. For that reason, He asks us to invest of ourselves. And Israel is "the apple of His eye".
Thank you for your investment.
In our Messiah,
Ari & Shira Sorko-Ram