In the golden twilight of a May evening, under stately eucalyptus trees, the dream of Gamliel Asher—to establish a Hebrew-speaking Messianic congregation in the city of Akko—became a reality.
The name of this new congregation is “Harvest of Asher” and the meaning of this name is two fold. Akko is in the territory allotted to the tribe of Asher. Asher is also the name of Gamliel Asher. Gamliel was the man who spear-headed intercession and vision for Akko, and beloved Tents of Mercy pastoral elder. Last year he died of cancer, struck down at a mere 39, in the prime of his ministry and service, leaving behind a wife and young son. His death was a great blow to our congregation. Only hours before the ceremony dedicating the new congregation, a year to the day following Gamliel’s departure from his cancer-ridden body, we gathered beside his grave to honor our brother’s memory and to worship his Creator. The tranquility of the kibbutz cemetery, remarkably located amidst ripened wheat fields, within sight of Akko, provided a fertile setting for reflection. What a precious thing is a life devoted to the Living God. Kehilat Katzir Asher —The Congregation of Asher’s Harvest—really is the fruit of Gamliel’s determined faith to see a congregation born in Akko, on the idolatrous northern coast of Israel.
Like an Abused Maiden
Outstanding for its inclusion in the Book of Judges list of cities NOT submitted to the God of Israel, Akko has been the site of both Canaanite child sacrifice and Crusader-Turkish barbarity. It was long a “pearl” of the Mediterranean Sea, invitingly positioned at the top of the Haifa Bay, gateway to the intersection of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. Many conquerors gathered their troops in Akko with hopes of controlling vast territory.
Yet God has not forgotten its blood-soaked terrain. In His providence, Gamliel’s investment in Akko included a younger man, his disciple and protege Guy Cohen, who spent his youth seeking for God in ultra-Orthodox Judaism. Guy was born in Akko of Jewish parents from Morocco and Yemen, who arrived as children, in the early days of the modern State of Israel. He grew up there, but did not expect to stay.
Akko Native Speaks from Heart
Speaking at Tents of Mercy in a moving message from the Song of Songs, Guy compared his native city to the beloved young bride in that story. “Unlike Solomon’s sweetheart, Akko is abused. She has endured many trials and tribulations in her life, oppressors, tyrants and dictators who kept her in captivity. They built altars to worship idols and held her sons and daughters in bondage. She is waiting for the Lord, her true Lover.”
“Though none of those rulers remained, their spirit has stayed. Many of the citizens today do not want her but wish to leave at the earliest opportunity. They wait and think for themselves ‘Can any good come of Akko?’ In the modern view of Israel, Akko stands as one of Israel’s lowest class cities. But God’s agenda differs. Here He has established a home for Himself.”
“The people of Akko are waiting for a blessing from the Lord on their city. Businesses started in Akko are quick to fall, spreading a poverty that hovers over her. People whose faces are painted with depression and confusion struggle to find rest. However Akko is ripe for the harvest God wants to bring. He foresees, through her brokenness and death, a resurrection.”
“Seven years ago Tali and I were the only Messianic Jews in the city. There was no future, no advantages. We were ready to leave. But God gave us the revelation that He wanted us there. Gamliel supported me to remain in Akko. We talked a lot. He pressed me, asking “What is Akko to you?” He prayed alone for Akko. I miss his wisdom, his leadership. But now God speaks to me. I discovered much about the city through intercession. Water flows under the city. Its famous walls are a picture of the barriers that need to be broken. God wants to do so much in this city. Many came to exploit, abuse and rape Akko. Yeshua comes to love and redeem her. Nothing can stop the work of God here.”
Park Ceremony a Bouquet of Peoples
The ceremony was like a bouquet of peoples gathered by the Spirit to celebrate this spiritual breakthrough. There were native Israelis and immigrants from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, Western nations and Eastern Europe. The Arab Israeli community, 28% of Akko’s population, was also represented by several pastoral couples. When one of the Arab pastors prayed for Guy and Tali in Arabic the presence of God was palpable. Volunteers, true Christians from Denmark, the U.S.A., Korea and elsewhere were present to serve and to rejoice. A barbeque feast was prepared for the occasion by the new congregation, proud to host its many guests. The forest park, chosen intentionally to underscore the connection with the land and history of Akko, echoed with the guitar-led sounds of Hebrew praise songs.
Another connection with Akko’s physical reality was the participation of a key official from the city government. This gentleman, who came early and stayed late, spoke to the entire gathering. He welcomed the new congregation in resounding terms of warmth and appreciation, especially for the humanitarian work already contributed to the city’s needy citizens. A representative of the city government welcoming a Messianic congregation in Israel? This is unheard of! All that has happened is the miraculous hand of our Heavenly Father, vindicating the travail of a beloved son, Gamliel Asher.
Firstfruits of the Harvest
As if to highlight His pleasure in the event, God’s grace came upon a young Akko woman who was invited to the dedication. She was not yet a believer in Yeshua. But as the formal ceremony was ending, her friends, members of the new congregation, brought her to Guy. She heard his inaugural message, a ringing declaration of Yeshua’s messiahship, based on Isaiah 53. “Are you ready to follow Yeshua?” he asked, within seconds of meeting her. I was surprised by Guy’s directness, though I have grown to admire and to covet this typically unadorned Israeli style of communication. A short while later she asked Yeshua into her heart. It was an altogether apropriate beginning for a congregation named for the harvest. Katzir Asher. Asher’s Harvest.