Twenty five centuries ago, Nehemiah returned on a donkey from the exile of dispersion, to rebuild the ruins of the House of God in the Land of Israel (Nehemiah 2).
Twenty five years ago, on November 12, 1992 we rode an airplane and landed at Ben Gurion Airport as brand new Israeli citizens, embarking on the adventure of a lifetime: aliyah. Aliyah means literally “going up,” and in our context, it means dispersed Jewish people going up and returning to rebuild the land of our forefathers. “Aliyah” is a little word with huge implications. We were a small entourage: two college-aged children, a four year old tyke, and Connie – 45 years old and 6 months pregnant. Looking back I’m totally amazed that we moved to Israel from America at that stage of life. Surprisingly, I’ve never regretted it for a moment, though there’ve been plenty of difficult moments over these 25 years. Arriving at this milestone inspired me to take a look back. I asked myself “So, Eitan, what have you learned in your quarter of a century in Eretz Yisrael?” Here are my observations from our journey and also Nehemiah’s. Perhaps they’ll provide some relevant road signs for you as well.
1. Brokenness and Nehemiah’s Intercession (Nehemiah 1:5-11)
Long before living in Israel I realized the profound importance of the great intercessors of the Bible, such as Moses, Nehemiah, Yeshua and Paul. Their hearts were broken over the nation’s rebellion against God. The prophet Joel states that weeping priests will release the end-time outpouring of the Spirit and subsequent harvest (Joel 2:17ff, 1 Peter 2:9).
Having seen the fallen, burned down gates of Jerusalem, Nehemiah cried out to God for forgiveness. When we were fire-bombed by zealous religious Israelis 20 years ago, in 1997, we saw the perpetrators as our brothers. Our grief at the destruction of our humble facility was matched by our longing for our people to know Yeshua as the true Messiah. So, we prayed.
Brokenness is also the by-product of knowing that you are “beyond your depth.” I can’t remember a single day out of my 9,125 days here, when I felt fully capable of coping in the Hebrew language, Middle-Eastern culture, and intensity of everyday life in Israel. Yet this very state of recognizing our own insufficiency is the portal for God’s strength and grace (2 Corinthians 12:9,10) and the key to His direction (Jeremiah 10:23).
2. Covenant Friendship (Nehemiah 1:11-2:8)
From our first days in Israel until now, we have depended on caring friends to lift our arms when we were weary, dry our tears when shaken, and inject love when empty. There is no substitute for genuine friendship – especially in pioneering situations.
Nehemiah was a pioneer. He was called by God to rebuild and restore a nation. To do so required the favor and supply of a Gentile king, Artaxerxes. In his role as cupbearer, Nehemiah must have enjoyed the king’s implicit trust. This trust brought the favor Nehemiah had to have in leading an expedition to the destroyed city. Their connection exemplified the Jewish-Gentile covenant friendship I wrote about in the book What About Us?
Loving teamwork and the centrality of family are further expressions of covenant relationships. Nehemiah chapter 3 names dozens of specific individuals and families, and the portions of the wall they repaired. When Nehemiah exhorted the workers, he said “Let us do this for the sake of our families.” We have come to treasure our children more and more over these years (and don’t let me get started about our grandchildren).
3. Vison from Above (Nehemiah 2:11-20; Ezekiel 37)
We are all caught up in something far greater than ourselves. It is overwhelming to realize that we are seeing dry bones brought back to life and placed back in this Promised Land after nearly 2000 years! When I’ve struggled with the challenge of rebuilding Messianic community where it first began, I have had to remind myself that this is not MY idea. It’s God’s.
The vision that brought us here in 1992 and that has sustained, inspired, and fueled our hearts all along is one that originated in the heart of God. This is God’s deal. It’s His script. Nehemiah was gripped by the vision of restoration! He rallied God’s people, calling them to look beyond their own personal situations, into a larger destiny worth pouring themselves into.
4. Perseverance (Nehemiah 4)
I’ve long been provoked by these verses:
“If you faint in the day of adversity how small is your strength” (Proverbs 24:10).
“Through faith and patience we inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12).
“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much” (Matthew 25:21).
Perseverance is a prime element in God’s equation for fulfilling His purpose for our lives. Clearly, creating an enduring legacy demands steady, unrelenting investment.
Despite public posters warning against us, harassment from “anti-missionaries,” and rent contracts cancelled, we’ve seen incredible breakthroughs. Only one example is that following the fire-bombing of our humble original warehouse facility we found ourselves in a new industrial building that we now own! We are all pioneers. You are too! And pioneers persevere.
Nehemiah and his crew finished rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem in 52 days! Both the enemies and the nations around admitted that this work was done by GOD. This is exactly the testimony we long for regarding the all the ministries associated with Tents of Mercy.
With a full heart, Connie and I want to thank you for traveling these 25 years with us. What a journey! And it’s not nearly over. Let’s be faithful to the end and see the full salvation of Israel.