Vibrant communities of Jesus followers in Israel

Jenny Oetzell | Israel

For many years, OM Israel has focused on growing and empowering local churches in regions of the country where it is needed most. Recently, OM revised its global mission statement to re-focus the purpose of the movement: “We want to see vibrant communities of Jesus followers among the least-reached.” The work of OM in Israel fits well within this vision.

The nation of Israel is still unreached with the gospel, and practicing Christians in the country face a great amount of persecution. Among the eight million people living Israel, there are a variety of religions and beliefs—from Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, to Muslims in Nazareth, to secular Christians in Tel Aviv, to even Druze and Bedouin. Because of the high influx of Christians drawn to the Holy Land for tourism, people often mistake the country as having a larger population of believers.

The true followers of Jesus who live in Israel often face spiritual opposition and social ostracism. Depending on the area where they live, some have a difficult time finding employment, or their children are discriminated against in the education systems.

The OM Israel Field Leader has narrowed his focus to one specific unreached area in Israel for the last few years. “If we look at the Jezreel Valley, our goal is not just for them to hear the gospel, but that they can be, in some fashion, brought together to worship and reproduce other disciples.”

The Jezreel Valley is located south of the Lower Galilee region and has a very limited number of believers. “In the 120 communities, there is only one small church as the one witness that we know of here,” the Field Leader said.

The establishment of vibrant communities of Jesus followers is what OM Israel believes will help grow the church. The main way that the long-term OMers in Israel are working towards this vision is by supporting local congregations in their area, especially if it is a community where there are few to no believers.

The OM Israel Field Leader explains that local believers appreciate the support that the long-term OMers provide and value their authentic fellowship.

“They are not looking for you to give them answers. They are looking to see that you will come alongside and pray with them and encourage them,” he said. “One of the big things is just to show them love and that we care for them. When we first came to our church we weren’t coming to do any leadership, we were there to attend. That in itself was precious.”

Team leader Lindsay* regularly attends an Arab congregation, and her dedication to the church has affected the members firsthand.

“It takes time. But the fact that I consistently went there, and they saw me every Sunday, was a testament and encouragement to them,” she said. “Even though I wasn’t doing anything, God was working and encouraging the church by me being present… To have someone that is a foreigner, [who] is really invested in your church and really wants to participate, is a huge deal,” she said.

Not only are local congregations encouraged by OM workers attending, but their fellowship can open up new opportunities for the gospel to reach other Israelis.

“We can provide the ability to encourage the local body to go out and evangelise… Many Jews already see Messianics as betraying their ethnicity and heritage by following Jesus. For a Messianic to go out and evangelise, they run a higher risk of being persecuted,” Lindsay said. “It’s good for us to encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone and be a part of the Great Commission.”

To the Field Leader, the work that OM does with the local congregations is necessary. “There are people who recognise too that Gentile believers play a huge role in the advancement of the Gospel here and the establishment of the church,” he said.

As OM in Israel looks forward, the team remains focused on working with established churches and desires to raise up more congregations among the unreached.

“We aren’t just looking for people to hear about Jesus. We want them to become part of a vibrant group of worshipping people,” he said.

For more information about the work of OM in Israel, or for opportunities to serve, check out our website here.

Jenny Oetzell is a cross-cultural journalism student from the US and recently completed a summer internship with OM Israel. She desires to use her passion for photography to tell people's stories and empower others to tell their own. Though God has given her a love for the Middle East, she is open and willing to go wherever He calls.

Published: Tuesday, 18 October 2016
Credit: Jenny Oetzell
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