Jesus, Jews, and Jet Lag
In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Psalm, 139:16)
I was saved when I was about nine years old at a Christian camp near Goiania, Brazil. I know that because I distinctly remember sharing the gospel with one of the kids whose father was a handyman at the camp. He had not attended the previous evening’s bonfire-side altar call, so I figured this was my chance to share what I had received. We were sitting by the flag pole the following day, and I told him about Jesus and His sacrifice for sin. I don’t know what happened to him after that, but I would like to think that a seed was planted there that day. Yet, the seed that had been planted in my heart the night before was soon covered in thorns. Like the testimony of so many other believers, it was drowned out by the cares of this world. It was always there underneath, ready to “save me” when I got into trouble I could not handle myself, but it was not transforming me into the new man God wanted me to be.
Forty years have passed since the day I was saved. And now it is 2:30 a.m., and I am wide awake, staring at the dimly lit ceiling of my east Jerusalem hotel room. The night silence is accompanied by an occasional distant siren, the intermittent bark of a dog, and the rhythmic breathing of my eighteen-year-old son, sound asleep in the bed next to me. Oh, to be young and sleep like that! As a professional airline pilot, I have my remedies for jet lag; but truth be told, they don’t really work. My mind is a hive of activity. But my heart, oh my heart, is here now, in Jerusalem. I mouth out the word slowly, but quietly so as not to wake my son, imitating my best Israeli accent: Ye-ru-sha-la-yim, the city of my King.
I remember the first time I saw Jerusalem. My wife had agreed to let me go by myself to visit my new Israeli friends. Yet, she made me promise that I would not enter the gates of the old city of Jerusalem. We would do that one day together, she said, and we later did. Hence, to honor my wife’s request, I sat on a park bench on the south west side of the city, staring at its ancient walls. I remember being approached by someone who started asking me for directions in Hebrew. At the time, my knowledge of Hebrew was limited to maybe three words. The person immediately realized I was a tourist and politely moved on. However, I was deeply intrigued by this interaction. I am white, blond, and have blue eyes; yet this person, an Israeli, did not think twice to speak to me in Hebrew; and only after I was unable to respond did he say “excuse me” in broken English and moved on. This intrigued me because I am the product of two cultures. Born and raised in Brazil, yet because of my physical appearance, I always felt awkwardly Brazilian; and when I came to the US as a college student, I felt awkwardly American due to my ignorance of the culture. Yet, here, in this foreign land, all barriers had been broken in this one interaction. This stranger did not think twice about my appearance and simply assumed that I was an Israeli as well. That day, I looked around me as I headed back to my friend’s house, and what I noticed was a vast range of colors and cultures, Jews from the four corners of the earth, together as one nation. That day, many years ago, I felt strangely accepted as a sojourner in a foreign land.
My mind returns to the now and its 3:00 a.m. in my east Jerusalem hotel room. I quietly get out of my bed and sneak behind the curtain to look out the window. I see the street below bathed in yellow lights as a fire burns inside me. I think deeply on all that has transpired in my life prior to this moment in time. As I reflect, my favorite psalm comes to my mind: “In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (Ps. 139:16). What an awesomely deep and profound truth! I rack my brain trying to understand how this works. How can God know my days, yet free will remains? I quickly give up. I simply bask in the certain and awesome reality that God, my God, is in control; yes, even in a world that is so upside-down. And as David the king said in verse 6 of the same psalm: “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, it is high, I cannot attain it.” But how did I get here, to this moment? How did I end up with so many Jewish friends? How did I, this boy from Brazil, end up in east Jerusalem preparing to volunteer for my fifth archeological dig with Associates for Biblical Research, three times at the site of the Biblical Ai of Joshua, and now, for my second season at Tel Shilo? The answer is simple: I prayed, and I asked.
The day I prayed in the name Jesus—or, as I prefer to call Him now, Yeshua—and asked for one Jewish friend was a summer day with my house bathed in bright and beautiful sunlight. I was about to head out to the airport to fly. I was alone at home, my wife at work and my son at school. I had just completed my devotional time. At that point in my spiritual walk with Yeshua, I did not know His voice as I do now. The words of the Bible were still new to me and often seemed like distant smoke signals, lacking the solid rock-like quality I have learned to trust and depend on. I knew what the words meant, I thought, but I did not know what in the message contained in them was for me and what was just, well, smoke. Later, under the thoughtful and clear teaching of Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum, I was to learn that all of it was crafted with perfection and expertly delivered. A love letter to me and to the world.
I could not escape them. I was particularly mesmerized and fascinated by the idea that Jesus, my Jesus, was a Jew. How could I have missed this critical piece of information as a college student at two different Christian universities in the United States? How could I have missed this during my many years of Sunday school in my mainline denominational church in Brazil? The son of a pastor and seminary professor and grand- son of missionaries to Brazil on my mother’s side, one would think I would have known that fact; but no, I did not. I blame only myself, but the fact remains: This truth was unknown to me. A mystery. However, God through His Word was making this mystery known and absolutely and unequivocally true in my life: Jesus was indeed a Jew. Yet, I knew nothing about the Jewish people. I don’t ever recall a single thought or moment or event that involved anything even remotely Jewish in my life. So, as I got ready to head upstairs to don my uniform and go to work, I paused at the bottom of the steps, knelt, and prayed: “God, give me one Jewish friend, in Jesus name, Amen.” Little did I fully understand then that the Lord indeed hears our prayers and will answer us when we pray in accordance with His will (Prov. 15:29; Jn. 14:13).
Two months later, I was on a layover in Manhattan and was headed to JFK airport for my flight to Seattle. The fact that there are about six million Jews in the New York area alone, many in Manhattan, had not yet become part of my conscious reality. Looking back now, from a human perspective it would seem New York City was the best place to have God’s purpose in my prayer for a Jewish friend answered; and it was, but not in the way that I expected. God’s ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts (Isa. 55:8). I entered my Boeing 757 from the middle door at JFK terminal 2 and noticed a pilot in uniform sitting on a passenger seat. The aircraft had not been boarded yet, and only the flight attendants were present, preparing the aircraft cabin. I recognized the uniform as not one of our airline. I assumed the pilot was traveling as a passenger and had requested to be boarded early. I made my way to the cockpit without another thought and sat on the right seat; I was not yet a captain as I am now. A few minutes later, the lead flight attendant came up to me and said that there was a pilot here who wanted to meet me. This was not the normal protocol, but nonetheless I acquiesced. As the pilot entered the flight deck, I instantly recognized above his left breast pocket a symbol I had only recently become familiar with: a Star of David, the Magen David. I thought I heard a voice deep inside of me say: “Here is your Jew.” What followed this seminal event in my life was a whirlwind of friendship that has remained and grown to this day, and has taken me and “my Jew” on many adventures around the world—literally. Space precludes me from elaborating more on these adventures. Through this one gift of one man, I now have a secular Israeli family I can call my own, but that is not all.
Two months after this answer to prayer, I was depressed. I had been educating myself on all things Jewish, specifically Israeli. In my search, I had been confronted with the fact that if I had been a German Christian in Germany in 1938, steeped in my previous ignorance, I would have been complicit in the murder of my precious friend’s family! There was simply no way around that fact in my mind. My ignorance had the potential to be fatal. So, I did what any normal person who knows the grace of God would do: I prayed. I turned from my previous ignorance. But I was angry. I was angry at God for not giving me any directions on what to do now. During another layover in Manhattan, as I was walking and praying and arguing with God over this perceived oversight on His part, I found myself in front of a bronze plaque that baffled me. The plaque read something like this: “Chosen People Ministries - founded by Rabbi Leopold Cohen.” I was confused. Like a pilot reading a checklist, I thought: “Rabbi” is Jewish...check. “Ministries” sounds Christian...not check, not check! This does not compute! So, I walked in and introduced myself to the receptionist. I asked her about this apparent misprint on a bronze plaque. She said a lot of things, but in my confused state I only remember her matter-of-factly saying: “I am a Jew, and I believe in Jesus.” Thunder and lightning! Wind so strong it could split rocks! Then silence... I stood there in stunned shock. An overwhelming wave of emotion started to roll from a place deep inside of me that I did not know existed. And it gushed forth into tears. Here I was, a pilot crying in front of a stranger. Pilots don’t cry. But again, I was like a child. All this was new to me. My ignorance started to vanish as it was being replaced with knowledge.
God was not speaking from a distance using smoke signals anymore. His words now were solid, and they came from the mouth of one of His servants. My God was speaking through a sister in the Lord right there in front of me, confirming what I had begun to understand from Scripture. Now I cried, and I did not care. I sat down, tissue in hand, and tried to regain my composure, only to be invited as a guest to a Hanukkah party that afternoon by someone in leader- ship in the ministry. My reaction was: “Hanuwhat?” So, I came. And as Arnold taught me years later at Camp Shoshanah, when God calls, He equips. That first day of Hanukkah, I received many gifts, precious human gifts, new faces who helped me understand the Jewishness of Jesus and helped me better express my faith in the Jewish Messiah to my precious Jewish friends. I also received a new family, and now, when I travel to Israel, I have a second Israeli family of brothers and sisters in Yeshua. Some of those faces were people who had been discipled by Arnold himself many years previous. What a small world.
As my mind turns back to my hotel room in east Jerusalem, it is now 3:30 a.m. and I am tired of staring at the street. I tiptoe to the bathroom and take a nice, long shower, all the while thankful for the many ways in which the Lord has blessed this child of His. I dress and gently wake my son. I head downstairs to the hotel lobby, dark and deserted except for a faint light coming from a door to my left. I walk in the direction of the light and find myself in a brightly lit dining hall in a flurry of activity, the only noise that of plates, glasses, silverware, and some muted voices. A long and delicious buffet line to my right and many familiar faces to my left; my Arab friend makes me a strong coffee, for which I am very grateful. I sit down with my square supervisor and a few of the other archeological volunteers. Not a lot of words are said at our table, but the excitement is palpable—after all, we are in Eretz Israel, about to head up to Shilo, where the tabernacle of the Lord dwelt for more than three hundred years! This is the place where little Samuel was awakened from sleep by the Lord’s voice. And for me, this coming Shabbat, I will be spending time in the company of my Israeli brothers and sisters in Yeshua at my “home” congregation in Netanya. The next week, I will be in the Negev on a 4x4 trip with one of my secular Israeli friends; and of course, I will spend time with “my Jew” at his home, a home to which I have a key. Ignorance has been replaced with knowledge, and the love of Yeshua permeates and engulfs me and those around me. I pray every day for my brothers and sisters in Yeshua in Israel and throughout the world, and for my many friends who have yet to know Him. Seeds are being sown. That is all I can do. The growth belongs to the Lord, and I await His harvest (1 Cor. 3:6).
I would like to leave you, dear reader, with this thought: God has a powerful and wonderful plan for this love that He has put in your heart for the apple of His eye, His precious Jewish people. This love comes straight from His heart to yours. This is a blessing and a great gift! I know that count- less other Gentiles like me can share similar stories of being saved by the grace of God and then being completed by this calling of love for His Jewish people. What is your story? Has it started yet? Have you prayed and asked God for a Jewish friend?
"This article was first published by Ariel Ministries in the Fall 2018 edition of Ariel Magazine. It is published here with permission. The complete magazine may be read at https://www.ariel.org/pdfs/