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A Reformed Work in Israel
Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! …For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (Rom 11: 12,15 ESV)
Christian Witness to Israel (CWI) was formed by the amalgamation of two evangelical and interdenominational societies: the International Society for Evangelization of the Jews (IJS) and the Barbican Mission to the Jews (BMJ). Both were motivated by the fact that “the gospel of Christ … is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first…”
During the early part of the nineteenth century various meetings were held in London and Scotland to consider what steps should be taken to reach the Jewish people with the gospel. As a result, a meeting was held in the National Scotch Church, Regent Square, London on 7th November 1842 to form the British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel among the Jews.
Those present included the famous Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who had returned from his visit to Palestine in 1839 with a vision for the establishment of a work there. It was agreed to co-operate with the Church of Scotland’s Mission to the Jews. The society later became the International Society for the Evangelization of the Jews. In 1879 “an agency for gospel work among the Jews conducted by Hebrew Christians” commenced work in the Barbican district of London which, in 1891, became the Barbican Mission to the Jews.
The work of both societies expanded rapidly to provincial cities and to mission stations on the Continent, particularly in Eastern Poland where many Jews responded to the Gospel. Work in Palestine was pioneered with William Mannings’ appointment in 1847 as the Society’s first agent.
In 1914 a Jewish missionary, Mr Joseph, built a spacious Mission house at the foot of Mount Carmel in Haifa on what was to become HaGefen Street. (HaGefen publishing took its name from that street).
World War II with its horrific systematic murder and plunder of six million Jews under the Nazi regime, brought the work in Europe to a standstill. Gospel work, closed in Europe by the war, now began to be developed in other countries.
Israel was still a scattered nation and Jewish rationalist thinkers were determined to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Pogroms in Russia spurred these early Zionists to return to the land of their fathers and in 1897 Theodore Herzl inaugurated the first Zionist Congress with this in view. The Balfour Declaration of 1917, which established a national home for the Jews in Palestine, and the Bolshevik Revolution which closely followed, encouraged the Jews to return to the Land after an exile of eighteen centuries.
The declaration of the State of Israel in 1948 brought a large influx of immigrants into the country, who often stayed for years in transit camps until homes were available. One camp was next to CWI’s own Compound in Haifa, on HaGefen street, and Dr. Churcher, Dr. Pokroy and a staff of dedicated Christian nurses ran a medical clinic to minister to the sick and often bewildered immigrants who lived there. The effect of such a testimony may never be forgotten. All along, the staff spoke up for the Gospel and worked closely with the local congregation in Haifa. Dr. James Churcher, Field Director of the work in Israel at the time, was so highly valued by the city of Haifa that he was granted the keys of the city!
From its very inception the Society was committed to a well-rounded and biblically orientated outreach to the Jewish people that includes evangelism, the encouragement of local congregations, biblical and theological education, and an active practical concern for the people among whom the Society’s staff live and work. CWI’s work is doctrinally based, biblically informed and soundly committed to the historic Reformed confessions of the church.
A young Israeli, Shabtai Rohold, joined the work in 1919, assisting elderly Mr Joseph to found a medical clinic and mission center. Rohold, son of Rabbi Naphtha Rohold, had been born in Jerusalem (1876). Mr. Joseph, associated with the Plymouth Brethren, had been working in the land and came into contact with the young Shabtai, resulting in God’s goodness in the young man’s conversion.
Rohold graduated from the University of Glasgow and from the Free Church College in Edinburgh. Between the years 1897 to 1906, he served as the Superintendent of the Boner Memorial Mission to the Jews in Glasgow. In 1908 he accepted a call to the Toronto congregation of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, where he helped found the first Hebrew Christian Synagogue. He also participated in the founding of the Hebrew-Christian Alliance of America.
Mr Joseph proposed to give the building he owned on the slopes of Mount Carmel to Rohold, but the latter thought it wiser for Joseph to deed the property to the British Jews Society, as CWI was then known. Two years later, Rohold offered his services to the BJS for work in Palestine and the Free Church of Scotland invited BJS to become its agent for missionary work among the Jews. Thus, an ongoing relation was established between CWI and the Free Church, which relation continues to the present day.
The indefatigable Shabtai H. Rohold, by then well known throughout the land, traversed the country on his equally indefatigable donkey, arguing the Jewish cause before British authorities and taking an active role in the exciting new phenomenon of a rejuvenated Jewish nationhood. It was not without reason that Rohold was numbered among those invited to participate in 1925 in the formal celebration of the founding of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Rohold established a medical clinic and an extensive literature outreach throughout the land. It is from that inheritance that HaGefen today continues in its literature outreach and ministry.
Sabbati Rohold died in Cairo in 1931. The oversight of the work then fell to his wife, who continued in that post until 1960, when she was succeeded by Dr. James Churcher who had joined the work in December 1924 and had worked all these years under the able leadership of the two Roholds.
Dr. Churcher, born in 1898, had trained for missionary work at The Bible Training Institute in Glasgow and St Thomas’s Hospital, London. He commenced work in London’s East End at the BJS Gilead Medical Mission in Whitechapel in London and moved to Palestine but a year later in 1924.
There was a great need for medical services in the mandate period, and in the young years of the fledgling state.
All along, Society staff spoke up for the Gospel and worked in close attachment to the local congregation in Haifa, where the work was originally based.
Dr. James Churcher served faithfully until 1977, having been awarded the King’s Medal in 1937 and the Order of the British Empire from Her Majesty Queen Elisabeth in 1977, upon his retirement. Dr. Churcher was a missionary of the old kind: firm, highly principled, gracious and gentlemanly. Although he differed from his predecessor in that he was not Jewish, Dr. Churcher also became a respected member of the Jewish community in Haifa. In fact, and as mentioned earlier, he was so highly valued by the city of Haifa that he was granted the keys of the city.
In later years, CWI also opened the HaGefen Christian bookshop in Haifa to serve the local community and to reach out with the Gospel to the wider community. This work was eventually handed over to a local congregation which continues to run it today, providing quality literature in Hebrew and English – some of which comes from HaGefen Publishing!
These two aspects of the work continued well into the 1970s. However, as the state of Israel’s medical services improved and expanded, the medical mission was gradually reduced and phased out. The clinic itself was eventually moved to a local congregation, where Dr. Pokroy continued to work and minister to the inhabitants of a nearby Christian Old Folks Home – called Evenezer.
When Baruch Maoz was appointed in 1975 as the Field Leader of CWI in Israel, the mission headquarters naturally migrated from Haifa in the north, to the center of the country. Baruch was appointed the new Field Leader of CWI Israel and remained involved in the writing, translating and editing of Christian literature until his retirement in 2006. Among other projects HaGefen initiated the project of translating the ancient Hebrew biblical text into modern Hebrew, to be published as a Bible for younger generation with original illustrations. To date all of the Old Testament has been published in five volumes. The fifth and the last volume was published in Middle of 2012, and with a celebrating its completion. At the moment HaGefen is involved in translating the New Testament as part of that work.
Among the first books published in the early days were Signs of the Apostles, by Walt Chantry; The Still Hour, by Austin Phelps, a devotional book on prayer with an added chapter of prayers from the Hebrew prayer book, the Psalms and Christian writers; and a book on Family Life, by Jay Adams. Since those early days, HaGefen has published many other books both in the area of evangelism and also discipleship and theology.
David Zadok, an Israeli army major (retired) and an Elder in a Reformed congregation of Grace and Truth at the time, returned to Israel from theological studies in 2006, and took his place at the helm of the work of CWI at the request of the UK office and the local governing board (Amuta), on which he had served for many years as chairman.
To read David’s story, click here.
Under David’s leadership, HaGefen has expanded its ministry in the land. The vision of CWI is to support the congregations in the land in their God given task of Evangelism and Discipleship. As such it continues to produce good quality commentaries to equip the believers to study the Word of God; and other literature to assist parents in training and rearing their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.