Tour guides rarely show visitors to Israel the poverty that some of its citizens experience. Even after having spent years in Israel, Jo Kaplan was hardly aware of it. "My eyes were opened to the faces and places that I did not know existed," says Kaplan, executive director of the Joseph Project, the largest importer of humanitarian aid to Israel. "There's a whole other side of people in Israeli society that you don't see."
One in every four Israelis lives below the poverty line with no money for clothing, furniture, rent and sometimes food. To meet those needs, the nonprofit Joseph Project was founded in 2000 by Joel Chernoff, general secretary of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.
Long before the deluge occurred, Chernoff prophesied that Jews were going to pour into Israel from Russia. When the immigrants began flooding in, they took their place at the lower end of a callous economy. The mission of Joseph Project is to ease their adjustment and prepare for future deluges of immigrants.
"God brought all these immigrants back to the land, and He's not going to take care of them here?" Kaplan asks. "We're just fulfilling what God is pushing along."
From distributing toys to hospitalized children to braving war zones, the Joseph Project has blanketed Israel with some $35 million worth of supplies so far.
When the Hezbollah terrorist group fired rockets at northern Israel in 2006, welfare agencies and nongovernmental organizations were caught off-guard, and it took them several days to distribute needed supplies in the region, Kaplan explains. "Wars in Israel are by surprise, so I learned to stockpile," she says.
Joseph Project works with 30 Messianic Jewish aid centers linked to local congregations. Kaplan herself strategically chooses where to shower these gifts of love. Having emigrated with her family from California in 1995, she understands the difficulties of making ends meet in the Promised Land.
"I know what it's like," Kaplan says. "The person at the head of an aid organization in Israel has to have this kind of heart."
What began as a bike ride around the United States ended in the southern Israeli desert about a year later. Howard and Randi Bass decided to cycle around America after their wedding in 1980, but God met them along the way and dramatically altered their course.
During the trip, Howard, who is Jewish, was told by a Christian co-worker that God wasn't done with the Jewish people. He and his wife accepted Christ shortly thereafter and moved to Israel seven months later. Symbolically ending their journey, the Basses biked from Netanya to Beersheba, where they settled.
In Beersheba, the couple encountered a geographical and spiritual desert. No believing congregations existed in the city. The Basses met casually with other believers there, and those meetings eventually grew into Nachalat Yeshua ("Yeshua's Inheritance"), a congregation that Howard leads. It is one of a mere dozen or so in the Negev Desert.
Bass likens Beersheba and his congregation to Isaiah 41. The chapter says that as a way to show His power God planted various trees in one place that were unable to thrive together naturally. "In the U.S. there are a lot of support systems," Bass says. "In Israel there are none. As a believer, it is a good place to be. You can't be complacent in Israel."
Nachalat Yeshua has another congregation in Arad, a desert city near the Dead Sea. There, believers are persecuted daily. In Beersheba, persecution has come in two full-blown attacks, one in 1998 and one in 2005, both during congregational services.
In 1998, roughly 1,000 Orthodox Jews marched to Nachalat Yeshua in protest. Seven years later, the opposition turned violent when about 500 Orthodox Jews entered the compound, destroyed equipment and tossed objects and people into the baptismal pool. When police arrived, they called it a pogrom, Bass says.
Despite the persecution, the congregation holds outreaches, distributes food and clothing, and provides drug rehabilitation. Bass has a positive take on the Negev's spiritual climate: "More believers are moving to the Negev," he says. "More people are praying for what God is doing out from the Negev and for the Negev."
Anis and Nawal Barhoum
For more than two decades, Anis and Nawal Barhoum's House of Light ministry has focused on restoring families, with one-on-one outreach coloring every aspect of its activities.
Without intention or advertising, House of Light has become a terminal for extreme cases. After a notorious drug dealer asked Anis to help him get his life right, a succession of other addicts sought his help. Then the Barhoums began to harbor women threatened with "honor killings"-when Arab families murder women thought to have shamed them. The couple has negotiated the safe return of many daughters and wives, some of whom have accepted Christ while at their home.
But what the Barhoums have done with extreme intention is gather young Arab and Jewish children together, allowing the two groups to come to a natural reconciliation. The Barhoums' home in Shfaram, between Nazareth and Haifa, is host to King's Kids, where up to 70 children and teenagers gather weekly. Every six weeks, the Arab children meet their counterpart group of Messianic Jewish children from other towns.
Anis says this is the age at which to capture children's hearts-"before our youth go to university and the Jewish youth go to the army, where both get ideas that are not so easy to change."
Although racial integration is planned among adults in Israel, coexistence is becoming natural for these children, thanks to pioneers such as the Barhoums. "This is my dream, how the Jewish and Arab youth are working together," Anis says.
Anis also is the chaplain to gentile inmates in all 22 Israeli prisons, holding Bible studies and mentoring prisoners. At the jails closer to their home, the Barhoums mentor the inmates' entire families.
The House of Light has been run from the Barhoums' home since it was founded in 1984. Nawal says this is "a time of grace" in their predominantly Muslim town of 35,000, where instead of opposition many seek the Barhoums' counsel and help. Also, Nawal says, the many Messianic Jews who come to their neighborhood for fellowship is a testimony in itself. "It's an opportunity to tell about Jesus when they see Jews who believe in Jesus," he says.