WEEK OF PRAYER: Jewish population on IMB couple's heart

EDITOR'S NOTE: This year's Week of Prayer for International Missions in the Southern Baptist Convention is Dec. 4-11 with the theme of "The Gospel Resounds." The theme undergirds the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions. The offering, in tandem with Cooperative Program gifts from Southern Baptist churches, supports international workers in seeking to fulfill the Great Commission. Gifts to the Lottie Moon offering are received through local Southern Baptist churches or online at IMB.org, where there are resources to promote the offering. This year's goal is $155 million.

SOUTH AMERICA (BP) -- International Mission Board journeyman David Harris encounters a couple of hurdles when arranging a meal with his friend Aaron, an Orthodox Jew, in South America.

Weekends are off-limits, as Aaron carefully observes the rituals of the Sabbath, known as Shabbat, and all meals must follow kosher dietary guidelines, Harris said.

"I went with him to a kosher McDonald's," said Harris, who has ministered in South America since September 2015 with his wife Hanna, also a journeyman. "It wasn't my favorite burger experience."

But the fact that kosher McNuggets exist there shows the strength of the largest Jewish community in Latin America, numbering 200,000 in a metropolitan area of 13 million people.

Learning faith traditions

David and Hanna, both 25, grew up in Baptist churches in Kentucky, although David's grandfather was a Messianic Jew, one who put his faith in Christ as Savior. The Harrises now spend many of their days at a Messianic center in the heart of the South American Jewish community. They might be found frequenting a local Jewish synagogue, taking a Hebrew class, or building relationships in a variety of ways.

One of their deep desires as journeymen is to equip believers to share their faith.

"We want to see Jews come to faith in Christ," David said. "We also think it's important to be modeling evangelism and to be modeling how to study the Bible. Though it sounds really basic, one of the core aspects is knowing the Bible."

Jews first immigrated in the 19th century to the South American city which has grown with further influxes of Jews, particularly in the 1930s and after World War II when thousands of Jewish refugees fled Europe.

Many who live there are cultural Jews -- from Jewish parentage -- and not Orthodox. Because of their flexibility, cultural Jews are easier for David and Hanna to interact with. Nevertheless, the Harrises have been on a learning curve since arriving in the city.

"It's been a really huge journey coming from not having a Jewish background," David said, but the couple is learning the language and culture.

Working with others at the Messianic center, the Harrises celebrate Jewish holidays based on Old Testament stories, but always use those opportunities to bridge to New Testament truths.

For example, during the Jewish holiday of Purim in March, which celebrates Esther's part in saving her people from Haman's plot to kill the Jews in the ancient Persian Empire, David and Hanna helped with a play at the community center which attracted 100 guests.

Pray

Pray for Jewish leaders to come to know Jesus, as it would radically change the community.

Pray Messianic Jews, those who embrace Jesus, will learn how to share the truth of the Messiah with other Jews.

Writer Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in restricted-access countries. She is now based in the U.S.
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