It was a chilly winter day when I picked up the phone. There was an awkward pause on the other end. With apprehension, the caller said, “Hello, my name is Michael. I am a yeshiva student in Jerusalem. I found you on the internet. I’d like to talk to you about Jesus.”
To say the least, that’s not a phone call that folks in Messianic Jewish ministry get every day. But it is a call that everyone serving in the Messianic Jewish orbit dreams about receiving! When that dream call comes, are we prepared to answer it? Are we really prepared to properly serve yeshiva students and others in the observant Jewish community in Israel that have Yeshua faith or are exploring Yeshua faith?
Michael was a typical yeshiva kid. He grew up in New York. And now he found himself in Israel, studying in a prominent yeshiva in Jerusalem for a few years. Michael’s upbringing was completely frum. He knew no other world than that of Orthodox Judaism. However, Michael’s environment was not completely insular. He was aware of plenty of things in the broader culture. One such thing being that there were lots of Christians in the world and they believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Michael found this to be intriguing. In his spare time, he did some research online about Jesus, Christians, and the New Testament. Through his research, he was surprised to learn that there were actually Jews that believed in Jesus too. This was something that he felt compelled to look into.
Michael started poking around, discreetly, at some Messianic Jewish websites. That eventually led him to garner the courage to call one of them. He decided that it would be too risky to call a Messianic Jewish group near his home in New York. Therefore, Michael decided to look southward. His search took him to Atlanta and my number came up. With amazing courage, Michael dialed my number from the public phone in the yeshiva during times when he could speak to me privately. During the season of our dialog, I had to keep my phone near me 24/7, because his calls could come at any time.
In our first few calls, Michael had lots of questions. We talked Torah. We talked New Testament. We talked Rashi. We talked Talmud. And we talked about life. It seemed like we never had enough time. By our fifth or sixth call, Michael told me that he absolutely believed that Yeshua is the Messiah. He even mustered up the chutzpah to tell his sister, who was visiting him in Israel. I thought what she did was really sweet. Rather than berate her brother, she did something that I still can’t quite figure out. She told him that if he believed in Jesus, then he needed a cross! So his completely religious sister went out to who knows where in Jerusalem and bought him a little wooden cross that he could keep in his pocket. This whole story seemed like a movie as I was living it out.
As our conversations progressed, I was happy to discern that Michael had no desire to leave the yeshiva. And he had every intention to continue to live as an observant Jew while maintaining Yeshua faith. Our conversations continued to be fantastic. We even started finishing out our time together on the phone in prayer for each other. We were developing a special bond.
By the ninth or tenth phone call, I started to realize that I had a problem. Our conversations were wonderful. Our discipleship relationship was developing. However, Michael needed more than I could give him. He needed community. He needed physical contact with like-minded believers that could encourage him as a fully observant Messianic Jew. Michael needed to be around people that could relate to his experience in yeshiva.
At that point, I was not lacking for Messianic Jewish contacts in Jerusalem. I had various friends in the Messianic community that would have been more than willing to welcome Michael into their communities. However, my concern was that these communities would discourage Michael from continuing to stay involved at the yeshiva and live a fully observant lifestyle. While I have much love and respect for my Messianic connections in Jerusalem, their negative attitudes toward yeshiva and an observant way of life for Messianic Jews was not something that I wanted to encourage Michael to tap into. I decided to just pray about the right opportunity for Michael and that God would provide a physical connection and context in Jerusalem that would be a fit for him.
Michael and I continued to have a few more conversations - and they were all positive. One night, he had to get off of the phone very quickly. That had happened before. I didn’t think much of it. I figured I would hear from Michael in a few days, or maybe in a week or two. He never called back.
I have thought about and prayed for Michael many times since then. I’ve tried to figure out which yeshiva he was attending. Even on several trips to Israel, I prayed that God would miraculously connect us. As of now, it hasn’t happened.
I have no idea what happened to Michael. I pray he is doing well somewhere. I pray he is following Yeshua. And I pray he is living as a Torah-faithful Jew. But as I think about Michael, I can’t help but wonder, “What if there had been a place, a physical place in Jerusalem, where I could have connected Michael that would have been able to help him right where he was?” I know, I know…I can drive myself crazy with “what if” scenarios. But this is serious business.
It is sad, perhaps tragic, that there wasn’t a place in Jerusalem that was equipped to encourage Michael to follow Yeshua as a fully observant, yeshiva attending, Jewish young man.
It is sad, and perhaps tragic, that there wasn’t a place in Jerusalem that could have begun to give Michael a vision, and discipleship, and fellowship, that would have encouraged him to follow Yeshua within the framework of traditional Judaism and in a traditional Jewish community.
My personal experience through many years in Messianic Judaism, through Michael’s story and other similar stories, is that there is a great need for such a place.
Friends, this is why I am so grateful that First Fruits of Zion has launched the Bram Center in the heart of Jerusalem. The Bram Center is a place where Michael could have gone to be encouraged to live out a Torah-based, Messiah-centered Messianic Judaism. After that second or third call with Michael, if the Bram Center had been available back then, I would have made the connection. We didn’t have it then. But I thank God that we have it now.
Now, people like Michael can have the place that they need. And the Bram Center is not just for people like Michael. It’s a place where Israelis at all different points of life can come as they are and be encouraged to learn about and follow Yeshua as Jews in the land of Israel. Friends, as we speak, the Bram Center is beginning to have a strategic impact in the development of Messianic Judaism in Jerusalem, Israel, and beyond. This project has just begun. And the potential impact that the Bram Center will have upon the kingdom of God is off the charts.
I cannot encourage you enough to learn more about what God is doing through the Bram Center. To learn more, go to http://thebramcenter.org/.