During a Grindstone event, Oct. 10, panelists discussed ministry in a region in which the Gospel and the Christian church have flourished, but they also addressed the ministry challenges still present in Israel and the Middle East. The panel discussion coincided with the Chosen People Conference on Southwestern’s campus, Oct. 10-14, and featured panelists Michael Zinn, director of Chosen People Ministries in Israel; Erez Soref, president of One for Israel; Joel C. Rosenberg, author and founder of the Joshua Fund; and Tom Doyle, author and founder of Uncharted.

First addressing the Messianic movement in Israel, Michael Zinn shared his perspective of its challenges, congregational growth, and the many ways God is working in Israel. When he first moved to Israel, there were few Messianic believers, he explained. But throughout the years, he said there has been a significant increase in the number of believers as well as openness to conversations about Jesus.

“More and more young people are coming to faith,” Zinn said. “In Tel Aviv, Jerusalem—all over. There has been a flourishing of believers. Praise the Lord for that.”

Erez Soref added that he has also witnessed a new receptiveness to even the idea of Messianic Judaism. He says two changes in particular mark the shift in the culture. “Most people have now actually heard of this phenomenon of more Jewish people turning to Yeshua as our Messiah,” he said. “People are also very open to discuss spiritual things in general and even to discuss spiritual things regarding Yeshua.”

With regard to sharing the Gospel in Israel, Soref added that it is legal for Israelis to do so. However, evangelism that takes place in public spaces and centers on approaching strangers, while not illegal, is not culturally accepted by many people and is rarely an effective method.

For the American, in particular, he added that this method is seldom fruitful. Instead, he explained, evangelism among Israelis must be rooted in a friendship that exemplifies the love of Christ.

“They will ask you why you have come to Israel. You can tell them it is because you love the Jewish Messiah, so you came to His land to meet His people,” Soref said. “I assure you, that will spark a conversation and probably a friendship.”

In recent years, Joel Rosenberg was called to move to Israel to better serve the people of Israel with his ministry, the Joshua Fund. Through this ministry, he and other believers have offered support for ministries and provided aide to the practical needs of people in Israel, as well as ongoing ministry work in the West Bank and Gaza.

Describing some of the unique ministry challenges in Israel, he said there is a lot of work to be done. “The spiritual warfare in Israel is extraordinary,” he said. “There is a burden, a pressure, and a fatigue for believers.”

For Tom Doyle, who has served many years as a missionary and in various ministry positions in Israel, he said reaching Israelis with the Gospel is met with many historical barriers. Many distrust Christians because of a history of violence and persecution carried out in the name of Christianity, and those in the community of Holocaust survivors say they have given up any faith in God.

“But [the fruit] we have seen is by Christians loving them and showing them who Jesus is,” Doyle said. “That can really open their heart to see that maybe there is a God.”

“One of the things we’re encouraged about is seeing Muslims come to faith in Jesus and being willing to suffer for Him and willing to die for Him,” he concluded. “That’s what Jesus can do. That’s the answer in the Middle East.”