by Jill Czelusta – Representative for Bridges for Peace
This is the fourth summer that the Lord has provided the funds for me to volunteer with Bridges for Peace in Jerusalem. Each summer has become more and more enjoyable because of the friendships that have formed while serving the Jewish people in His Land. Bridges for Peace (BFP) is an international organization with offices in at least eight different nations, so there are volunteers who come from all over the world. Since I have had the privilege to return each summer, I have made friends with several long term volunteers that I keep in contact with throughout the year, and I make new ones with each visit.
This past Shabbat the volunteers who are here by themselves, like me, decided to get together for dinner. As a short term volunteer, you are always invited to someone’s home for Shabbat, but this time we hosted ourselves at one of the volunteer’s apartment. With the 10 of us around the table, nine countries were represented: France, England, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Namibia, Russia, Japan, Canada and the United States. Ages ranged from early 20’s to 60 something. The evening was filled with questions about how each of us ended up volunteering with BFP. One by one, amazing stories were told of how God directed their steps and then faithfully provided for the call. Over and over I heard my story. First it was a dream to come and serve in Israel. Each one had heard of BFP and how you could volunteer. Each one did not think they would have the funds to come, but God miraculously provided. Three of them were young people who participated in the Zealous Project – an 11 month discipleship program for 18-30 year olds. When they completed that, they chose to return and serve some more. Some were in midlife and just wanted to serve here in Jerusalem. Some, like me, are spending their summer vacation here both serving and taking in the sights of Jerusalem and greater Israel on the weekends.
The other amazing thing that I have noticed is that when we go out on a delivery to bring food to the elderly Holocaust survivor, they always ask, “Where are you
from?” One time I am with someone from Japan. The next time I am with someone from New Zealand, then Canada, then England, then Ireland. Each time, the Jewish person is so surprised that people from all over the world love them enough to spend their time and resources to carry a bag of groceries to their small apartment and to sit down and visit with them. We listen to the stories – some very hard to hear – but necessary to hear, and remember. We cry together, and then laugh together as they tell of their children, grandchildren and great grand-children. Then there are the hugs…the best part!
I am so thankful that the Lord has chosen to use me for this amazing ministry to the poor, the elderly and new immigrants of Israel. I had the opportunity to deliver new school supplies and backpacks to a school in Bet Shemesh that BFP has been working with for 14 years. The parents and students arrived and immediately began to hug the BFP staff and those from the Jewish agency that we partner with for this project. I was surprised to see such appreciation for what I consider such a small gift – a backpack and assorted school supplies. I also learned that BFP helps to pay the book fees for some of these students. One of the parents thanked us because her son was one of those who received the help. She said that for the first time last year, he received his books on the first day of school like most of the other kids. He came home so happy that day and it made a difference for the whole year. She could not say thank you enough.
I will end with this. As a Food Floor Worker, I come in contact with the families that come in once a week to receive their food parcels of fresh fruit and vegetables, dairy, meat and canned goods. I have the opportunity to greet them and, if they speak English, get to talk with them a bit. Regardless, every one shakes my hand and says ‘Toda,’ or thank you. One couple came into the work area because they insisted on saying thank you to everyone there. They had ‘graduated,’ and this would be their last time to pick up food. They had been on the program for one year and it was enough to get them on their feet and to get a job to provide for themselves. They were so full of joy and so thankful. They had experienced the love of Jesus through perfect strangers and the generosity of Christians from around the world.
I know that I am there to be a blessing, but I know I receive way more than I give out! Thank you to Women of the Word for your prayers and support throughout the years!
About Jill Czelusta: Jill visited Israel for the first time on a Bridges for Peace tour in 1995, returned in 2004, and has had a love for the Land and a heart for the Jewish people ever since. Jill is a friend of Women of the Word and has also been to Israel with WOW. This is her fourth summer volunteering at the BFP Jerusalem Assistance Center. She is a graduate of Institute of Israel Studies and is currently enrolled at Master’s International University of Divinity pursuing a Master’s Degree in Judeo-Christian Synergism. During the school year, she teaches AP Chemistry, AP Physics, and pre-calculus at a private Christian school in northern Vermont. Her undergraduate degree is in Chemistry from Virginia Tech. Her other favorite pastime is visiting her 2 children and their families. Jill will be leading a tour of Israel in the summer of 2020.