From My Heart, in Jerusalem

by Jill Czelusta

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? …And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’  Matthew 25:27, 40

Shalom from Jerusalem! There are many dates in history that mark significant events in the life of a nation.  December 7, 1949, “A Day that will live in infamy,” as described by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, marks a tragic event in American History. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  9/11 needs less explanation for Americans since it is a much more recent event.

The Holocaust is an event that is needing more and more explanation as the World War II generation is reaching its end. There are fewer and fewer survivors of the various death camps who can tell their stories, keeping the cries of “Never Again” alive. It is becoming easier for the world to ignore or deny those horrific events that took place throughout Europe.

Unfortunately, in the life of the nation of Israel, October 7 will be a date that is forever etched in the timeline of the history of modern Israel. As I spend time in Jerusalem, the atmosphere is thick with grief and uncertainty. There is barely a citizen who has not attended one or more funerals for the victims of the massacre or for soldiers from the war in Gaza. Just about everyone has a son or daughter, or a sibling, or a parent, or a grandchild that has been called up for service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Over all the years that I have volunteered in Israel, I have gotten used to seeing “off duty” IDF soldiers on busses, in stores, and generally everywhere, a few carrying their weapons. But it is a bit different to see those same soldiers carrying their weapons with them everywhere, even when out of uniform.

I have only been back in Israel since Mid-April, but I have met many people who are still reeling from their experiences. Some want to talk about it; others just stare silently at the floor. It will be that way for a long time. It is my prayer that my volunteering at such a time as this will bring encouragement to the people I meet every day.

Already I have had some amazing encounters with individuals, both officially while serving with Bridges for Peace, and unofficially as I have had conversations with my new neighbors or people I meet on the street. I would like to share a couple of examples.

I serve as the Food Bank Floor Supervisor at the Bridges for Peace Jerusalem Assistance Center (JAC). We have people come in daily who need our services. While most of the time they stay behind the glass that separates the warehouse from the front office, occasionally someone comes onto the Food Bank floor. We are always encouraged to greet people and interact with them, telling them where we are from.  It is fun to see their eyes widen as they learn that the volunteers working around the big, white packing tables are from America, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, Japan, Russia, and South Africa. Others serving with BFP are from Ireland, Namibia, Wales, England, and Sweden. While I have had that same conversation through the years, this year is different. Almost always they add, “You are here during the war?” and their “Thank you” is even more enthusiastic.

Besides the weekly packing of dry goods, meat, dairy, fresh fruit and veggies, we also go out on special projects. One such project is shown in the “Beacon of Hope” video (see below).  Because of the war, both south near Gaza and north near Lebanon, Israel currently has about 100,000 displaced people. Their lives are in limbo, not knowing when or if they will return to their homes and their lives.  

While the video does a wonderful job explaining our project, I will add that we had many of those displaced people come into the formerly empty room to see Christians from around the world busily working, sometimes on their hands and knees on the bare concrete floor, building couches, tables, chairs, or cupboards for all the new kitchen supplies, as well as shelves for the children’s games. The amazing transformation of an empty room to a community center allows these displaced people to gather, as a community, to love and support one another. People who gather there will always be reminded that this room was transformed by Christians from around the world who love them!  I was blessed to be a part of that project.

I would like to thank Betsy personally for her encouragement and support as I have served in Israel.  I would also like to thank the ministry of Women of the Word for its financial support. May the Lord continue to bless this ministry as it serves the Lord faithfully.  

Women of the Word is a non-profit organization conducting Christian women’s conference and online Christian Bible studies. We support Israel, hosting tours to Israel, ministry trips, financial giving and prayer. We treasure the friendships we have with people living in the land. Please visit our Eyes on Israel page for more information.

Betsy Roy is the Director of Women of the Word. WOW serves women of all denominations, cultures and ages and is focused on teaching biblical principles and their application in daily life.

The International Flavor of Serving in Israel

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.