It’s not easy for David Harris* to arrange an evening meal with a friend he’s made since moving to South America. Weekends are off limits because Aaron* is an Orthodox Jew and carefully observes the rituals of Shabbat, the Sabbath. On weekdays their meals together have to be taken at kosher restaurants, of which, perhaps surprisingly, there are plenty in their city.
“I went with him to a kosher McDonald’s. It wasn’t my favorite burger experience,” David said. But the fact that kosher McNuggets exist in the city shows the strength of the Jewish community there, the largest in Latin America.
Learning Faith Traditions
David and his wife, Hanna Harris*, both twenty-five, grew up in Baptist churches in Kentucky, but as IMB Journeymen, they now spend their days at a Messianic Center in the heart of the Jewish community in a South American megacity. Or you might find them frequenting a local Jewish synagogue, taking a Hebrew class, or building relationships in the neighborhood in a variety of ways.
The couple moved last year from a small town in Kentucky to a city with more than thirteen million in its metropolitan area. They are there to share gospel truth with the Jewish community of more than 200,000. Since the first Jews immigrated to this city in the nineteenth century, there has been a thriving community there, which grew with further influxes, 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 but not practicing Orthodox Jews. Because of their flexibility, they are easier for David and Hanna to interact with. Nevertheless, the two have been on a learning curve since arriving in September 2015.
“It’s been a really huge journey coming from not having a Jewish background,” said David. Even though his grandfather was a Messianic Jew, he grew up in a very Baptist environment. “We’re trying to soak up as much of the language and culture as we can,” Hanna said.
Working with others at the Messianic center, the Harrises celebrate Jewish holidays based on Old Testament stories, but they always use those opportunities to bridge to New Testament truths. For example, during the Jewish holiday of Purim in March, which celebrates Esther’s role in saving her people from Haman’s plot to kill the Jews in the ancient Persian Empire, David and Hanna helped with a play performed at the community center for the neighborhood. It drew in more than one hundred visitors.
One of their deep desires as they seek to touch lives there 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.”
- Jewish leaders to come to know Jesus. If the leaders come to know Jesus, it would radically change the community.
- The equipping of Messianic Jews (Jews who have embraced Jesus) so they will learn how to share the truth of the Messiah with their own people.
- US churches that feel led to partner with the Messianic Center in the work to reach the Jewish community in this South American megacity.
Elaine Gaston has served overseas with her family in East Asia, Central Asia, Cyprus, and the United Kingdom, working among people groups in restricted-access countries.
This story originally ran in the December 2016 edition of Missions Mosaic from Woman’s Missionary Union.