Texas Baptist Men volunteers learned to cook kosher meals, received a rabbinical blessing and showed the love of Jesus during a recent trip to Israel.
About a dozen TBM volunteers journeyed to Israel to dedicate a newly built field kitchen the Texas-based missions organization helped purchase and learn how to prepare appropriate meals in the event of a disaster there.
“God is doing some unique things in Israel,” changing the attitudes of influential people toward Christian workers, said Dwain Carter, TBM disaster relief director.
More than a year ago, TBM entered a partnership with the Emergency Volunteer Project—an organization that recruits, trains and deploys individuals to support first responders in Israel after a manmade or natural disaster in Israel—to engage in cross-training exercises.
Observing Jewish dietary laws
On the most recent trip, TBM personnel who have experience cooking meals for thousands of disaster survivors in mass-feeding operations learned the intricacies of menu planning, food handling and meal preparation according to Jewish dietary laws.
“A rabbi told us everything we had to do,” said John-Travis Smith, chief operating officer at TBM.
The crew learned lessons ranging from the approved way to cut cucumbers to the importance of washing leaf lettuce three times, he noted.
“At the end, the rabbi pronounced a prayer of blessing—in English—over both the kitchen and the team,” Smith said.
TBM crews cooked at the regional Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, which serves a large immigrant population—both Jewish and Muslim.
They also prepared meals for personnel with the Israel Defense Forces at a military installation on the Gaza Strip, about a 20-minute drive from the Egyptian border.
“It’s important to understand that in Israel, the army is responsible for all emergency management. Firemen, police and EMTs all are under the Home Front Command,” Carter said.
Following rules to enable ministry
Prior to the trip to Israel, TBM volunteers spent three days in classroom lectures and hands-on training to learn light urban search and rescue techniques, as well as other techniques to render aid to first responders in emergency situations.
While TBM crews are unlikely to perform many of the tasks for which they trained, the instruction qualified the American volunteers to meet the minimum standards the Israeli government requires of all its citizens.
Carter acknowledged he balked at requiring volunteers to undergo such extensive training they are unlikely to use. However, because the TBM volunteers submitted to the training and background checks, Israeli officials indicated they will be granted space to work inside IDF bases and given unfettered access in the event of a disaster.
“I hate the rules, but I love the ministry. I do what the rules require so I can do the ministry,” Carter said.
While they were in Israel, TBM representatives explored additional areas for ministry. One group visited a kibbutz that is home to Jewish refugees from South Sudan, as well as aged Holocaust survivors. Many of the homes need significant repairs, and TBM expects to coordinate church mission groups who will work on rebuilding projects.
Another group visited the Baptist Village in Petach Tikvah, about a 25-minute drive from Tel Aviv. A TBM chainsaw crew is scheduled to work on trees at the encampment in September.
Engaging in spiritual conversations
TBM volunteers worked under challenging conditions without complaining and presented a winsome Christian witness when asked direct questions, Smith noted.
“We were able to have spiritual conversations all the time,” he said.
As they served, the TBM workers saw hardened hearts softened.
Smith recalled one 72-year-old Jewish immigrant to Israel who had grown up in London, where he was bullied and ridiculed by youth who called themselves Christians.
“He said they blamed Jews for killing Jesus,” Smith said.
Consequently, as a result of the anti-Semitism he endured from professed Christians, he “grew up hating Christians,” Smith explained.
The man, who works with Israel’s Emergency Volunteer Project and is the leader of a kibbutz, initially resisted the idea of a partnership with a Christian group from Texas when he first learned about it. Then he saw the TBM volunteers in action, including their willingness to accept a rabbi’s instruction concerning kosher food preparation and cooking.
“He said, ‘You have come to serve us,’” Smith said. “It melted away the hatred.”
Carter recalled a conversation with one of the Emergency Volunteer Project leaders.
“He told me, ‘First we were partners, and then we became friends. Now, we are more than friends. Now, we are family,’” Carter said.
“This is long-term kingdom work in a missional context,” Carter continued. “We are building bridges.”