Thursday, April 15, 2010

how this all started- part two

I have to admit... I really wish I had written this post a long time ago, like about 5 or 6 years ago, because that is when my journey towards a messianic lifestyle began. In being asked recently for details of what it was like making the transition out of a church and into a messianic congregation and everything that goes along with that, I realized that I have somewhat forgotten many of the details of that transition... the confusion, the emotions, the questions, the answers... I will try my best to re-capture the journey...


I had been a believer for a few short months, gracing the First Baptist Church of WPB with my presence almost every time the doors were open... Tuesday night visitations, Wednesday night Bible studies, Saturday night and Sunday morning services and studies. G-d had so radically changed my life that I was convinced that there was no better place for me to me than at church... studying His word, fellowshipping with His people, and preparing to change other people's lives by learning how to evangelize... I was a newly created sponge, and needed to soak everything up that I possibly could. It was during this intense period when I began attending the Saturday night Bible study, "Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith." It would be through the teachers of that class that my calling would become as clear as day.

I cannot recall the details of what I learned in that class, but I just remember that it made perfect sense to me. I've always thought of myself as a fairly reasonable and logical person (although very emotional as well), so as soon as I heard that Jewish Rabbi teaching from the New Covenant (a Jewish book), some of the puzzles pieces I had acquired in my new-found faith began to come together with amazing clarity. Studying a Jewish Bible through the eyes and wisdom of Jewish teachers (one from New York, one from Alabama. And, by the way, I was born in Alabama, so the initial shock of that accent wore off before too long!) felt more natural and fulfilling than a combination of all of the church Bible studies I had been a part of. It just made sense to me that we should study the Scriptures from a Hebraic perspective, because that's the way they were written!

Taking a step back, I have a memory involving the first time that I heard there were Jewish people that believed that Yeshua (Jesus) was the Messiah. I don't remember who told me or why, but my heart seemed to skip a beat... something happened inside me... Perhaps you have had a similar experience with G-d trying to lead you in a certain direction, or in this case, I think G-d was showing me "my calling" with regards to the ministry that I would be involved in. In my case, ironically enough, there was a family history of anti-semitism that I had even been involved in during my rebellious teenage years. Nevertheless, I had been immersing myself in the Scriptures, especially the New Covenant I'm sure, because those were probably what most of my Bible studies were delving into. So I had a new picture of Jewish people in my mind... Yeshua, His disciples, most of the people He dealt with, most of the people even mentioned in the New Covenant... all Jews... and most of them believed that Yeshua was the Messiah. So whatever went on inside my heart when I first realized that was a mixture of disbelief that they believed and pure excitement that there were still Jewish people who believed... Three summers and three trips to Israel later, I understood just how badly I desired Jewish people to believe in Yeshua, and how much joy I could experience in witnessing their belief (or even honest curiosity).

Growing up in South Florida, I never realized that I was so close to so many Jewish people. My neighbors, the three girls that I played with for years, were Jewish, but it didn't mean anything at the time because they didn't practice any semblance of Judaism. (Through G-d's providence, I had the opportunity to actually work with their parents years down the road and share my messianic faith with them.) Unfortunately, all I ever heard about Jewish people were derogatory statements and stereotypes... but what a sense of humor our L-rd has... putting this redneck girl from Alabama, (with a neo-Nazi, skinhead brother) who herself had gotten into trouble in high school for drawing swastikas on the walls of the girl's locker room, into a ministry that is centered around sharing the gospel with Jewish people! I don't share this prior information often (probably because I wish the "racism stuff" wasn't true), but I am grateful to share that things have changed drastically in my life, my family, my brother... a brother who has since attended my messianic Jewish wedding and given me an old clock with a rabbi on it and Hebrew prayer books (gifts that I cherish) because he knows and respects what I believe... and for me, that is pretty incredible progress!!

My transition from being a new "baptist" to attending a messianic congregation full-time was a gradual one, probably lasting a year or so. Many of my Christian friends and acquaintances did not understand why I was leaving the church, but one did. It was the sweet, older (than me) lady that I assisted in leading the middle school girls' small group. She knew my testimony, my stories from Israel trips, and my heart better than anyone else at that time... and she never discouraged me from doing what G-d had called me to do. She was not "shocked" by the news of my departure, but rather she was understanding and even excited for me. Hopefully, if you've gone through the experience of leaving a church, you've had that one person who gives you their blessing... and allows you to go.

While attending the messianic congregation (http://www.bethsarshalomflorida.com/) and a Christian college simultaneously (fun and challenging!), I also had a part-time job at a high-end (meaning expensive) Judaica store. I'll never forget the first time I saw their help wanted sign in the window, the look on my roommate's face as she told me that I had to apply, the first time I met the owners (and their dogs who came to work with them), being greeted by one of the pushiest and most intense people that I have ever met, the interview with the manager who was convinced that I knew more about Judaism than she did (and at this point in my life, I didn't know that much... and still don't!), and the several years that I spent working there (in two cities)... earning a degree in Biblical Studies and also studying Torah and Judaism as I went. All of my co-workers (all born into Jewish families) learned who I was and what I believed, and I had a chance to intimately share my testimony with several of them. Many of them attended my "bat mitzvah" ceremony at the age of 24, which I had really decided to do for two reasons: first, so that I could invite my co-workers to my congregation, not so that they could come and listen to me struggle through the Hebrew reading (two of them were fluent in Hebrew, so I felt a lot of pressure!), but so that they could visit a messianic congregation for the first time and could see a community that believes in Yeshua and follows the Torah... and second, so that I could inspire others to take this step within the congregation and also to pave the way and do something that I plan on my children doing (hopefully before they're 24!), because it really was a beautiful ceremony. These co-workers were also at my bridal shower, my wedding, and Elisheva's baby shower. We are still in touch to this day (and perhaps they'll read this post). That's one of the things that discourages people who work in Jewish ministry... it takes YEARS sometimes for people to even give you an audience to explain what you believe, and as your relationship develops, perhaps they will ask questions or surprise you with interest in your faith. It can be a very slow progression, or what seems like no progression... Still, I'm a big advocate for friendship-relationship evangelism, especially in Jewish ministry. The rewards by far outweigh the years of waiting and praying!

The passing of these intense years has been what made me into who I am today, and I have a long way yet to go! Everything from my vocabulary to the way I dress has changed, and continues to change. My location in ministry has changed... from the somewhat more laid-back, definitely more elderly population of South Florida to the vibrant and busy streets of Brooklyn, and I'm still working on getting my feet wet in ministry here. It has been a big transition, but an exciting one! And so that brings me to where I am today, a 28-year old messianic wife and mother. I'm not sure that I have articulated this as well as I had wanted, but please feel free to ask me any questions that I have failed to answer. I'm very grateful that anyone other than my husband and myself read these posts at all, and am sometimes in awe that anyone does read them!! Thank you for reading, and we are always appreciative of your prayers and encouragement!

6 comments:

  1. What a blessing to read about your journey Joanna. Thank you so much for sharing this. :) I love your blog. Shalom Uvracha, dear sister.

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  2. It is amazing to hear all the different stories of how people came to be apart of the Messianic Community. My story is much different than yours. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  3. wonderful! Thank you for sharing all that :) I would love to hear how you and your husband met, how God worked out someone who fit just where He had you. Having two young daughters, and becoming Torah observant, I sometimes try imagine (I know, silly!) where God might bring a Torah observant man into their lives down the road. Anyway, love reading this!

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story. It is always a blessing to see how G-d works in others' lives.

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  5. thanks for all the encouraging comments! it's amazing how G-d has formed His community with so many types of people! would love to hear your stories too... i'll have to go search your blogs i guess... ;)

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