By Shannon Nuszen
[This is an op-ed piece in response to the February 22nd Jerusalem Post article: Int’l delegations converge on Friends of Zion museum]
I’ve heard stories about FBI stings to monitor and catch pedophiles and child predators. To actually catch the monster in the act, you have to remain silent as you watch the whole event unfold. The stomach turning nausea that must occur as the undercover officer watches the grooming process must be unbearable. Watching a sweet innocent child take the candy, be enticed by the beautiful gifts or promises, and the repetitive reassurance that they are safe, loved, and cared about as they climb up into the predator’s lap must be gut wrenching.
That’s exactly the feeling I had as I walked through the beautiful Friends of Zion museum, in one of the busiest hubs in Jerusalem. The building is exquisite. The art gorgeous. The presentations are impressive. The technology is state of the art. The message is heart-warming. But for somebody like me who understands the language and techniques of the most aggressive missionaries, it was infuriating and heart-breaking all at once. I watched the rest of the group of 25 people I toured with take every bait cast their way, and fall for all of the reassurances and promises that Mike Evans had to offer.
The quaint little coffee shop just inside offers kosher drinks, pastries, and fancy desserts. As you sit and drink your coffee and wait for the tour to begin, you watch the electronic images of faces in the picture frames that cover every wall. They are every day faces, ordinary people, young, old, and of every race – their purpose for being displayed not yet revealed.
The hallway entrance consists of a large wall of donors who made the museum possible. This wasn’t a typical donation wall of plaques and dedications though. This was dark stone that simply listed names. The style seemed to mimic the look and feel of a memorial wall to those who gave their lives for a war or cause. As I experienced the many videos and displays throughout the building, I realized that was exactly the message being conveyed.
Upon entering you are told to take your picture at the photo booth provided for this purpose, with no explanation given. Next you are greeted by a video of Shimon Peres and his tribute to Christian Zionists. Then you hear Binyamin Netanyahu’s voice stating “I don’t believe that the Jewish state and modern Zionism would have been possible without Christian Zionists”.
The high tech rooms are breathtaking. The entire height and width of the wall is used to show a panoramic IMAX theatre type movie experience. You stand on the shoreline of a 3D lit-up map of Israel as the screens all around you show aerial views of the land of Israel. The climax is a scene of Mike Evans himself walking up a dessert mountain, and stopping to address the audience as he reaches the top. Evan’s description of the Christian Zionist sacrifice is sticky sweet, but what bothered me the most was his use of the Hebrew word “Hineni” “Here am I”. To the average Jew, these words would seem quite innocent. However, throughout the missionary world this term is used and is known as a call to evangelize and save the Jews. If you’ve ever heard Gavriel Aryeh Sanders’ story, “A Minister’s Journey to Judaism”, he describes this “Hineni” call that he answered when he first began his work as a missionary to the Jews
Mike Evans, through the stories of many righteous gentiles who harbored Jews in the holocaust, or spoke out politically regarding the creation of a Jewish state, compared the compassion and selfless sacrifices of people like Oskar Schindler, Irena Sendler, Casper Ten Boom, and many others to that of the Christian Zionists of today.
In one room you can hear testimonies of Jewish people who have been helped or saved by Christian’s in one way or another. One of the most disturbing was the description of Christians who come to volunteer at nursing homes. They specifically seek out holocaust survivors, those who don’t have family or friends visiting them. They serve food, bring clothing, gifts, and Hebrew/Yiddish translations of the New Testament Christian Bible. For people who don’t know, this is called “Deathbed Evangelism”, and seeks to take advantage of the elderly who are vulnerable, fearful of death, and feelings of loneliness in order to convert them to Christianity in their dying days or even last moments.
As the presentation comes to an end, the group is brought into a large theatre room to watch a very emotional retelling of many names with photos of those who gave their lives to help the Jewish people. As the list closes, each visitor’s photo (which was taken at the tour entrance) is displayed in a compelling call to stand up for Israel in their own “Hineni moment”, as the narrator calls it.
You are then escorted out to the FOZ gift shop where you receive a magnetic photo that became part of the museum experience. The gift shop is full of messianic Christian gift items, such as the “ichthys” fish symbol, which Jews may not recognize if they’re not familiar with such Christian symbols.
What isn’t disclosed in the museum is the long history of Mike Evans and the Jewish people. JewishIsrael.com, an organization dedicated to researching and raising awareness of missionary activity, has published many articles about such past and current efforts on Evans’ part in the Jewish Communities of both America and Israel.
Mike Evan’s began his ministry in Texas. In 1977, Evans moved to Stony Brook, NY. At the time, Evans stated that the goal of his ministry was “to see every Jewish person in the world come to a greater relationship with the God of Israel through the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah.”
The Jewish community of Stony Brook wasn’t very welcoming to Evans’ “Hebrew-Christian” group and its deceptive conversionary tactics. The interviews played in the FOZ museum describing the outreach to holocaust survivors in Israel were reminiscent of the struggle Evans faced with past Jewish community leaders in NY. Evans was confronted by Stony Brook Hillel Director Richard Siegel who said, “There seems to be the process of taking lonely alienated individuals and attempting to befriend them. The tie-in with Judaism is simply the grabber, but the essence is conversion to Christianity.”
Evans also came under fire when the Long Island Board of Rabbi’s, along with the Long Island Council of Churches, issued a statement concerning the conversionary practices of “Hebrew-Christian” groups, and that they are “particularly concerned about the alleged dishonest conversionary tactics employed by Evans, Jews for Jesus, and others.”
More recently, the deceptive tactics have been used to bolster credibility and claim endorsements that weren’t actually given for the new FOZ museum. In a recent article by Judy Lash Balint, she points out that Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Malcolm Hoenlein, was once the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York, and created the Task Force on Missionary Activity in June 1977, specifically targeting the summer campaign of Jews for Jesus and Evans’ Bnei Yeshua organizations.
This past week however, Hoenlein led an official delegation from the Conference of Presidents on a visit to the FOZ museum. The Jewish leaders were accompanied by more than 20 senior diplomats stationed in Israel. For Hoenlein, the visit was not an endorsement of Evans or his Jerusalem Prayer Team. “We don’t issue endorsements; all we did was show people this new museum,” Hoenlein said in an interview with Balint.
However, the picture of Malcolm Hoenlein standing next to a grinning Mike Evans Jr. has been plastered on many major news sites, as well as on Mike Evans’ own Jerusalem Prayer Team website.
In an interview with The Algemeiner, Hoenlein expressed surprise at the publicity over the supposed “award”, and said he thought he had just received a simple certificate from the Christian group.
As a former missionary from Texas, I understand very well what Mike Evans and the FOZ team is doing. They are establishing a portfolio of credibility, and legitimization. A kosher stamp from once-rival Malcolm Hoenlein was a prize opportunity Evans couldn’t pass up.
The Jewish people, and the state of Israel, have been blessed throughout history with various righteous gentiles and true friends of Zion. We have received aid, and many thousands have been saved by great giants who risked their lives and lives of their families for the sake of what they knew to be right. We owe a tremendous debt to these individuals whom there simply is no comparisons. Giants like Oskar Schindler, who rescued thousands of Jewish people in the holocaust through his factories. Irena Sendler, who rescued thousands of Jewish children and smuggled babies out of the gettos in a toolbox. For missionaries to compare themselves to such giants as these, is to diminish the selfless sacrifice of these true friends.
True friends of Israel would not employ deceptive tactics. When a “gift” comes with strings – and hooks, it’s no longer “selfless” or a “gesture of friendship”. It’s a bartering deal for our Jewish souls, plain and simple. Israel continues to take the bait. Granting missionaries access to our soldiers, leniency in property laws, turning a blind eye to the proselytizing efforts aimed at our children, or allowing them to influence changes in Israel’s Law of Return only gives these “friends” a greater foothold in Israel, and drastically endangers the Jewish character of our country.
Jews fled from all over the world, escaping crusades, pogroms, and the Holocaust. We have finally created a Jewish state, a home in which we should be safe, both physically and spiritually. Israel is supposed to be a safe haven for the Jewish nation, where we should be able to raise our children without them being hunted or pursued for conversion by Christianity or any other religion.
That is not the Israel that I found upon my arrival this past summer. I’ve found myself having to explain to my children the standard lies and misinterpretations of scriptures they were confronted with by a so called “Christian Zionist group”, here on school trips, in the local mall, or even at the Kotel.
“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” ~ Genesis 12:3
This verse is quoted often by those who call themselves our “friends”. If a gentile truly seeks only friendship and to help the Jewish people, then he or she should do so with no hidden agendas. If Jewish rabbis, leaders, and organizations would draw clear boundaries in these relationships, set up strong guidelines over which such relationships can and cannot go, we Jews would discover who our true friends are. No proselytizing, no access, no favors, and let Hashem provide for us what remains lacking.
Shannon Nuszen is a former evangelical missionary from Houston, TX. Nuszen completed an orthodox conversion in 2009, and now lives in Israel. She works as a North American Liaison and Digital Media Strategist for Jewish Israel, an organization dedicated to researching and raising awareness of missionary activity in Israel and abroad.
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