Rosenberg Interviews Dr. Erez Soref of One For Israel | Washington, DC | Epicenter Briefing

Soref highlights testimonies of those who have engaged with the Gospel through their wildly successful video campaigns across social media outlets, namely YouTube. Enabled in part by investment from The Joshua Fund, this great work continues to quickly grow.


Transcript:

- Let me introduce my friend, Dr. Erez Soref. I wanna start, Erez, by, let's put some cards on the table, right? It was not obvious in your youth that you were gonna be the head of God's project, this Bible college, and a broader ministry. We'll get into that in a moment. That did not seem obvious from your baptism as a child. No, no, you were not baptized as a child. Tell us a little bit about your story.

- Yeah, so when I was 22, it was after my military service, and I was traveling in Asia and then ended up in Europe. And I met a group of Christians for the first time in my life. And they told me that Jesus changed their life, and I was like, "Good for you. Happy for you." They said, "No, He can change your life." I said, "My life's fine, first, and also I'm Jewish. We don't believe in Jesus." And what happened to me was in Paul's words, that Gentile believers have caused me to jealousy, which by the way, in parenthesis, I'll say is one of the most important and often most neglected missiological tasks of the church. And the causing me to jealousy was through really observing their life.

- One of the translations, by the way, is that Gentiles are supposed to provoke the Jews to jealousy. Now, I think the Gentiles have done a lot of provoking historically, not always to jealousy.

- Yes, I mean, historically speaking, putting a sword to your neck can say, you know, it has not worked, not worked. So the way they provoked me to jealousy was I just saw the way they lived. And the shocking thing was, there were two things that were really shocking. One was when we pray, we talk to God spontaneously. We have a relationship with God, and this is something that is very foreign to a traditional Jewish mindset 'cause you have written prayers. And God is, I mean, He's kind of running the universe, but He's way too far out and busy to care for your personal, minute, little things in life. But so anyway, that was very shocking to me to see how they spoke to God, and what's more, to my God, the God of Israel, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that hypothetically, at least, I was supposed to know Him in some way, which I didn't. That was the first thing. The second thing that was even more surprising is that they were more familiar with the Hebrew Bible than I was. And I think oftentimes many believers are not aware of it. But as a believer, as a Gentile believer, you probably know the Hebrew Bible better than most Jewish people you meet. And that was, to me, an absolute shock. It's like, why would you even read the Hebrew Bible?

That's our book. You guys have the New Testament, whatever that may be, but, you know. So those kinds of things, those two things really caused me to at least desire to look more deeply into it. And as I did, I really ended up reading the New Testament, started reading the New Testament after going through an inner struggle whether I should or shouldn't. But when I did, I was completely shocked. It was kind of like the Syrian friend you mentioned earlier. It's like, hey, just a moment. The sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, Caesarea, I mean, I've been to all those places. Jesus walked in places that I've visited many, many, many times. And it all took place in a Jewish environment. So, particularly the Orthodox or religious leaders of Jesus' day, they're still very much with us to this day, the same kind of practices. What was very special to me was actually Jesus himself. I really liked Him. And as you read the New Testament, it's like, well, what's not to like? Really, what's not to like? You know, in retrospect, amazing. The Word of God changed something within me, and I couldn't put it into words at the time, but I could understand that, personally, there's nothing I can do to earn God's favor. What could I do? Again, in Paul's language, offer for my body to be burned, and what good would that do? And understanding this, later I could put it into words and say my sinful nature.

I realized that I need God's favor and God's grace. With the great sense of joy of knowing God, there also comes a sense of passion, but also a sadness of how come our people don't know about God. And so from that sense, I think, from that passion, God has called me back to go back and tell my parents, my family, my friends. And out of this passion was born One For Israel and the Bible college that is a part of it. And so this is what we get up in the morning to do, to tell our people about Jesus and help them grow. Those that come to know the Lord grow in faith and so on. So, yes, even I would say 30 years ago, it happened 30 years ago, if you'd ask me what I'll do when I grew up, as it were, this would not have been part of my wildest dreams. When we got to know you guys at The Joshua Fund, and, again, you guys stood out because unlike other kinds of ministries, you really wanted to get to know us and to see what's happening. And so right at that phase, God told me to build television studios in our new campus, which you guys were helpful to help us renovate. And so we did, and I knew nothing about television studios or real estate in any way, shape, or form. And then, this young man, I always told him, and actually, my wife always told him, "There's gonna be a day that you're gonna come to serve with us. So go do your thing with other places, get trained, but we're gonna call you up." So I called him up, and I know how to approach the guy. And basically, I told him, "Okay, it's time. You need to leave whatever it is you're doing.

We have television studios, and you need to do this." And he came, and he brought the data with him, and the data was, and I think he presented to you guys as well, that the public square is no longer out there on the streets, but the public square is basically here. And if we wanna reach this generation with the gospel, we have to create a new wineskin, and that's a wineskin. That's all it is. And so we have started, we've sent them for further training, actually, here in the US. And we started creating stories. So we built those sites, and then we realized that it's going video. It's not going to text anymore. And we started recording testimonials, which is a personal story in five or five to eight minutes. And down the road, you did yours, and I did mine, and many other Jewish believers did theirs telling our people, says, okay, there are people, Jewish people from similar backgrounds like ours that have come, that have searched and researched and come to know that Yeshua is the Messiah. So we had people from a religious background. We had people from a secular background, and this was the beginning. We found that testimonials, stories are a good way to start, but then they had a lot of questions, and we distilled the questions. We've discovered it comes down to roughly 50 to 100 questions that all Jewish people ask, different things like, for example, some of them that are unique for the Jewish people is Isaiah 53, talking about the nation of Israel is a suffering servant, the nation of Israel or the Messiah, and many others like it. And so we've produced a series of apologetics, and we've been doing that in different waves, in different ways and forms. Recently, we had a public debate, the first-ever public debate on video with an Orthodox rabbi. Really, it was the first time since the time of the New Testament that is an intra-Jewish discussion between a leading rabbi and a Jewish believer in Jesus talking about the messiahship of Jesus. It was actually a step that leads to that, so, some truly historical issues. And we're getting weekly, weekly, or really daily messages on our networks. And I would even say something else. For the first time in 2,000 years, Jewish believers in Jesus have risen from within Israel and stood up to the Pharisaic rabbinic leadership that basically banned Jesus from our people. And so this ping-pong or Wimbledon, it wasn't very gentlemen-like in many times.

- It wasn't love, 15, love.

- It was not 15, love.

- 15, hate.

- It was 15, hate, absolutely. But the point is that the symbolism of it is much greater than just the content because it really did not happen for close to 2,000 years. So let me read you a couple of messages. Okay, this is from last week. So this guy writes, "I have to tell you I was an Orthodox Jew, and I studied in a yeshiva." It's a religious school. "But I was disappointed in what I saw there, and I left. I left when I was 18 1/2. I'm 21 now, and a year ago, I was exposed to your YouTube channel." I'm sorry, "A month ago, I was exposed to your YouTube channel, and it changed my life completely. I used to be a very angry person, but knowing Jesus, I turned to a forgiving person, and your videos have truly helped me understand what God wants for me." But that was an Orthodox guy last week. Another message: "Hello and sorry for the hour. I have a lot of questions. I hope you can help me. I've never read the Bible, but I read and watch your videos and your debates for a year and a half about God and the messiahship of Jesus. I was so impressed by the cosmological argument to the moral argument. I'm convinced that there's a creator with personality and intelligence for the universe. And I heard about the Holy Spirit. Can you help me understand how I pray to the Holy Spirit and experience God? I really appreciate your work. Because of you, I started this journey. Thank you so much for everything." So we get tons of those.

- So double dayenu, triple dayenu, quadruple dayenu. And then there will be people who say, okay, can we meet, can we have coffee? So then they said, "Well, our staff can do some, but in the grand scheme, it's a fairly limited team. So what about, well, that guy is from Haifa. Maybe we have some pastors and ministry leaders up in Haifa. Maybe we oughta get them involved and sort of pass this off and see if the pastor in Haifa can meet or the pastor in Dimona or in Tel Aviv or whatever." So that became part of the national church strategy, Israel College of the Bible, because of its role in training and equipping not just young people in ministry, but also people during their career. You can take classes. You can take classes online. You can come, just get a certificate, maybe not a full degree. But this is the national equipping center for the national body. So, there's a lot of trust. I know that's one of the things we've been encouraged by, is you're all very careful to keep building trust. But what that means then is ministry leaders, pastors around the country, it's like, yeah, these are like qualified leads. Sure, we'll be happy to go have coffee with this person. And you've seen a lot of people come to faith because of it.

- That's exactly right. Because the vast majority of the pastors in the country have been trained by us, and as you say, the element of trust is very, very important. It's a key here. So we can refer to them the many seekers that are coming. And this last year, actually a year and a half, I guess, with the pandemic, what we've seen is that there was actually a tremendous surge, both in the terms of views and seekers. I think that proximity to death, to the pandemic, and existential kind of tension caused people to turn and look for more meaning. So our viewership has just gone up dramatically-

- Yeah, so here's the new numbers. I just actually checked with his director of media, and I said, "Just as we come into this epicenter briefing, I'd like to brief them on the actual, where are we at this point?" And he said that since they started, there have now been more than 40 million views just of the Hebrew-language videos alone. Now, there are not obviously 40 million Hebrew speakers on the planet. There are roughly 10 million in Israel and maybe a few hundred thousand, maybe a million in the diaspora. But what you're seeing is the Pringles effect, right? Not everybody in the country has seen them, but those who have seen them are watching more than once, okay, 40 million. And whatever, six, seven years ago, I don't remember exactly when, 10 years ago, this didn't exist. It wasn't possible.

- This last year alone was about 10 million.

- That's amazing.

- This last year.

- So, a 25% increase this year. Now, this alone would be enough of all. However, there's more. Then they said, "Well, this is Hebrew, and this is mostly focused on Jews. What about Israeli Arabs and what about Palestinian Arabs?" So you built out your team.

- That's right, and it's always been very important for us that we serve the whole body of Christ. There's one body of Christ. It's made up of Jews and Arabs. And so, many, many of our students and graduates are Arab, Arab leaders in their communities. And, of course, that's also reflected on our staff. And in the last five years or so, we have had an Arabic evangelism team, which Joshua Fund also helped us begin, and some amazing stories in the Arab world, amazing stories in the Arab world about people coming. I mean this one country in the Middle East that is a sworn enemy of Israel, and so this Muslim guy who's a son of a very well-known Muslim leader in the Arab world starts to watch our videos in Arabic, connects to our team, and after about six months declares that he's a believer in Jesus, start telling his family and friends. And, of course, he got severely persecuted for that. Then about a year into it, he is diagnosed with cancer. His health really deteriorates, and everybody's like, oh, that's a punishment from Allah for betraying him and becoming a Christian. And he starts looking to where he can go to get treatment for cancer in different countries. And lo and behold, the state of Israel allows him to come in. So he comes into Israeli. He calls our team. They go to visit him. They pray with him. They sing with him. Actually, there were other people that heard it, and the hospital administrator, who's a nominal Israeli-Arab Christian comes to know the Lord.

- [Joel] Wow, wow, that's amazing. I didn't know that part.

- Several days after, he seems to be getting a little bit better. He has no hair. He can't walk. He's not doing very well. He calls the guy up, calls our team-up. He says, "I may die. I was never baptized. No one would baptize me in my home country. I need to be baptized. Can you come get me and baptize me?" So, our Arab evangelism leader calls me up. He says, "So can we baptize him on the roof of our building today?" I was like, "Okay, bring him over."

- [Joel] Wasn't that like a 6:30 in the morning phone call?

- It was an early morning call. It was like, "Are you okay?" He says, "Yeah." So anyway, he brought him up. We bought a kiddie pool, filled it up on a roof. We had about 40 people from our staff there, Jews and Arabs, and this brother, this Arab brother and, we baptized him. And so we kind of looked around and said, "Did any one of us getting up this morning thought that we have a Muslim-background believer from this enemy country, come to our campus, on the roof, that The Joshua Fund help us buy, actually."

- In Israel, you have to buy the roof of a building. And the reason is 'cause someone else could buy it and build their own building. So you have to buy it so you can keep it to yourself.

- So the long and short of it, the end of the story is that it was about a couple of months ago. He went back to where he's from, and he just wrote us the other week. He says the doctors can't understand it. Cancer in the brain disappeared, and cancer in the lymph nodes has shrunk to about half the size.

- Praise God.

- The doctors can't explain it. His hair's growing. He's walking by himself. Pray with us for complete healing for him.

- Amen, amen. Wow. I don't know what the Arabic for dayenu is. We'll ask one of our Arabic friends here, but I will say I checked on the Arab testimony numbers also and the gospel numbers of those videos. And so the director of that program said, "We're now past five million views." I mean, think about that. And, of course, digitally, you're not just saying, well, we're just gonna limit it to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, right? If you're digital, you're digital. And so anybody who can read Arabic can read it, can watch it. So that is going significantly beyond the borders of the Holy Land. Well, we need to close in prayer because it's exciting, but you can see, you're just getting a taste of the type of people and the type of things, the miracles that the Lord is doing. We're not expecting that everybody in the country is gonna come to faith in our lifetime. It'd be awesome if it happened in our lifetime. In somebody's lifetime, it's gonna happen. And we're not even sure always that people will come to faith at all. The question is they deserve to know. They have to be able to hear. Somebody has to tell them. They have to tell them in a language they understand. They have to answer their questions. They have to be able to honestly weigh is Jesus who He said He is or not because that's the most important question. And if you're gonna head into eternity, you have to have made that, you have to have processed that question. And, Erez, I wanna just thank you, your team, for your faithfulness. The spiritual warfare that goes with it is brutal, but there has been wonderful, sweet fruit, and we're so encouraged. Let me pray for you and the team.

- Thanks.

- Lord, thank you. Thank you for what you're doing. Thank you for what you did in Erez's life to save him. He was not heading in a direction that leaned towards you, but you came, you're the shepherd, and you came to find the lost sheep and bring him into the fold. And now he's a shepherd. You've trained him and equipped him to be a shepherd and to go find in the name of our great king and our coming savior, Yeshua Hamashiac, we pray. Amen.

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