The development of Israel Education Forum’s (IEF) work amongst the Messianic and Arab evangelical communities in Israel

by John Sode-Woodhead

It was the early hours of the Wednesday morning. I can’t remember the exact time, 3 or 4am. I felt good and I had a vision that I just had to put down on paper. I got up and for the first time in a long time had a burning passion in my heart that I just had to get on with. I worked straight for three hours before lying down satisfied. The doctor came to see me at about 9am and after examining me told my wife that I just had hours to live.

Just to explain. In August I had returned very ill from a trip to Ghana and was put into isolation. It was a few weeks later I was diagnosed with a virtually incurable lymphoma. There was a chance medically, but it was slim. Over the next months I underwent chemotherapy, much of which was very unpleasant and part virtually impossible to bear. Then on the first of January 2007 I had my last chemo with all the signs showing that I had overcome the lymphoma.

I was so glad to get home but within hours began to be very ill again and was taken back to the hospital. They found I had contracted three of the hospital superbugs with no immunities to fight them off. I was ill. Very ill. I knew my situation was not good. But I didn’t realize how bad it was. Late on the Tuesday evening my pastor came to see me.

I was pleasantly surprised, but it never crossed my mind that he had come at the request of my wife after she had been told that I would probably not survive the night. It was just a few hours later that I woke up with the strong urge to write. For the first time in ages, I felt good and felt I was on my way out of this nightmare. I was filled with hope, confidence, and had no doubt as to who the Lord in my life was. By the Friday, my white blood cells began to appear. It was only then that I was told of the fear and agony my wife had to go through.

The laptop on which I wrote all my thoughts was stolen not long after and I lost my text, but the vision, and now clear calling, was in my heart. In my thinking I had written out my thoughts on the development of school education, higher education, and discipleship amongst the believers in Israel. It took me another year and a half before I had sufficient strength, but at the right time the Lord put it on the heart of a friend to support me in this calling.

Over the next four years I was out in Israel frequently and with three key friends – Erez Soref, David Zadok, and Botrus Mansur we established the Israel Education Forum, involving schools, higher education institutes, and discipleship programmes. (Todays IEF-International was set up as a Scottish charity to handle my funding, but we have since decided to develop it into a Kingdom building ministry to Israel).

The work was massive, the opportunities unbelievable, but my illnesses had taken their toll on the family. My wife divorced me and the eldest of my daughters went down with ME and for long stretches needed full time care. I tried to do my best from Scotland and did occasionally get out to Israel, but all we had accomplished with the IEF was coming undone.

There had been successes, and not all necessarily attributed to the IEF. The believing principals did develop a common identity between them, and we persuaded one of the Messianic schools to register with the Ministry of Education. It took ten years with several court cases, but they were eventually registered. We have also seen discipleship ministries such as Lech Lecha and Netiva going from strength to strength.

Over the next four years I was available to all my friends and colleagues and assisted and advised as best as I could. I spent a lot of time with Halvor and Mirja Ronning who founded and led the Home for Bible Translators. One of the saddest stories during that period was when one of their students, a Scottish woman who had translated the New Testament into one of the languages of Togo and had joined their programme in preparation of translating the Old Testament was killed by a terrorist bomb.

In 2016 I returned to Israel with NCMI and through a growing partnership between NCMI and IEF I have invested a great deal of time to further the vision on education. I have given a lot of thought to how NCMI’s Caspari Centre can further engage in discipleship work and be a catalyst in the development of education across the land. In NCMI we are also developing a discipleship centre that IEF has joined in as a partner, to which students could come and train in discipleship throughout the land and with local Jewish and Arab Israeli’s. I was elected chair of the newly established Israel Board of the Jerusalem Centre for Bible Translators, and I am on the Board of Ha-Tzur, the research institute Yohanan Stanfield is developing in Biblical research.

Recently the believing principals got together to assume ownership for the development of schoolwork. The IEF-International has established an Education Ministry Group, which plans to work with and through the Caspari Centre to give support and advice. The Peniel School in Tiberias is operating in near impossible conditions. They had to vacate the building they were in and move into their kindergarten. Now some 50 kids are crowded into a building for 20. Through our Education Ministry Group, we are seeking ways in which we can help them. If you have a background in school education, we would love to have you involved. Please get in touch with us and we will help you connect to others who are passionate about education.

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