An Israeli backpacker had to travel to the other side of the world before finding the Jewish Messiah no-one had told him about at home.
Born and raised in a secular kibbutz (and knowing almost nothing about Jesus), Omri Jaakobovich was taken aback when the Dutch-born host of his hostel in Paihia, Bay of Islands, New Zealand, kept referring to him as one of God’s ‘chosen people’.
Like most Israelis, he had been horrified by the relatively recent assassination of then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by an Orthodox Jew in the name of God.
So he challenged his host: “What’s so chosen or so much better about us Jews?” adding that for the first time in history a Jew had killed the chosen leader of the Jewish nation.
But he was shocked by her reply: “It’s not the first time that the Jews have killed the chosen leader of the Jewish nation.”
“What are you talking about?” he wondered. “This is what you did to Yeshua,” was her response.
Realising that Yeshua (Hebrew for Jesus) was a Jew like himself, Omri’s interest was piqued: “Were they trying to hide something from me?” he pondered. “How come they told me absolutely nothing about him in Israel?”
Having wrestled since he was a kid with the question, ‘Why was I born if one day I have to die?’ it now seemed logical to him that, ‘if Yeshua has been raised from the dead, maybe I too can be resurrected.’
A chance meeting with another Israeli backpacker who had a Tenach (what Christians call an Old Testament) among his belongings led Omri to start reading its prophecies.
And seeing Yeshua in every one of them, he became convinced beyond any doubt that He was indeed the promised Messiah – at which stage he thought he was the only Jewish believer in Jesus as he didn’t know of any others.
A Christian he met then read 2 Corinthians 3.14 to him, which says that only when Jews turn to Christ will the veil (of understanding) be lifted from their eyes.
There was no voice from heaven, he recalls, but he realised right then and there that he needed to start telling his people about it. So he began sharing his faith with every Israeli who came to the hostel. And within just four months, the man who gave him the Bible also came to faith.
Omri subsequently founded a unique travel programme aimed at offering cheap accommodation for young Israeli backpackers and at the same time giving an opportunity for Christians to express their indebtedness to Israel for the Bible, salvation and, above all, their Saviour.
Hosting Israeli Travellers (HIT) has since provided inexpensive rooms in a friendly home environment to more than 15,000 youngsters touring the world after their demanding stints in the Israeli Defence Forces.
Beginning in New Zealand, which has become a favourite destination for young Israelis, it has now also spread to Australia, Fiji, Hong Kong and the UK.
HIT membership cards are available for a nominal fee and most hosts make only a small charge of up to £5 a night to cover overheads, though many still prefer to offer rooms free.
“One of the most significant developments over the years has been the ever-increasing openness of these young people to spiritual matters,” a spokeswoman said. And Omri is now encouraging the Church to take up its calling to provoke the Jews to jealousy by sharing the gospel with them (Romans 11.11 & 14; also Romans 10.14).