I was born into a Ukrainian Jewish family but had no knowledge of God or his Son. As a family, we tried to keep all the Jewish festivals and, from my earliest years, I remember my grandmother lighting the Shabbat candles every week.
In 1988, my family emigrated to Israel, where I attended school in Netanya. I was different from my classmates because I couldn’t speak Hebrew and they didn’t accept me. They called me names and swore at me, which led to us exchanging blows almost every day. A turning point in my life occurred when, after a fight with another boy, I stole money from his coat. From that moment my life went rapidly downhill. At the age of ten I began working as a drugs and weapons runner for a local drug dealer.
There was a terrifying moment when I found myself caught in the crossfire of a gun battle. I wanted to run but couldn’t; my legs felt as though they were paralyzed. In terror, I recited the Shema: ‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!’ I felt something push me to the ground and, when I opened my eyes, I found myself under a large tree where, incredibly, I saw seven white figures in the branches. Suddenly they were gone. I didn’t understand what had happened and I wondered whether I had really seen the figures or whether they were a drug-induced hallucination.
The following day I went to see the neighbourhood rabbi to ask his advice on what I had experienced and he told me the seven figures were the serving angels of God and that they were watching over me. I left the meeting confident that I was a chosen child of God and that, as such, I could do whatever I wanted because God was watching over me.
Also at the age of ten, I began to smoke cannabis and, three years later, graduated to harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin. For the next 18 years I was addicted to drugs and spent several years in prison. I thought I had everything I wanted – money, drugs and women – and I thought those things were an evidence of God’s approval. But, inside, I felt empty; I couldn’t see any point to life and I was trying to fill my inner emptiness with drugs.
On one occasion, shortly after I had been released from prison, a friend with whom I used to steal and take drugs told me about Jesus and the possibility of a new life through him. My friend had changed (so much so that today he is the pastor of my church!) and he seemed to have an inner peace.
‘I’m Jewish’, I told him. ‘And not only that, I’m also an offender. Why would Jesus be bothered about me?’ When he told me that Jesus came to earth especially for people like me, he planted a seed in my heart. Following our conversation, however, I went home and back to a life of crime. Every day, as though I were an observant Jew, I piously laid tefillin and prayed to God to bless me as I went out to commit crimes!
Six months later, I received an exclusion order from the police and had to leave my town to avoid being sent back to prison. I prayed to God, asking why I had been born. Had I been born simply to spend my life as a drug addict in prison? Then I remembered what my friend told me about Jesus so I decided to call him again. He was really happy to hear from me and invited me to attend a rehabilitation centre in Haifa. Within two weeks of my arrival at the centre, I prayed and asked the Lord Jesus to come into my life.
The question of how I, a Jew, could come to Jesus and whether I could be forgiven for all I had done never left my mind. Then, one evening, as I was on my knees asking God if he would really forgive me and give me the new life I knew I needed, I heard something like an internal voice say: ‘Get up… I forgive you. From now on, you are my son.’
I found in Jesus what I had been looking for my whole life. I began to pray and ask how I could serve him. I wanted to preach the gospel to my Jewish people and tell them of Jesus’ desire for them to turn to him. I stayed at the rehabilitation centre as a helper to homeless people, drug addicts and alcoholics. After much prayer, I responded to his clear call to take the gospel to the Jewish people, reaching out to them with the good news of their Messiah.
I am so thankful to God for the many opportunities I have already had to serve him in this way. Looking to the future, I can’t help but be excited about the new opportunities which lay ahead of me.
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