Christian org. with Jewish Agency ties rejects missionizing allegations

Return Ministries and the Jewish Agency say there is a Christian volunteer program at a JAFI educational facility, and that Return Ministries does not do missionary work

A crucifix is seen on the wall of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing (photo credit: REUTERS)
A crucifix is seen on the wall of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing
(photo credit: REUTERS)
A Christian organization which provides volunteers to work at an educational campus run by the Jewish Agency has rejected accusations that it is involved in missionary work.
The allegations were made by an anti-missionary organization that said in a recent video that the Aliyah Return Center, run by the Return Ministries organization, was seeking to provide Christian influences on young Jewish Israelis at the campus.
Both Return Ministries and the agency have denied the allegations, however, and insist that their programs are separate, and that all programming on the campus for Jewish Israelis is run exclusively by the agency.
The Aliyah Return Center operates a volunteer program at the Bikat Kinarot educational facility of the agency, just south of the Sea of Galilee.
Return Ministries describes itself as a “Bible-believing, Christ-centered, prophecy-fulfilling ministry built on the foundation of love,” involved in “assisting the Jewish people to return and be restored to their God-given inheritance in Israel,” and “All in preparation for the return of the Jewish Messiah.”
At Bikat Kinarot, the agency runs facilities for lone soldiers, new immigrants, a pre-military academy for Israelis preparing to begin IDF service, and the Aliyah Return Center itself.
In a recent video, the Beyneynu anti-missionary organization accused Return Ministries and the Aliyah Return Center in particular of seeking to expose young Jewish Israelis and new immigrants to Christianity and Christian teachings about Jesus as part of a clandestine effort to proselytize them.
RETURN MINISTRIES and its head, Dean Bye, insist that it is not involved in missionary or proselytizing activity.
And the agency said that Return Ministries plays a small role at Bikat Kinarot, and simply provides volunteers who do maintenance and gardening there.
Bye told The Jerusalem Post, however, that his organization had raised $2 million for the site and provided 150,000 man-hours of volunteer work there.
In its recent video, Beyneynu found various video clips in which Bye or Chaim Malespin, his son-in-law who heads the Aliyah Return Center and is a Messianic Jew, discuss the work at the Bikat Kinarot site and show the various facilities at the campus.
Beyneynu asserts that these actives are designed to instill Christian teachings into Israeli Jewish participants of programs at the campus.
The organization also points to an incident in 2014 in which a participant in an Aliyah Return Center program described meeting a Jewish convert to Christianity.
Additionally, Beyneynu argues that a building at the site called the Vertical House of Prayer, which Malespin notes is at the center of the Bikat Kinarot campus, is a facility that is part of the effort to influence young Jews participating in programs there.
ASKED ABOUT the center, Bye told the Post that the Vertical House of Prayer is the hub of an international center for Christians within their one main building at the Bikat Kinarot campus, and said that it is intended for the Christian volunteers who come to stay, pray, learn and serve at the campus.
“We’ve created a center for our visitors and volunteers so they can maintain their expression of worship,” he said.
Bye insists the Return Ministries is “focused on showing God’s love for Israel,” and says that “our programming has to do with the return of the Jewish people back to the Land of Israel and to assist in establishing them in the land.”
But some of Bye’s messages discuss critical passages in the New Testament that refer to the conversion of Jews to Christianity and the necessity to do this.
In one video from 2014, Bye quotes Romans 11:11, which talks about making Jews “stumbling,” which brought salvation to the Gentiles to provoke the Jews to “jealousy.”
In the same video, Bye also discusses a passage from 1 Corinthians 9:20 which states: “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law… so as to win those under the law.”
Malespin also references Romans 11:11 in a video made just last week, saying: “Salvation has come to the nations to provoke the Jewish people to jealousy.”
Says Malespin: “Come on, who wants to get provoking.... I want you to read Romans 11:11 and ask the Lord ‘Hey, what are you calling me to do in order to fulfill this, God’s will, for His land and His people?’”
In another video from January, Malespin talks about the Vertical Prayer Center.
“This is a lighthouse, a hub, where people can be vertical with God… This is a set apart space, in the Galilee, in the neighborhood of Yeshua (Jesus), where all who come through this area will be able to be blessed… Things are transforming. When the Galilee is transformed, all of Israel is transformed – we know that pattern from the Bible,” says Malespin.
And in an explanatory section on the Vertical Prayer website, a feature discusses “Prophecies in Progress” and notes that “Israel’s salvation is central to Jesus’s return,” citing the passage of Matthew 23:39, which states: “For I (Jesus) say to you, you shall see Me no more till you (Israel) say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
A video posted on the Aliyah Return Center’s YouTube page in May this year, in honor of the dedication of the Vertical Prayer Center, features Arni Klein who runs the Emmaus Way organization.
“Sitting in the middle of this whole facility, having worship and prayer going on; and they will have an opportunity, people who don’t yet know the Lord, to experience God’s presence and understand what it means to really walk this way with the Lord,” said Klein of the center.
EMMAUS WAY’S mandate states: “Our primary call is to minister to the heart of God and prepare the way for Messiah’s return,” and says its “strategy” is “to gather the Lord’s Body in Israel and the nations to come to Israel to worship God, so that His Presence would abide here, to the end that the light of His Glory would shatter the darkness and release the captives.”
Bye insists, however, that none of these teachings and messages mean that Return Ministries or the Aliyah Return Center is involved in proselytizing Jews.
He said that he believes Romans 11:11 is about making the Jewish people zealous, not jealous, for God and the Land of Israel.
And Bye said that he does not view Matthew 23:39 as a call to convert Jews, but, rather, as a call to recognize that there will be a messiah that one day will return to Jerusalem.
“I don’t impose this belief on Jews but share amongst my fellow brethren,” he said.
He added that he had never met the Jewish convert to Christianity referenced by Beyneynu before the meeting with her, that it had been a group of Christians who met with her, and that Return Ministries “had nothing to do with her conversion.”
Regarding his citation of 1 Corinthians 9:20, Bye said he believes it is “important as a Christian that we learn the Hebraic roots of our faith,” and for Jews and Christians to know each other better.
“If we can experience Israel firsthand, these volunteers can be advocates for Israel, learn how to counter antisemitism, and be there for the Jewish people as a community,” said Bye.
“I want to win the Jews as friends and I have done [so],” he insisted.
Regarding Klein’s appearance on the dedication video for the Vertical Prayer Center, Bye said that the ideas expressed were Klein’s and not those of Return Ministries or the Aliyah Return Center.
“I understand why people are suspicious, but the reality is that we’ve been blameless as long as we’ve been at Bikat Kinarot,” said Bye.
“The scriptures give prophetic responsibility to bring Jews on aliyah from the four corners of the earth, and I want to be part of that and teach that. We need to have open dialogue with the Jewish people and learn about each other, but not to change the other person, but from a place of learning. If we can make each other stronger Jews and Christians in front of God, then we’ve achieved something.
“I have a part in this story as well, and it’s important that this message gets out.”
SHANNON NUSZEN, a former missionary who runs Beyneynu, said that her organization’s video “is not an attack on the people themselves, or on all Christians,” but said that “we must draw the line at missionary activity.”
The agency said that it has had, in recent years, an agreement with Return Ministries “to provide volunteers for the Kinarot campus,” to “assist with maintenance and gardening work on the campus.”
The agency said that the agreement with Return Ministries and the Aliyah Return Center “clearly stipulates that neither they nor their volunteers are to have any relationship with the campus participants at Kinarot and are strictly prohibited from engaging in any missionary activity, which is prohibited by law and is against the values of the Jewish Agency.”
Proselytizing in Israel is legal, although it is prohibited by law to proselytize minors or offer financial or material inducement to convert to another religion.
“Jewish Agency programs at Kinarot are run by the Jewish Agency and Jewish partner organizations. Aliyah Return Center has no involvement whatsoever in any Jewish Agency programming,” the agency said.
The agency said that since Return Ministries “brings Christian Zionist volunteers to Kinarot, we allowed them to build a place for them to stay.”
In reference to the Vertical Prayer Center, the agency said that “as these are religious people, we also allowed them a space for their prayer. This facility, which is referred to in their website when they invite Christians to come to Kinarot, is separate from the Jewish Agency’s area.”
It said that it would take “strong action if any allegations are found to be correct,” and has requested clarification from Return Ministries about Beyneynu’s allegations.