Dean Bye, a 58-year-old entrepreneur and Christian Zionist with Return Ministries of Canada, works every day to fulfill his understanding of prophecies, including those in the Book of Isaiah, that suggest that at the end of days, the nations will assist the Jewish people to return home to Israel.In association with the Jewish Agency for Israel, Bye oversees a project in the Galilee, which brings together Jews and Christian supporters of Israel. The project is named the Aliyah Return Center – Jordan River.The project has two main goals. First, the area, referred to as the Northern Campus, is intended to house future olim as well as participants in other programs of the Jewish Agency. Second, the campus will feature a Return Ministries teaching center for Bye and co-founder Chaim Malespin, as well as other Christian Zionists to educate Christians about their unique role in assisting Israel.On the abandoned campus of a former boarding school on Kibbutz Beit Zera at the southern tip of Lake Kinneret, Bye, Malespin and a team of Christian volunteers are clearing the grounds, rehabilitating crumbling buildings and preparing new structures.
While the restoration proceeds, the campus is simultaneously home to 22 lone soldiers who are serving in the IDF without the support of parents in the country.Another older building houses 15 post-army soldiers working in hard-to-fill positions. The National Insurance Institute offers these discharged soldiers grants, in addition to their regular salaries, as an incentive to fill these positions. All the soldiers have been placed there by the Jewish Agency. According to Bye, the Jewish Agency has future plans to house a cooperative pre-army preparation program for Jewish and Arab students on the campus. Eventually, the Aliyah Return Center will also offer free housing for olim as they settle into their new lives in Israel.Twelve Christian volunteers from all over the world are currently on the site. Volunteers can come for days, weeks or months at a time. They live together in a single, modest building where they take their meals and study the weekly Torah portion with Dr. Jair Jehuda.Jehuda, an Israeli hi-tech CEO, has been studying Torah with Bye for six years. He spoke to Metro about how their relationship developed.
“The journey began with extreme caution, just Dean and I, studying the portion of the week together via phone and Internet. Dean’s track record with Israel was undeniable – 10 years of assisting aliya from the [former Soviet Union] followed by two decades of training Christians to assist in North American aliya.“But all pro-Israel Christians that I had met prior to Dean had ulterior motives that ultimately included proselytizing Jews. As an Orthodox Jew in hi-tech with a blessed family and no time to spare, cultivating a spiritual relationship with such Christians was not an option. But I assumed that if this was also the case with Dean, our study sessions would either wane or hit a wall as ‘the elephants in the room’ were brought into the discussion – but this never happened.“Instead, we found our study sessions to be surprisingly elevating. Even as we drew closer to each other, he felt a better Christian and I a better Jew. As we learned to truly celebrate diversity, we felt a need to share the experience with others. When in Israel, he and his colleagues often came to us for Shabbat and on holidays.“I reciprocated with a long Shabbat weekend at Dean’s training base in Canada with 40 devout Christians. Over that weekend, an elderly trainee begged forgiveness for missionizing Jews. Dean later joined me at a Limmud conference in the UK over Christmas with 2,000 Jews. Family, friends and even the anti-missionaries at Limmud had to admit that Dean was different, that something new and refreshing was happening in the Christian world.”As Bye describes it, many Christians don’t understand why, if he works in such close contact with Jewish people, he’s not even trying to convert them to Christianity. An important part of Bye’s theological perspective, and one that he shares with as many Christians as he can, is the belief that Christians can work to help Israel without proselytizing Jews.In a circular area framed with stadium seating, Bye plans to build a welcome center for Christian tourists in Israel. He wants the center to be used to “[provide] opportunity for Christians from the nations in understanding God’s heart for the return and the restoration of Israel, while learning how to fulfill their prophetic and respective roles.”Bye uses an interesting analogy to explain how he came to see himself as a Christian Zionist, fulfilling his biblical role in assisting Israel. “I have a background in theater.So I know that when an actor gets a script, the first thing he does is highlight his own lines. As a Christian, I went through the Bible and highlighted all the verses that inform the nations of their obligations to Israel.”Reflecting on his role on the Beit Zera campus today, Bye said, “We are honored to be serving God in his purposes of the return and the restoration of Israel.“The fact that God is a covenant-keeping God and we are experiencing the amazing fulfillment of ancient prophecies in the return of the people and restoration of the land makes it easier to have faith in prophecies yet to be fulfilled.While Garrett and Christina Rubio serve as volunteer house managers, overseeing the reconstruction work on a day-to-day basis, Bye is proud to report an additional benefit of the project: the opportunity to create jobs for Israelis on the grounds of the campus that had been shuttered since 2005.Admittedly, this kind of cooperation makes some Jews nervous, but Bye has been vetted both by Jews who are experienced working with the Christian community and by the Jewish Agency itself.Gidon Ariel, a veteran activist in Christian-Jewish relations and founder of Root-Source, a web-based program engaging Orthodox Jewish teachers and Christian students, visited Beit Zera recently to see the project first-hand.Speaking to Metro, Ariel commented, “Dean Bye, through his Return Ministries, has been focused for some 10 years on educating Christians about the importance of the Jewish People and helping them to achieve their biblical commandments, especially aliya.His latest endeavor, assisting the Jewish Agency in establishing an aliya ‘village’ in the Galilee, is a fulfillment of Biblical prophecies and rightly fires the imaginations of his followers.
“Some Jews are distressed about this phenomenon of pro-Israel Christians, and in fact there are some groups that include old theological tenets like supersessionism [also called replacement theology, which holds the theological position that Christianity is the fulfillment of biblical Judaism] and missionizing to Jews in their faith and their works, but more and more Christians are ‘getting it’ and more and more Jewish leaders, including those in the Jewish Agency and the Knesset, are getting it as well.”A spokesperson for The Jewish Agency also commented positively about the agency’s relationship with Bye. “The Jewish Agency is excited to embark on the development of a new educational campus at Beit Zera and is pleased to partner with Dean Bye and Return Ministries, who will be contributing the funds necessary to make this project a reality. The Jewish Agency programs housed on the Beit Zera campus, all of which will serve Israeli young people, will be run exclusively by Jewish Agency staffers.“The Jewish Agency is grateful for the contributions of our Christian supporters and partners around the world. All potential partners are carefully vetted in order to ensure they meet certain standards, including our absolute requirement that no missionary activity take place in any program or facility connected to The Jewish Agency. Dean Bye and Return Ministries have been found to meet those standards and have committed to upholding them as part of the agreement between the parties.”Bye is happy that Christians United for Israel, a three-million-member grassroots, pro-Israel organization based in the US, works on behalf of Israel even in political arenas, and he is content to have his efforts at the Aliyah Return Center rest on the life-changing prophecies from the Book of Isaiah.