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Rafael*, Nadia* and their two children were thriving in a vibrant community in their home country in Latin America. They had successful careers in economics and psychology and were active in their church, serving God in their community as a couple and then, after their children were born, as a family.
Rafael and Nadia travelled to Israel on a Bible tour for their fifth wedding anniversary, never guessing they’d one day return to the country with their family to share God’s love in the same place where His Son lived, died and rose again.
And they definitely did not expect God to open doors for conversations with so many people—including other Latinos.
Rafael and Nadia met while attending a Christian high school and were active in their churches as students but fell away from their faith in college. Nadia shared: “It wasn’t until I was 22 that I really understood what happened at the cross for the first time. I decided then to say yes.”
Around the same time, Rafael, inspired by the example of the youth leaders at their church, re-dedicated his life to not only following Jesus but serving Him with his life. “I looked at Nadia and said: 'I don’t know about you, but I will serve the Lord. We’re going to be [active Jesus followers] like our youth leaders. That’s going to be us.'” Nadia replied: “We’ll see.”
Sixteen years later, in addition to his job at a bank, Rafael was a young adult pastor at their church, and Nadia worked at their kids’ school. “We were in a good season in our ministry, were doing well in our jobs, and we’d just bought a house. We weren’t planning to do something new,” Nadia remembered. “At one point, I even told God that I’d never do missions [in another country] because there were so many ways to serve Him in our country.”
But God spoke to them separately about Israel through promptings, His Word and dreams. Rafael started waking up before sunrise, hungry to read the Bible because God had given him a new lens: that of Israel. “I would read something and be like: ‘Oh, this is about Israel.’ That was the moment I got it. I felt like the Lord had pain in His heart towards Israel and was saying to me: ‘I want Isaac back home.’ I told Nadia: ‘I feel the Lord calling us to Israel.’”
Nadia felt the same promptings as she saw God working in the lives of women around her. “This was the only big decision I’ve ever made where I’ve felt complete peace,” she shared. “Logistically, it was impossible, but I never had any doubts, even though it meant leaving my family, friends, job and ministry. That was my church since I was born; that community was my life. Everything I learnt about serving God and about Him I learnt there, yet I knew this was from Him.
“This was something we’ve never dreamt of. There are people who feel they are missionaries and have a burden for specific countries. That was never us. It was always our country, supporting our pastors and serving there, but then the Lord said to us: ‘Now I want you to do this.’”
At first, it was hard for their children to accept because they knew the need in their own community. “They said: ‘You are preaching and ministering here, and there are people here who don’t know Jesus. Why do we need to go to Israel?’ But it becomes dangerous when you don’t obey the Lord,” Rafael declared.
“Our kids have always shared with us in ministry,” Nadia said. “From the time they were small, Rafael showed them how to pray for people, and they’ve done it ever since. Thankfully, now that we are in Israel, they both love being here.”
Since moving to Israel, the Navarez family has been surprised many times. The small nation of almost 16 million people has traditionally been hard ground to sow the gospel. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly impacted the hearts of Israelis. Both Jews and Arabs have been more open to conversations about faith. “I’ve been surprised,” Rafael shared. “I expected more rejection here. I’ve found personally that nine out of ten Jews will listen and maybe even take a tract or a New Testament from me. If we go to an Arab community, even more will receive it.”
Most surprising, however, was how many Latinos now live in Israel. “We were aware that there were Latino Jews here because we met a Messianic Jewish ministry in our country before coming. But we didn’t know there was such a large population in the south of Israel, which is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Obadiah 1:20b: ‘and the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad [Spain] will possess the towns of the Negev’ (NIV),” Rafael said. “The Lord has kept His promise.”
Since 1948, Jews all over the world have been encouraged by Israel to return to the country. As Jewish immigrants continue to arrive, more communities of Spanish-speaking Jews are appearing throughout the country, and Jesus followers are joining together to reach out to them. Last spring, Spanish-speaking young adults from Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, the USA, Jordan, Germany and Latin America gathered for a retreat in the desert. Rafael and Nadia were invited to facilitate a workshop, and their kids joined in too. “That was a surprise for us; it felt like home. Being able to encourage the Latino believers in the name of Jesus was something we cherished,” Rafael remembered.
After the retreat, many who attended began taking more risks in sharing the gospel, becoming bolder both in person and online. The young people who are being discipled by this ministry are sharing God’s love not only in Israel but around the world.
Another time, the Navarez family and a few other teammates joined an outreach with a church to a local park. Nadia took their children with her, handing out tracts and speaking with whoever was willing. “Our son and daughter were excited that they were able to speak with people in Spanish. We shared the gospel with a family from Cuba who said they didn’t believe in any god but received a tract from us. We told them about Jesus and how it wasn’t an accident that we were there speaking Spanish in Israel, telling them that Jesús te ama (Jesus loves them).”
Being from Latin America has opened many doors for the Navarez family, as people are interested in their language and culture. “We see the Lord even working through that. People ask us why we are here, and we tell them that we love Israel, the people of Israel and the God of Israel. Many are surprised and ask more questions, which gives us the opportunity to share Jesus with them,” said Nadia.
“You never know how God will use you. Finding Spanish speakers here wasn’t our main goal. Our goal was to come to Israel for Isaac, however he looks,” Rafael declared. “Now, that scope has widened and enlarged because Ishmael and other Gentiles live here too. God wants to restore them all, so we share the gospel with everyone.”
What gifts and skills has God given you to share His love in another country? Go to om.org to explore opportunities for you to go!