The journeys of two missionaries from diverse backgrounds and a unity only the Prince of Peace can bring
By Dave Stewart
In The Grand Weaver, Ravi Zacharias writes,
God intervenes in the lives of every one of us. He speaks to us in different ways and at different times so that we may know he is the author of our very personality. . . . Once you begin to see God’s hand in your life, you will know that his workmanship within you and through you was tailor made, just for you. His design for your life pulls together every thread of your existence into a magnificent work of art.
Many of us don’t see our life as a magnificent work of art, especially if our past is full of hardship and pain. Far too often we let the scars in the rearview mirror keep us entangled in regret. It can be even more difficult to understand the Lord’s promise to work all these things together for good. But recently I had an affirming opportunity to witness this truth fully revealed in the lives of two dear friends.
The Pastor with Deep Jewish Roots
In May our church hosted our third International Refresh Retreat, a biannual gathering of our missionaries and global workers. Since 2013, we’ve hosted this getaway in the beautiful forest of Zakościele, Poland, through our partner, Proem Ministries. This year more than 60 of us gathered for a week of soul care, prayer, and fellowship. Representatives from Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas make for an incredible blend of passion, culture, and common purpose. It inspires all of us.
As the retreat began, logistical challenges made it difficult to transport all of our guests from Warsaw’s airport to the camp a couple of hours away. In the midst of this we asked pastor Kazik Barczuk, who lives in Warsaw, to meet one late-arriving couple and bring them to us. He graciously agreed.
Kazik has led churches in Poland for almost 40 years. Compassion Christian Church, Savannah, Georgia, has been blessed to work with him for more than 30 of those years. His personal story is powerful.
Born into an evangelical Christian family, Kazik only discovered years later his deep Orthodox Jewish roots and the pain his family had buried deep inside. The pain is due to the misfortune of one simple fact—being Jewish while living in Eastern Europe during the Second World War. His mother was separated from her parents and siblings for the extent of the war; his father was betrayed by a friend and ended up a prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp, surviving only through a miraculous series of events. Kazik said his grandmother never shared her memories of this dark time.
Many years later, he began a ministry to the Jewish people both in Eastern Europe and Israel. Kazik has worked tirelessly, coordinating numerous retreats and weeklong camps bringing Israeli citizens to Poland. In the process, he has ministered to hundreds of Holocaust survivors and ultimately seen many of them receive Jesus as Lord. Because of this, these dear souls have been able to release the pain hidden deep in their hearts for so many years as they abide in Christ. Simply put, Kazik’s ministry and calling are amazing.
On that day last May, as Kazik approached the airport to meet our guest, all he knew was the man was from Israel. The thought of making a new friend with Jewish roots was exciting to him. But he was in for a surprise.
The Former PLO Sniper
The man to whom Kazik offered a ride was Tass Saada. While the men are about the same age, their life journeys couldn’t be more different.
Tass is a Palestinian who was born in the Gaza Strip and grew up in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Angry and impressionable as a young man, Tass left home against his father’s wishes to serve under Yasser Arafat in the Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Believing that the problems of the Arab world were caused by the Jewish people, Tass served fanatically and soon became a skilled sniper focused on taking out Israeli military officers. He even served for a time as Arafat’s personal driver.
Many years later, after emigrating to the United States, and through the acts of kindness he saw in an American Christian businessman, Tass accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior and his life took a drastic turn.
He has since written two books—Once an Arafat Man and The Mind of Terror—on his amazing testimony and God’s plan for true peace in the Middle East.
Today he leads a highly effective organization called Seeds of Hope, working to make a difference in the lives of Arab and Jewish children and families in the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem. The focus is true reconciliation and peace.
Once in the car together, the two men began getting to know one another. Kazik recounted later to me that when Tass mentioned he lived in Jericho, it was apparent that he isn’t Jewish!
At this point, Tass shared some of his testimony. He told his story of working for Yasser Arafat and how he had served as a sniper with the PLO.
Kazik was so stunned by the news that he didn’t know what to say. Finally he said, “I’m Jewish.”
Tass then chuckled and shared how at one point in his life he believed the only good Jew was a dead Jew.
OK, very awkward moment!
A second later the boyish, mischievous wit of Kazik Barczuk surfaced as he shot back, “Well it’s a good thing some of us are still around, or you wouldn’t have a ride to the retreat today!”
It was then the two men, with such different histories and life experiences, shared a good laugh together.
After some reflection, Tass quietly told Kazik, “You know, brother, I finally came to the point where I understood, the only hope for my life was to fall in love with a Jewish man . . . the one we know as Jesus.”
These two men were able to share their own unique journeys to faith and ministry in the Lord Jesus, their hearts for people of like circumstances, and how God has molded them into who they are today.
The Source of True Peace
Seeing these brothers in Christ, along with their wives, laughing and sharing over the course of the next week reminded me of several things.
First, the problems of the Middle East (and for that matter, the entire world) do not have any man-made solutions. World leaders have tried for years to position themselves as deserving credit for solving these complex issues. Politicians, governments, religion, money—none have provided lasting solutions. When we hear people pray for peace in the world, we must always remember it’s not the temporary cessation of hostilities or fighting that is required. True peace, shalom or salam, comes only in a personal relationship with the true Prince of Peace.
I also thought of how Jesus encouraged all of his followers with these words: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
Jesus offers us peace, but he also promises us there will be trouble when we choose to follow him. The great thing about that news is the peace we all seek is found only in trusting him!
Jesus’ words are still true today.
Both Kazik and Tass have figured this out.
We know the power of Christ to overcome the sin of this world is how people of different, difficult life experiences can come to a place where their obedience and faith leads to a confidence that impacts the lives of countless others for him.
But I also have to marvel at the way he weaves our lives together, multiplying the effect of our faithfulness and giving us the great joy of doing the most important work in the world together with brothers and sisters we would otherwise never know.
Brothers in Christ
It seems so appropriate that this year’s International Conference on Missions has adopted the theme, “Together—God’s Plan to Redeem the World.” Our hope is the unity of the body and the diversity of paths that encourage each of us to contribute in taking the good news to the nations.
As I reflected on those things, a thought occurred to me: If a man from Jewish roots, whose parents and grandparents suffered terribly for simply being Jewish, could love and befriend a Palestinian man who once hated all Jews . . . then what other miracles can Jesus perform in and through the lives of those who love him and are called according to his purpose?
On the last night of the Refresh Retreat, in front of people representing Ukraine, Greece, Poland, Rwanda, India, China, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Thailand, Israel, and the United States, Kazik joyfully shared with the group.
He wanted everyone to know that he and Tass realized Jesus was the only reason the two of them were in Poland, at the retreat together, in that car on the first day together. How could this ever happen outside the love of Christ?
Early on at the retreat, I had noticed something else. Something seemingly insignificant but powerfully symbolic.
Our guest Tass Saada was much more acclimated to the hot, arid climate of Jericho than to the chilly breezes of spring in rural Poland. It hadn’t occurred to him to bring anything other than a light jacket.
As a few of us looked for an appropriately sized coat for Tass to wear, I quietly noticed the problem had been solved. Kazik had given his coat to Tass.
An act of kindness, but truly so much more. To Kazik, Tass was not simply a man from a much different upbringing who now had like beliefs and principles. No, Kazik saw Tass as much more than that. This was his newfound brother in Christ, and Kazik knew you never let a brother go without something you have the capacity to share.
Paraphrasing Ravi Zacharias: “His design for our lives pulls together every thread of our existence into a magnificent work of art.”
As brothers and sisters in Christ, our great privilege is to look forward with great anticipation to the incredible story and tapestry of our lives, weaved together through others for his glory.
Dave Stewart serves as global outreach pastor and outreach department head at Compassion Christian Church, Savannah, Georgia.