JERUSALEM, Israel – Weeks after the deluge from Hurricane Harvey, a Christian man from Houston showed members of ZAKA, an Israeli search-and-rescue team, the only thing in his home that survived the flood.
When Gulf Meadows Church Pastor Becky Keenan asked the ZAKA team, helping residents clean up their homes and neighborhoods inundated by floodwaters, they met Andran Penn.
It was nearly a week before he could return home to assess the damage, Penn told ZAKA volunteer Joshua Wander.
"The moisture had turned the house into a swampland," he said.
Pointing to the books stacked in the trunk of his car, Penn said his beloved interlinear Hebrew/English Bibles and study texts were the only undamaged items in his home.
"All my secular books were destroyed, but the pages of these books are still dry, still usable and without any mold," he said. Penn says he studies the Hebrew texts to better understand the Jewish people. His goal: to foster "cohesion between Jewish and Christian communities."
In an age of increasing anti-Semitism that seems without boundaries worldwide, it's an encouraging message.
"We are trying to build a bridge here," Penn said.
ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi-Zahav says he's proud of the long hours and hard labor his volunteers are putting in because that's what Judaism teaches.
"Our sages tell us that God created man in his image. Not just Jews, but all men," he said, pointing out that many U.S. Christians support Israel.
It makes him happy, he said, that "ZAKA volunteers are able to bring help from the Holy Land when it is most needed."
Founded in the late 80s, the organization got its start when a group of ultra-Orthodox Israelis volunteered to help recover remains of terror attack victims to ensure a proper Jewish burial. The U.N.-recognized ZAKA International Rescue Unit, which sends out emergency rescue teams worldwide, both on land and sea, grew from that humble beginning.
ZAKA "offers a framework for thousands of ultra-Orthodox [haredi] volunteers, who do not typically serve in the [Israeli] military, to contribute to society in a meaningful way," the organization's website states.
Penn's story is reminiscent of the late Edith Schaeffer's "Christianity is Jewish," in which she "lovingly encourages Christians to embrace the Jewishness of their faith."
"This book deserves a re-edition at a time of unrelenting persistence of anti-Semitism, when much of the world turns their backs on Israel and the Jews. The global community of nations risks abandoning its Judeo-Christian heritage. This book's simple message may be what is needed to open the eyes of the Church to what Christianity owes to the Jews: gratitude, love, and the knowledge of their Jewish Messiah as the true Passover Lamb," the text states.
It seems Penn and others at Gulf Meadows Church understand that biblical principle.