Offering hope to the homeless, addicts and sex workers in Tel Aviv

We are proud to be working with a new partner, Aviv Ministry, which provides a drop-in centre for street homeless people, addicts and sex workers in Tel Aviv, Israel. Our Supporter Care Team manager Joanna Taylor, describes the strong impression this work left on her when she visited...

Tel Aviv, the cosmopolitan hub of Israel, is like any other city with tall buildings, restaurants and cafés and the hustle and bustle of people going about their busy lives. Yet at the opposite end of one of these vibrant streets, in complete contrast to the scenes of people socialising and enjoying a good meal, is a rundown area where it's a lot quieter. Here, it feels as though the very vitality of life is lost.

Dirt and rubble, broken glass, rubbish and used needles cover the concrete of a disused bus shelter. We came across three people finding shade from the scorching heat. They sat tapping their needles and preparing to inject themselves with synthetic drugs, an image that will stay with me forever. We then saw another five people doing the same thing and just around the corner in an equally desperate environment were a further 16 people. All drug addicts, all of different ages – the youngest may have been in his late teens or early twenties and the oldest in his seventies – and all with a different story of how they ended up there.

But hope is ever-present in the actions and care of the workers and volunteers of our partner Aviv Ministry. Led by Messianic believer Dov Bikas, the ministry runs a drop-in centre for drug addicts, sex workers and alcoholics, providing food and clothing. It gives people the chance to have a shower and to rest in a safe environment, away from the bleak situation that surrounds them outside.

What is so inspiring about the project is that many of the workers and volunteers are themselves recovered addicts. They know what people are going through, and offer non-judgemental advice and a listening ear that is difficult to find elsewhere. With a chapel upstairs, the centre is also a place for fellowship and where the gospel can be shared with those who ask to learn more.

Every day, the volunteers go and talk to people on the street to invite them to the drop-in centre. They offer a glass of cola and let them know that the centre’s door is always open for them, any time. I was deeply moved seeing this outreach first hand – an understated act of kindness, with no hidden agenda. Just compassion and a heart for those who need to know that they are valued and that someone does care.

With my friends it started with marijuana, then we tried ecstasy and then heroin, which I liked,’ says Max, who moved to Israel from Ukraine aged 17.

Drugs were my source of self-confidence and optimism. I was flying – up and high! In the beginning we all believe in our willpower. I was sure I could stop any time, whenever I wanted. But eventually I understood I could not. Fear seized my heart when I realised I could not change anything.’ After several years on and off drugs, Max decided ‘the only way my life was going to change was if God did something.’

Thankfully Max found the drop-in centre, where he received advice and support that helped him move to a rehabilitation programme also run by Aviv Ministry.

Now in his early 30s, Max is a changed man. He is a husband and father and now helps to run the drop-in centre that made such a difference in his life. He brings his own invaluable experience to those in a similar situation.

As we wandered around, there was no doubt that in the midst of the harshest existence, God is ever-present and is using the workers and volunteers to show love to those who are vulnerable and alone, with no self-worth left. It is thanks to our supporters' generosity that we are able to help fund Aviv Ministry and the important work they do. 

This post is adapted from an article that was published in the Christmas 2014 edition of Embrace magazine. Photo courtesy of Jane Lasonder.