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Paul Cohen's Testimony

Born a Jew, my religious background was conservative and dry in nature. It consisted of learning to read Hebrew, and reciting prayers, in which, by and large, you did not know what you were saying. There was almost no connection between what I learned at synagogue and what we did in our everyday lives. Religion was an add-on to the "normal" secular life of a North American in the second half of the 20th Century. Not surprisingly, I was cynical or at least suspecting that this was not at all what God was about. Since I did not know God, I was not sure what He really was about, but I resented being imposed upon with things that seemed meaningless and empty.

I began to contemplate the question, “Who is Jesus Christ?”

I expressed my feelings one day by crushing a small vial under my foot at Hebrew school, which emitted a rotten egg smell (we called them "stink bombs"). A friend and I thought this was funny. My teacher did not. She was livid. She also suspected me of doing it, and said so. I lied and denied it. She then said to the Rabbi that she wished to put me under oath on the pulpit before God. For some reason, the Rabbi did not go for this. However, it shook me up. I realized that while I heavily suspected the empty exercises at synagogue were not of God, there was an Almighty God behind everything Who knew everything. Lying to Him was impossible. I knew that somehow He was even there and over the inanities of Hebrew School. There were suddenly larger issues at stake. It was a wake up call to something latent that I had previously not faced in this way. God is real.

I went on in my independent ways for several years. At University I recall partying at the fraternity beer bashes while there were people witnessing outside the homes, handing out tracts. My friends all could not have cared less, but I was drawn. What are these people talking about, and what compelled them to do this? I tried to talk to them while being torn about losing my friends, who would leave me behind.

My search and hunger grew, particularly after I transferred from the out-of-state university to one back home where I commuted to school. I started reading philosophy, and books about the spiritual realm. I began to contemplate a question I had never conceived before, "Who is Jesus Christ?" I wondered what kind of man He was. I did not know anything of the Bible, not being taught from the Gospels, or having read much of any of it in English. My conviction was: This man was not an ordinary person. Who is the person that can leave behind all things to go out and tell people the truth, not being backed by a group or sent by other people? Who can do this? And Who can do this with the result being that all of history centers on His time of appearance!? I knew of no one, nor could I even imagine it. I knew I certainly could not do that. I didn't know anything about God, so what could I tell anyone? I didn't know anyone else who knew God, nor could I conceive of anyone doing such a thing as I considered Jesus Christ had done.

I knew that it was going to take time for things to be worked out in me.

I asked a friend what he thought about all of this, and he could not answer me, except to say, "Paul, why don't you read the Bible?" This seemed a profound idea, and I was very excited to do so. I came to the Bible with fresh eyes, and with faith. God had given me to know that it was real and true. I knew that the writers and those who reported the things they saw were not liars. That was a question I had posed to myself, "Are those who report the story of Jesus Christ making it up?" That would have been a terrible sin against the readers, since it is presented as something to stake one's life on. I knew, however, that they were telling the truth.

I started at the beginning of Matthew and read the entire "New Testament," also reading the Psalms, Proverbs, and parts of the "Old Testament." I was astounded, delighted, and very thankful to see and to hear what I was receiving. God IS real, and He gave the victory in Jesus Christ for those who receive Him by faith. The history of the Scriptures, which was my heritage as a Jew, I saw fulfilled in the sacrifice and resurrection of Yeshua HaMashiach. Abraham, our father, was instructed to sacrifice the son of promise, Isaac. God provided the sacrifice for all in Jesus Christ. Glory Hallelujah, it was a wonderful thing to know that everything was OK, and more than that, good, very good.

During this time God also was made manifest to me by many things arranged in my life. My whole world changed, I now knew what I was here for, or at least by Whom, and with the assurance that He would lead me on. God was in charge. I knew that it was going to take time for things to be worked out in me. (I had no idea what this meant. I only knew it was no small matter of simply saying you believed and all went on as normal.)

Do not be deceived; sin has a terrible price!

I also began to become aware of things in my life that were not right. My conscience began to bother me about things that previously were not a problem at all. However, rather than repenting of all, I tried to rationalize, and justify doing what I wanted to do. I continued in fornication, justifying it by the acceptance of my girlfriend of what I believed. If she wanted to be with me, I reasoned, that made it OK. I compromised to please myself. I was then unequally joined in relationship together with one who did not know, understand, or share in what I had been given. I began to suffer immediately because of this. Do not be deceived; sin (going contrary to the law of God) has a terrible price!

Look around you, why is there such devastation everywhere? It is because of sin. We do not realize how good things could be if we all were to repent and forsake our own ways. Not easy, I know. Impossible, in fact. That is why Jesus Christ came. He came that we might have those good things that were unobtainable otherwise. He is the Light that convicts us of sin. He is the sacrifice Whose blood cleanses us from our sin. He is the Life that raises us to new life in Him where we sin no longer. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We cannot go wrong with Him, and we cannot be right without Him.

I said to him, “God sent you here to me.”

I go on. We married, I thinking to put legitimacy on what God had not ordained. Things did not get better. Though outwardly it appeared OK, and even good to some, on the inside I began to be pressed and wondered what was wrong. Less than a year after our marriage, we moved to Israel. I had always wanted to go there to live. We ended up on Kibbutz Revivim in the Negev desert, on a program designed to acclimate immigrants through work and learning of the Hebrew language. I felt very happy to be in Israel, though my inner turmoil continued and grew. Sometime along the way I had prayed that God would send someone to talk to me. I knew I would not figure out what was wrong. God had shown me the truth of Scripture without a man present, but now I felt the need of one to guide me. I cried out to the Lord. He moved my heart to request this of Him.

On our program were people from all over the world, all Jewish, except for one couple, Victor and Marilyn Hafichuk. They had moved in next door to us. I wondered what brought them to Israel. Shortly after their arrival, at mealtime in the community dining area, I asked Victor why they came to Israel. He seemed to hem and haw a bit, talking about how they had been reading the Bible, but then changed gears and answered me very directly. He said, "The Lord sent us here." You could have bowled me over with a feather. There I was, in this remote place asking God to send someone to me, and here was a man sitting next to me, declaring that God had sent him. More amazing yet to me was that while Victor did not know for what purpose God had sent him, I did. I said to him, "God sent you here to me."

I was so thankful and eager to have someone to talk and relate to about the Lord, and the spiritual walk of life. We visited daily, and I began to learn many things from Victor and Marilyn because of those things God had been teaching them. I told Victor about my life, and in particular what had happened in my coming to be married. He had already seen, by the Spirit of God, (before anything was ever spoken between us) that the relationship was one of fornication (not brought together in marriage by God). Now it was being confirmed by my words.

She said, “You won't be hearing from the Lord again.”

It was one thing to see this, but much more was at stake in speaking to me about it. Firstly, it is prevalent thinking in religious circles in our world today (if not everywhere) that it is wrong to consider any marriage an error, or result of wrongdoing. Secondly, a Gentile speaking to a Jew in Israel about the Lord, and more specifically, instructions from the Lord that many find offensive meant putting oneself in danger of being kicked out and perhaps even facing physical danger. Indeed, we spoke with two other fellows on our program that had such intentions towards Victor.

Trying to be subtle and hint to me about what I had done was not enough. Eventually Victor told me precisely what I had done, and that as with anything illgotten, I needed to give it back, so to speak. I was instantly convicted of my wrongness. I knew the Lord had sent Victor to me. I also knew without a doubt that this was His message and answer to my troubled state. I began to search the Scriptures for understanding of what had happened, and found in Ezra chapters 9 and 10 how the children of Israel had taken wives who were not of the household of faith, and they had to, by commandment of the Lord, put them away, even the children (which we did not have).

However, even after believing I began to rationalize that perhaps I could put off this difficult step (it was not at all what I wanted, quite the opposite) until a more convenient time. One day I expressed this to Marilyn, Victor's wife, while he was away and we visited while she ironed. I said that I would wait to hear when the time was right. She said, and I will never forget how these words affected me, "You won't be hearing from the Lord again." That sealed it. I knew what I had to do, and by the grace of God I set myself to doing it.

He has made of the two one new man, serving Him in spirit and truth.

As a result, Victor and Marilyn were kicked off the kibbutz. I followed them a couple days later. I had many struggles and battles yet to fight regarding this matter. But the Lord was faithful, having mercy on me to keep me, forgive me, and bring me through all the battles and fires that have been there to purge and form me in His image.

The Lord has proven His words, counsel, and judgments, which He gave to me by Victor, who in time became more than a prophet and friend sent to me. Eventually the Spirit of the Lord brought us together into sharing the same life and we also became brothers.

All of God's works are fulfilled and completed in Jesus Christ. In the beginning He sent a Jew named Paul to the Gentiles, to turn them to God through Christ. Now a Gentile (in the flesh) named Victor was sent to a Jew (in the flesh) named Paul, to also bring him to Christ. The Body is One. He has made of the two one new man, serving Him in spirit and truth. This is His day, for which the saints have longed and prayed for, and for which all of creation has awaited. Blessed be His Name forever! "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!" (Psalm 150:6).

Paul Benjamin Cohen

Helena, Montana, USA

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Authors: Victor Hafichuk & Paul Cohen


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