By Michael Miller
By helping Russian-Jewish immigrants to Israel, Benjamin Pinkevich is obeying his late grandfather’s charge to bless the Jewish people.
El Shalom (Hebrew for “Peace of God”) Ministries serves not only Russian-speaking believers in Israel and the U.S., but the nation of Israel in general.
“The main purpose of El Shalom Ministries is to serve the people of Israel and proclaim the peace of God,” Benjamin says.
The ministry was conceived 17 years ago after Benjamin visited Israel as a tourist.
“When I was able to visit one of the churches there, I saw many different spiritual, material, and financial needs of the Jewish people,” Benjamin says. “I started to pray and ask God to show me how I could help His people. With time, God opened up doors and provided everything needed to minister there.”
There was also one of the final requests his grandfather, Iosef, made on his death bed.
“He commanded us to never forget the Jewish people,” Benjamin says. “He said to pray for Israel, bless Israel, and pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that all of Israel may turn to God.
“So, with those words ringing in my heart and by God’s mercy, El Shalom Ministries was born. The vision for our ministry is found in Isaiah 40:1, where it says, ‘Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.’”
Benjamin’s heart for Russian-speaking people comes naturally. When he was a 6-year-old in the Soviet Union, his mother would teach him “how to hide the Bible and flee from Communist authorities when they would come to search our house.”
“I came to Christ when I was 12 years old at a youth conference,” he says. “I was baptized at 16 years of age. The baptism took place very early in the morning, before sunrise, at a river so that the authorities would not come and disrupt our service.”
He became active with Christian youth groups through underground Bible studies and prayer meetings.
Then came perestroika, a movement in the Soviet Union in the 1980s that reformed economic, social, and political systems in that nation and led to increased religious freedom.
“I had the opportunity to be involved in a student university ministry, evangelizing and giving out Bibles and Christian literature on various campuses,” Benjamin says.
Finally, the fall of the Soviet Union enabled him and his wife, Irina, to move to the United States in 1993, eventually landing in Tennessee.
He continued to spread the Word after settling in the U.S. through El Shalom. The ministry’s efforts include family seminars, father-and-son retreats, helping widows, visiting churches, visiting nursing homes, and educating churches to evangelize locally. El Shalom also prints a Russian journal, evangelization literature, and sends printed and visual materials to missionaries in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.
Benjamin organizes and prepares the seminars, writes for the journal, counsels families, records audio sermons, writes for a weekly email list, and raises money for the ministry. He does all of this while traveling to Slavic churches across the U.S. year-round with his family, which is deeply involved in the ministry: David, 22, handles media; Anna, 24, Leah, 21, and Mary, 15, oversee administrative and logistics work as well as prepare kids programs for family camp; Irina “does a lot of mentoring and counseling with the Christian wives and the behind-the-scenes work of keeping our family running, organized, fed, and happy.” The youngest two, Sarah, 10, and Joseph, 8, are learning from their older siblings and “taking on some smaller tasks.”
The Pinkevich family is always preparing for its annual two-month return to Israel, as well as two-week trips there by Benjamin and David in spring and fall.
Benjamin says that Orthodox Jews in Israel were “negative about what we were doing” at first.
“They would try to take pictures, mocking and disturbing our ministry, but that did not stop us,” he says. “With time they realized that we are actually bringing comfort to their people. We are not against Israel. We want peace for the nation of Israel, but there will only be peace when they accept Jesus Christ.”
El Shalom’s first priority is the Russian Jewish population that moved to Israel after the Soviet Union opened its borders in the late 20th century. The major influx was between 1989 and 2006, when 1.6 million Russian Jews emigrated to Israel, but many are still moving there.
“For many who did and are doing aliyah (a return of a Jew to Israel), there needs to be time to adapt to the culture, learn the language, and adjust to a different mentality,” Benjamin says. “Some families have less in Israel than what they had in Russia. Some fall into depression or financial instability, while others have various challenges finding work. Our goal is to help them with such difficulties, but their greatest need is to turn to Christ and accept Him as their Savior.”