BOKER TOV: Presbyterian minister, Lihai Baruch Bercovich, speaking at the breakfast celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Christian Men’s Association at the Lodge on Saturday Picture: LOUISE KNOWLES
THE Christians Men’s Association (CMA), which celebrated its 30th anniversary breakfast last Saturday, is not just for men. It started as an association for Christian businessmen in the 1980s, but grew to include women and people of all races. And religions?
Members of the CMA packed the Port Alfred Celebration Centre at the Lodge on Saturday to hear Jewish Presbyterian minister Lihai Baruch Bercovich speak about his conversion to Christianity.
“Not a very Scottish name, but I’m a Presbyterian and a minister nog al,” said Bercovich, who is the minister of St Columbas Church in Queenstown.
Disowned by his father when he told him that he believed in Jesus, and declared dead to the congregation of the synagogue where he had once had his Barmitzvah, Bercovich nevertheless converted his father on his deathbed.
He said he had not had a good relationship with his father who was sporty and physical, whereas he was not as he was born with muscular dystrophy.
He was born in Beer Sheva in southern Israel in 1970, and came to South Africa in 1982 when his father, an engineer, got a job at the new power plant in Sasolburg.
He attended Greenside High School and was head of the Student Jewish Association. One day the head of the Student Christian Association (SCA) suggested they do something together. But what?
“When two or more Christians get together they will play volleyball,” Bercovich said to laughter.
“Every time the Christians scored, they would do a little Jehovah jive, treating Jesus as if he was alive, and I decided they were real mashuganas (crazies),” said Bercovich.
Later he joined the Israeli Defence Force and tried to become a fighter pilot to live up to his father’s expectations, but he was rejected and was suicidal.
Standing on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean, he called out to God and asked him for a relationship like the ones the kids at school had had, something more than just rules and regulations.
“It takes a Jew to bargain with God,” Bercovich quipped.
He returned to South Africa and was working with his father, when he got a call from his old friend in the SCA. They went to their old hangout, the White Horse Inn, where he asked her to tell him about Jesus.
“Another funny thing about Christians, apart from volleyball, is that they always want you to read a lot of books,” said Bercovich.
But he read a great book called Betrayed, which was written by an Orthodox Jew whose daughter converted to Christianity, and while writing the book to disprove his daughter, he was converted himself.
He also read the Old Testament in the original Hebrew, and found references to the virgin birth of a prophet called Immanuel.
But he hesitated to go into an actual church. He agreed to go with his old friend on condition there was an easy exit. At the Linden Presbyterian Church the minister wore no collar, the people were normal, trendy and diverse, and there were instruments on stage and a worship team.
“Weren’t they supposed to be solemn, sit and stand and hear angelic voices?” he quipped.
Beginning to feel uncomfortable because Jews had been the ones saying “crucify Him” in the Bible, he asked God to make him feel more comfortable. Just then a woman who had been praying for her son began singing in Hebrew although she could not speak a word of Hebrew. God had answered his prayer.
He started reading the New Testament and realising that most of the writers were Jewish, he said to himself: “This book is kosher,” he laughed.
Finally, he was baptised in the Holy Spirit and told his parents he believed in Jesus.
“No son of mine believes in Jesus. Get out!” said his father banging the table.
Bercovich did not see his father again for five years. He became a candidate in the Presbyterian Church and was a probationer in Durban when his mom called him and said his dad had cancer and was dying. He went home and he and his father became very close in the last two weeks.
On his dad’s deathbed, Bercovich asked him if it was okay to pray to Jesus, he should squeeze his hand, which he did.