Fast-forwarding to the apocalypse

A St. Petersburg minister is helping Jews move back to Israel, saying their presence will trigger end times.

ST. PETERSBURG – At the end of his half-hour television segment, Joe Van Koevering urges viewers to mail in their $250 checks. He sweetens his pitch with the promise of a free “beautifully crafted” gold-plated gift.

Van Koevering isn’t the host of some late-night infomercial, hawking weight loss products or get-rich-quick schemes. He is the pastor of an evangelical church in St. Petersburg.

For their $250, he tells viewers of God’s News Behind the News they can help speed the apocalypse and the end of the world.

And the gift? A shofar – a traditional Jewish ram’s horn blown during ceremonies, for donors to sound “the soon coming of the Lord.”

Van Koevering pastors Gateway Christian Center on Central Avenue, and believes by helping Jews immigrate to Israel he’s speeding Bible prophecy. So, with donations from his congregants and TV viewers nationwide, he wants to send Jews “home.”

“They must be there, when Jesus returns to that land,” said Van Koevering, who also directs God’s News. “And the Bible seems to indicate that we can hasten the coming of the Lord.”

So far, he’s raised over $40,000 for the cause.

Van Koevering cites the Bible’s Book of Revelations, telling viewers Jesus will come again after the Jews return to the Holy Land. He doesn’t know how many must be there, but whatever the number, he wants to get the ball rolling.

Van Koevering uses the Old Testament to bolster his New Testament beliefs as Jeremiah 32:37 scrolls down the screen in yellow letters, “I will surely gather them from all the lands . . . I will bring them back to this place.”

God’s News has been around since 1948, created by a St. Petersburg minister, the Rev. Ray Brubaker, Van Koevering’s father-in-law. The half-hour show airs on the local Christian Television Network and on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest Christian cable station in the world.

TBN: The Blasphemy Network

Trintiy Broadcasting Network (TBN), led by founders Paul and Jan Crouch, is the world’s largest religious TV network. It claims to be a Christian ministry.

However, while some legitimate ministries and teachers (those who adhere to the orthodox teachings and practices of historical Christianity) appear on TBN, the network promotes such an incredible amount of heretical material – including extremist Word-Faith teachings – that it is often referred to as “The Blasphemy Network.”

According to TBN spokesman John Casoria, Van Koevering’s show has the potential to reach 95 percent of American households.

The funds raised through God’s News go to a Christian organization based in England, the Ebenezer Emergency Fund, which helps Jews from the former Soviet Union immigrate to Israel, a practice known as making aliyah.

The Ebenezer Fund was founded in 1991 by Gustav Scheller, a Swiss businessman who said God told him to help gather the Jews in Israel. The organization said it has helped more than 100,000 make aliyah from the former Soviet Union.

Israel pays the cost of flights for immigrants, but Ebenezer assists them with travel expenses to consulates and with documents and food.

Van Koevering said about 80 percent of the funds raised through God’s News go to Ebenezer, with the rest for overhead and the shofar gifts.

Tears fall from Van Koevering’s eyes as he speaks of the “precious Jewish people” during church services and on God’s News.

At Gateway, the Israeli flag stands next to the American flag. Shofars decorate his church pulpit. In his office, Van Koevering displays a framed picture of himself and President Bush in Jerusalem at the Western Wall – the holiest site for Jews.

“I love them, because God loves them,” he said of Jews, noting Christianity stemmed from Judaism.

But his fundamentalist vision of what lies ahead for them in Israel has given some pause. Everyone has a role to play in Van Koevering’s version of the end times. And for the Jews, it’s bloody.

In Van Koevering’s view, the end of days is first signaled by the return of the Jews to Israel, a process he says began with the country’s founding in 1948.

Seven years before the world comes to an end, all true believers of Christ will be taken from earth in the “rapture,” he says.

It is a reading of Scripture familiar in fundamentalist circles, featuring the anti-Christ disguised as a peacemaker, who declares himself God. A holy war ensues, and most Jews, says Van Koevering, will be left to fight. The rest either perish as “martyrs” or convert to Christianity.

He concedes some Jews may be put off by his forecast.

“From their perspective it’s,”Oh my God, another Holocaust,’ but we see it as the redemption of Israel,” he said. “What we are doing, we’re doing with hearts of love, concern and care.”

Not everyone agrees with Van Koevering, even the company to whom he donates money.

Debra Minotti, a spokeswoman for Ebenezer, confirmed Van Koevering has donated about $40,000 to the group, but said speeding the apocalypse is a worrisome idea. “I would suspect that would be forcing the hand of God,” she said. And Rabbi Brian Zimmerman, with Beth-Am Synagogue in Tampa, said he’s disturbed that this end-of-days scenario involves the death of Jews.

“I take it with a grain of salt,” he said. Van Koevering concedes that evangelicals supporting Israel is a bit of an anomaly, but it’s becoming more popular. In fact, Ebenezer isn’t alone in raising funds for Jewish immigration to Israel.

The Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews said it has raised tens of million of dollars from Christian backers of Israel, and helps Jews from the former Soviet Union make aliyah.

And with the success of Left Behind, an apocalyptic fiction book series, and NBC’s new miniseries Revelations, it seems Americans are fascinated with end-of-time prophecy.

Gordon Isaac, an assistant professor of church history at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass., said interest in prophecy is not new.

“”Left Behind didn’t create interest, but struck a chord . . . that was already there,” he said.

Isaac, a self-described conservative Christian, said about 40 percent of Protestants agree with Van Koevering’s prophetic teachings, which he called “particularly distressing.”

One problem, he said, is that fundamentalist Christians often don’t support peacemaking with the Palestinians, because they say God promised all the disputed land to Israel.

Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union in New York, an organization of more than 1,000 synagogues in the United States, said he doesn’t agree with Van Koevering’s reasons for helping.

“We share his desire that Jews make aliyah,” he said. “Although, we differ with his theological objectives.”

There is also opposition in Israel. In March, Avshalom Vilan, a member of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, published an opinion piece in Ha’aretz, an English-language Israeli newspaper, expressing concern over the “unholy alliance” between Jews and evangelical Christians. It “absolutely runs counter to Israel’s long-term interests,” he wrote.

And in 2004, two former chief rabbis of Israel accused the International Fellowship of missionary activity and urged Jewish organizations not to accept money from the group. Ebenezer and the International Fellowship say they do not not evangelize.

Isaac, the professor, says opinions vary on how to interpret Revelations, but it shouldn’t be taken literally. Revelations, the last book in the New Testament, is a form of literature that is largely symbolic and casts events in terms of a cosmic war, he said.

“Just like you read a poem differently than a newspaper, so you should read Revelations differently than a book of history,” Isaac said. But on God’s News, an announcer encourages viewers to “be a part of fulfilling Bible prophecy.”

He urges, “Please, help us help them.”


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
St. Petersburg Times, USA
May 15, 2005
Lauren Bayne Anderson
, , ,

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday May 16, 2005.
Last updated if a date shows here:


More About This Subject


Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission -- at no additional cost to you -- for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate, Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this research service free of charge.

Speaking of which: One way in which you can support us — at no additional cost to you — is by shopping at