After years of communist rule, God began preparing the hearts of the Jewish people in the former Soviet Union. In 1993, one group, Hear O Israel Ministries (later integrated into Jewish Voice Ministries International), began doing large outreach festivals of Jewish music and dance in major cities in Russia.
Additional festivals followed in Belorussia, Ukraine, and Moldova. In each festival, the Good News was proclaimed. By God’s grace, the people responded and tens of thousands of Jewish people came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus), the Jewish Messiah. Leaders were desperately needed to start new culturally-relevant Messianic Jewish congregations.
As a result of this work of the Holy Spirit and an unprecedented awakening in the “land of the north,” Hear O Israel Ministries began a Messianic Jewish Bible school in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1994 under the direction of Hear O Israel’s leader and Messianic Rabbi, Jonathan Bernis.
On a parallel track, Dr. Dan Juster, a leading Messianic Jewish theologian, author, congregational leader, and Director of Tikkun Ministries, had started Messiah Bible Institute (MBI) in 1981. It began small with Dan Juster training the first students and graduates, Asher Intrater and Eitan Shishkoff. In time, MBI grew and effectively trained a number of Messianic congregational leaders. Some of the teachers and staff included Dan, Asher, Eitan, Dr. Michael Brown, and Dr. Michael Rudolph.
In 1995, Jonathan Bernis and Dan Juster joined efforts to train leaders for the fledgling Messianic Jewish movement in the former Soviet Union. Together with B’nai Maccabim Messianic Synagogue in Chicago, Illinois; G-d’s Grace Foundation in Beloit, Wisconsin; and Shady Grove Church in Grand Prairie, Texas; they officially formed a new training school. They had the conviction that as ministries work together, rather than independently, there is a multiplication of talents and fruit for the Kingdom of God. In time, Gateways Beyond International in Cyprus, and Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue in Dallas, Texas, would also join this coalition (2002 and 2007 respectively).
They named this newly formed ministry the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute (MJBI), and chose Dr. Wayne Wilks Jr., from Shady Grove Church, as the one to pioneer the school.
The school started in Odessa, Ukraine, in the fall of 1996. Odessa is known as the southern gateway city of the former USSR to Israel, and, prior to World War II, 30% of the city population was Jewish.
After another Hear O Israel festival in Hungary, the MJBI began its second school in Budapest in January of 1999. In September of 1999, the third school began in Moscow, Russia, in cooperation with the Messianic Jewish congregational network of Russia. This school was relocated to St. Petersburg in 2005.
The MJBI linked with Har Zion Messianic Congregation in Brazil and Netivyah Ministries in Jerusalem, Israel, to form the fourth school in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in February of 2000.
Under the leadership of Marcelo and Matheus Guimaraes, the MJBI graduated over 500 students. Many of these graduates now lead Messianic congregations and pastor churches throughout Brazil. Though remaining closely related in vision and friendship with the MJBI, the school is now fully self-supporting and independent. The MJBI curriculum has been integrated into their successful online CATES program for Portuguese speakers.
In February, another school began in Buenos Aires, Argentina, under Jorge Goldstein following another successful Hear O Israel festival. Jorge’s vision was to expand this instruction in other South American countries as God led. As a result, he has traveled to numerous Spanish-speaking countries spreading the Messianic vision and offering course materials.
The MJBI seeks to equip Messianic leaders, who in turn reach into their communities in a culturally-relevant way and effectively proclaim Yeshua, plant congregations, and disciple other new Jewish believers. Through 2002, the MJBI’s only focus was in countries that had significant Jewish populations.
The Lord showed the MJBI leadership team that God had called them to a second purpose: to help bring education to the Church regarding God’s heart for the Jewish people and the significance of His work among Messianic Jews. In 2002, the MJBI also began to sponsor banquets, events, and training sessions in the United States for the purpose of spreading the vision of the MJBI and equipping the Church in its responsibility to Israel and the Jewish people.
As requests for schools were coming in from locations that were primarily non-Jewish, the MJBI started an “affiliate status” for schools. In November of 2003, the first affiliate school was started in Seoul, Korea. Pastor J.S. Lee oversaw this school which is called the Grace International Bible Institute.
Dan Juster, MJBI Founding Board member, immigrated to Israel. He oversees the MJBI related programs in Israel, through partnership with Haifa Theological Institute amongst the Russian speaking Jewish community, and Keren Sh’va amongst the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel.
A number of congregations in Peru began MJBI courses through seminars and correspondence, which have continued to this day.
As a result of Jewish Voice medical outreaches in Ethiopia, a revival of Jewish culture and the spread of the Gospel followed. in December of 2008, the MJBI began a school in the capital of Addis Ababa among the Beta Abraham community. A new congregation was also launched to disciple the believers.
Through Rabbi Marty Waldman’s influence, an affiliate MJBI was started in Mexico City, Mexico, under the direction of Pastor Agustin Enriquez Vargas of Pan de Vida Church.
A second MJBI began among the Beta Israel Jewish community in Gondar, as well as support for the poor and needy there.
The first MJBI class in Africa graduates in Addis Ababa in July, and a third MJBI school is started amongst the Gafat Beta Israel in Woliso, Ethiopia.
While in Ethiopia for the first graduation, Dr. Wayne Wilks and Nic Lesmeister share a “book of Acts” moment, where Nic is called by the Lord into Messianic ministry, and Wayne feels the Lord reveals Nic is his “Joshua,” for whom he had been praying five years. (Watch the story here).
Nic Lesmeister joins the MJBI Advisory Board.
We launched our online school in English, The School of Messianic Theology (SMT), allowing students from around the world to gain access to credible Messianic education taught by some of the foremost scholars and teachers.
MJBI begins another school in Africa after JVMI conducted a successful clinic to serve the needy Lemba community in Zimbabwe. The Lemba became famous worldwide in 1996 when genetic testing demonstrated the authenticity of their long-kept Jewish traditions. Learn more about the Lemba Tribe here.
MJBI accepts the primary oversight of The King’s University (TKU) Messianic Jewish Studies program. Under the direction of Dr. Raymond Gannon, the program grows greatly and sees the graduation of the world’s first D.Min. graduates in Messianic Leadership. TKU also moved their main campus to Southlake, TX, further strengthening their relationship with Pastor Robert Morris and Gateway Church.
The SMT is translated into its first international languages: Russian and Hungarian.
Nic Lesmeister joins the MJBI Board of Directors in January. In October, the Lesmeister family moves to Jerusalem to begin the one year Master’s program at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Additional MJBI schools are planted in Ethiopia amongst the Gafat Beta Israel, bringing the total of MJBI schools in Ethiopia to seven. To facilitate this rapid growth, the SMT program is translated into its fourth language, Amharic, to be used in the Ethiopian schools.
In July, the first MJBI graduation in Zimbabwe takes place, as Dr. Wayne Wilks and Nic Lesmeister award the 39 students their certificates in Harare.
Dr. Wayne Wilks starts his role with Gateway Church’s Jewish Ministry, while still overseeing the MJBI as President.
In October, Nic Lesmeister officially joins the staff of MJBI as Executive Vice President after moving back to Texas from Jerusalem.
MJBI grows from one school location in Zimbabwe to ten.
MJBI formally announces the transition of leadership from Dr. Wayne Wilks to Nic Lesmeister in November, as we celebrate 20 years of ministry. Wayne becomes President Emeritus and Nic assumes the title of President & CEO by the laying on of hands from MJBI’s Board of Directors at the fall MJBI banquet in DFW.
The Kadima 3-year college-level program is launched in Zimbabwe. For the first time in history, Bachelor’s and Master’s level Messianic education becomes available on the African continent.
Dr. Wayne Wilks and Nic Lesmeister oversee the graduation of 97 Lemba students from the 10 new schools in Zimbabwe. Another 5 Lemba locations are started.
MJBI rebrands and launches a new, enriched website for both MJBI and the SMT.
SMT begins translation into its fifth language, Spanish.
In the spring of 2018, we translated MJBI.org fully into Spanish. We began publishing monthly and quarterly resources into Spanish as well, beginning to reach into the massive Anusim Jewish community of nearly 100 million people in Latin America.
In fall of 2018, we launched our new European MJBI school in Warsaw, Poland. This is the first ever accredited seminary degree in Messianic studies in European history. Through our great partnership with Christian Fellowship North, The College of Theology in Warsaw and Gateway Church, there is finally an accredited seminary degree available to leaders called to Jewish ministry in Europe.
On January 1, 2020 MJBI was fully adopted into Gateway Church to combine with Gateway’s Global Jewish Ministry in order to create the new Gateway Center for Israel.