Friday, May 11, 2012

The Hunt is On! Seeking Those who are Astray

Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.  Gal 6:1-2

The Wall Street Journal called it a case of “Bambi meets James Bond.”

It's a true story of espionage, high-level undercover operations, disguises, and escapes.  The facts revolve around the most exciting, dangerous, and unusual deer hunt in history.  The Israeli government was determined to do whatever was necessary to sneak four fallow deer out of Iran and bring them to Israel in 1978.  The “deerlift” required drives through the desert, secret hunting trips, and accommodating anti-Israeli Germans.

In the 1970s Israel had created a program to bring back to their land biblical species thought to be extinct. One of these was the fallow deer.  Lev 11:3 and Deut 14:5-6 list the deer as one of the hoofed animals the Hebrews were allowed to eat. 1 Kings 4:22-23 says that King Solomon’s daily provisions for food included the deer, brought by his subjects.

The fallow deer stands about 3 feet tall at the shoulder, with a tawny coat, white spots and flattened antlers like those of a small moose. It had been hunted to extinction in the early 1900s, or so people thought.  There were apparently none left.  Then in the late 1950s a small herd was discovered in Iran, just before the Shah’s government was exiled. 

A year-long series of painstaking negotiations between Israeli leaders and the Shah’s family in Iran procured four of the precious deer. Then the Iranian revolution broke out, the Shah and his family fled, and Ayatollah Khomeini’s government, hostile to Israel, took control.

That’s when General Avraham Yoffe ordered the “cloak and dagger” mission to capture the animals. Yoffe, a zealous, tough, and effective military leader previously, was appointed head of the newly created Israeli Nature and Parks Authority.  He applied his war-time determination to win this battle as well.  The 1978 Iranian "deerlift" is his most daring feat and his biggest success.

On Nov. 28, 1978, as Iran was hurtling toward Islamic revolution, Dutch zoologist Mike Van Grevenbroek landed at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport, coming from Tel Aviv, Israel.  He carried a blow-dart gun disguised as a cane and secret orders from the general. His mission: to capture four Persian fallow deer and deliver them to Israel before the Shah's government collapsed.

Yoffe also employed Itzik Segev, Israel's last military attaché to Iran.  He told him, “Segev, you will get me those deer.”  Fearing the angry mobs chanting "Death to America," Segev ditched the Chevrolet Impala favored by VIPs for a low-profile Iranian-made Paykan coupe. He says he exchanged his starched military uniform for civilian rags as he moved stealthily about the city. "There was shooting all over the streets, and here I am, an Israeli general, going to the zoo," says Mr. Segev.

At dawn on Dec. 8, after a harrowing experience that included tracking the deer for five days and moving their crates through the streets while the revolution ensued, the deer's crates were nailed shut, loaded onto trucks and taken to the airport. They were loaded onto the last El Al flight out of Tehran, packed between mountains of carpets and valuables that fleeing Iranian Jews and Israelis were taking with them.

The Wall Street Journal reported that General Yoffe was waiting at the Tel Aviv airport with tears in his eyes as the four fallow deer were unloaded.  Today, there more 500 fallow deer living wild in Israel—a restored piece of the Holy Land’s past. 

According to Jesus, the most important deer - make that sheep - is the one in the foreign country who needs to be brought back home (Matt 18:12-14).  What joy it gives the Father when we plan and implement a strategy to bring back home those who have drifted away.

If you consider yourself a spiritual person, restoring inactive Christians is not just your privilege.  It is your responsibility.  Do not wait for someone else, even church leaders, to take the initiative.  If you are a Christian, this is your job.  Do not neglect it!  Look around you in the worship assembly.  Play "Monday morning quarterback" with your church directory.  

Here are four practical steps you can take:
1. Identify those who were once active and strong, who may need to be reclaimed.
2. Invest your time by praying, visiting, listening, and caring.
3. Involve each one in low-key, encouraging activities with other strong Christians who will provide a positive influence.
4. Invite each one to worship and Bible study, followed by a meal.

The hunt is on!  Operation Deerlift depends on you and me.

Cory Collins

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