It was a dark day, the day David Eilenberg* faced the statue of Christ just outside the Catholic church and bellowed, “Where are you, Jesus?”
That day, in the depths of the Holocaust, the Polish Jew hung up belief. Millions of Eilenberg’s fellow Jews died and were put in the ground before World War II ended.
Then six decades later, in the midst of their graves, he met Dirk Stockton* cleaning up the cemetery, and something big changed.
“I have watched you and what you Baptists are doing in our cemetery,” Eilenberg told Stockton, reaching out to touch his chest. “I don’t believe in God, but I see God in you.”
It’s exactly what Stockton had hoped for — that wrong relationships might be put right through the love of Jesus Christ.
For a long time, Stockton had been wondering how Baptists could speak into the injustice done to Jews during the Holocaust, when six million Jews were systematically killed in camps in Poland alone.
“When I approached the Jewish community about bringing Baptist volunteers to clean and restore this Jewish cemetery, I was asked, ‘Why do you wish to do this?’” Stockton said. “I simply said, ‘Reconciliation.’”
That one word began an eight-year journey of renewing Jewish cemeteries and relationships. Matthew Jackson*, who also serves among Jews in Poland, said Stockton and others have done “an incredible amount of work in Jewish cemeteries in and around the city of Warsaw.”
Stockton said he believes it’s making a difference.
“I have heard this question many times, ‘Why would you, a Christian, do this for us, a Jew?’” Stockton said. “This question presents an opportunity to say simply, ‘Love. I love God, and I love my neighbor. I love the Jewish people and I honor them as the root of everything that I know about God, as you have given us the Scriptures.’”
His Jewish friends, he said, find it hard to believe.
“Some Jews have responded to me by saying, ‘If what you are doing, I told to people in Jerusalem, they would not believe,’” he said.
They find it even harder to believe that people would come all the way from the United States to help.
“We just want to show love — to see the Jews and the Christians reconciled,” said John Simmons*, who comes with a team annually from the States to help Stockton clean the cemeteries.
They try to show Christ’s love in a practical way, and they focus on the things they have common, Simmons said.
One commonality, Stockton said, is a command to “love your neighbor.”
“We are seeking to open a dialogue with both Jews and Gentiles about the true nature of God’s love,” Stockton said. “Love is not an abstract thought or a fleeting emotion. It is action. Jesus said, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’”
It’s proven to be a striking picture for Polish Jews, he said.
“One survivor of the Holocaust told me, ‘What you are doing on earth, the angels are proclaiming and rejoicing about in Heaven,’” Stockton said.
For a video that digs deeper into breaking down walls and building relationships with Jews, visit https://vimeo.com/45358520.
*Names have been changed.
Ava Thomas is a writer/editor for the International Mission Board based in Europe.