Remembering Pastor Chuck in Israel

Remembering Pastor Chuck in Israel

Amir Tsarfati – Part 1: Remembering Pastor Chuck in Israel

By Christmas Beeler
Photos courtesy of Behold Israel

There are some people that you can’t forget; people who make an impact on you for life. Pastor Chuck was one such person for Amir Tsarfati, a born-again Jew, Bible prophecy teacher, and founder of Behold Israel ministries.

In addition to speaking and writing, Amir has led thousands of people on in-depth tours through the Holy Land. He worked with several celebrities and well-known pastors and leaders over the years, but one man stands out to him for his intelligence and humility: the late Pastor Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa.

“Pastor Chuck was very gracious and loving. Very generous. I honestly miss him a lot,” recalled Amir recently, after visiting several Calvary Chapels this summer to speak about prophecy and the nation of Israel.

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Love for People

The dusty roads of the Holy Land are where Amir first met Chuck more than two decades ago, with a tour group so large it took several buses to transport all who had come with the well-known pastor and founder of the Calvary Chapel movement. “My first impression of Pastor Chuck was that he was a humble man; he didn’t act like a celebrity or a rock star,” Amir recalled. “He treated everyone equally.”

He explained, “Chuck didn’t have his own bus with his own select group of people. He would wait until everyone was loaded into their buses, and then he would choose which to ride in. He took turns so that everyone in the group could visit with him. Until that time, I had never seen someone do that. I could see that he was different.”

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

Pastor Chuck and Amir

Amir Tsarfati with Calvary Chapel founder Chuck Smith as he guides a tour of Israel. Over the years, Amir has been a tour guide for thousands in the Holy Land. His interactions with Pastor Chuck eventually led him to become a Bible prophecy teacher.

Wise, Yet Humble

Another thing that stood out in Amir’s memory is Pastor Chuck’s vast learning. “He was very knowledgeable about things that are not strictly Bible-related. He knew about animals and flowers. I was very impressed with his knowledge. He also taught me some names of our [Israeli] flowers in English that I did not know.”

Amir received Christ after watching The Jesus Film by Campus Crusade for Christ in his own language in 1990; ostracized from his foster family, he joined the Israeli Defense Army. As a believer, he enjoyed spending time with the seasoned pastor and Bible teacher. “We had a lot of wonderful discussions about the Bible,” he recalled. “Another thing that amazed me is his humility and humble approach. I remember one day we discussed a verse in Psalm 72.” His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun (Psalm 72: 17a). “I told him that in the original Hebrew, the meaning is different—the word means ‘before the sun,’ not ‘as long as the sun’—proving that Jesus was there before the sun.” At first Chuck tried to correct Amir with the English translation. But then the pastor returned to California and apparently took some time studying it.

Man talking to group

Amir recalled that when Pastor Chuck brought tour groups to Israel, the pastor enjoyed interacting with all of the people who came on the trip. Chuck would take turns spending time on each of the multiple buses so that everyone could visit with him. “My first impression of Pastor Chuck was that he was a humble man; he didn’t act like a celebrity or a rock star,” Amir noted.

To the young tour guide’s surprise, this respected Bible teacher sent him an email saying that Amir had been right. “He emailed me personally, saying, ‘How foolish of me to try to correct you in your native language.’ Here I was, a 20-something-year-old guy, and a famous pastor like Chuck Smith is taking what I said seriously, considering that I know the language, and emailing me a personal note. I don’t know a lot of pastors like that, honestly. That was another way for me to understand what a great, humble believer he was. How wise, to learn from anyone he can.”

Amir added, “I learned 99% of what I know about the Bible from him, and here was one thing I was able to contribute to him. It was an honor.” Later Amir came to the United States to study at the CC Costa Mesa School of Ministry.

Even though Pastor Chuck was in high demand as the founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, Amir recalled, “I always got an email directly from him, not from an assistant pastor. The personal touch of that man is something I wish I had. Leading a ministry today, I know that I cannot respond to each email personally; we get hundreds of emails every day. To know I had received an email from Chuck Smith was a gift.”

Another attribute of Chuck’s humility was always giving glory to God. “He would always remind me how it all started with Calvary Chapel. I came to Costa Mesa when there were 12,000 people attending; the ministry was at its peak. He would stand in front of that gigantic ministry, and he would remind us, ‘If God is in it, then no one can stop it.’ You could see that he gave God the glory, and that his values were conservative and biblical, what some would call old- fashioned today.”

Man holding up hand

Amir points out a site in Israel to a group of tourists. He shared that he was strongly impacted by the humbleness of Pastor Chuck, recalling a time years ago when the influential pastor accepted correction from him over the translation of a biblical phrase.

Centered on Christ

Amir recalled of Chuck, “Everything about him was just Jesus.”

Attending the School of Ministry (SOM) at CC Costa Mesa from 1999 to 2000, Amir related that Chuck came to teach the students every Friday. “These were the years I was blessed to enjoy him as a teacher in his prime. I think God gifted me with that, being able to learn from him personally with a small group of people learning ministry. That was the best, my golden years with Calvary Chapel.”

The SOM students observed their teachers closely, especially Pastor Chuck. “It wasn’t only his teaching but how he conducted himself. I drank in every word he taught, but his conduct spoke much louder to me. There are many good Bible teachers, but do they really live that way? You could not find a contradiction in him. He was what I wanted to be—not necessarily a leader of a large ministry, but a person who truly lived his faith.”

Chuck’s vast knowledge did not overtake his passion for Jesus. “His knowledge was amazing,” Amir said, “but you could see how Jesus was the center of his life. How ministry was simply who he is, not just his work, but who he is.”

While he walked in integrity, he also walked in grace. “On the other hand, where a lot of people are unforgiving, he would always be forgiving. That was the Jesus-like character that he had that was very profound.”

Man talking to group

Amir leads one of his in-depth tours of Israel. He is a born-again Jew who now leads Behold Israel, a teaching ministry. From 1999 to 2000, he attended the School of Ministry at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, CA. Today, he is well-known for his teachings on Bible prophecy. “I learned 99% of what I know about the Bible from Pastor Chuck,” Amir testified.

The Mind of Christ: Servant of All

Christ was an example to all believers in humble service to God, as the apostle Paul wrote: Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant. … He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Philippians 2:5-8

In a sermon on the above passage, Pastor Chuck said:

“Jesus emptied Himself and came in the form of a servant. … And so, from glory and equality with God to that cruel Roman cross, hanging there with the jeers and the anger of the crowd, despised and rejected by man. What a tremendous downward [journey], I mean from the highest height, down to death on a cross, surrounded by murderers. That tremendous plunge Jesus was willing to take for you. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.”

Stay tuned for the next article in this series with Amir Tsarfati about how Israel fits into the End-Times events of Scripture.


All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

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