Upon first impression, the Waller family seems to be your average pro-Israel Christian family. However, once you dig deeper, you realize they are anything but.
Tommy and Sherri, along with their seven sons, four daughters and more spouses and grandchildren than you can count on both hands, have devoted their lives to a divine cause by getting down and dirty – literally. The Waller family has made it their mission to work the soil of the Holy Land of Israel in order to hasten the ultimate redemption.
Tommy, the family’s patriarch, first came to Israel 11 years ago. Right away, he knew that there was something special happening here. “[Israel] changed my life,” he explained in an interview with Breaking Israel News. “It brought to reality the existence of God. Where else can you touch God, except here? Everything here has the name of God written on it. This is where the patriarchs walked.”
It was this physical connection to the land that started Tommy’s own spiritual journey, working towards bringing the geula, redemption, through practical means that involves a lot of sweat and hard work. When Tommy first came to Israel, he met a Jewish farmer, Nir Lavi, in Har Bracha, a village in Samaria. “He read me the verse, ‘You shall yet plant vineyards in the mountains of Samaria’,” Tommy said, referring to Jeremiah 31:5. “I’m a Southern Baptist and I had been a farmer, but I had never physically touched God. And here I was, doing exactly what the verse said. When he read me the words, while we were touching the very vines that Jeremiah had talked about, I was done. I asked him what I could do. And he said, ‘Well, we need help planting.’”
Working to make the words of Jeremiah a reality, the Wallers founded HaYovel, an organization whose goal is “to strengthen and undergird the often overlooked small independent farmer in Israel through creative networking, education, tourism, and activism.” The Wallers believe that Israel needs to be experienced in order to be understood, and to that end, they have brought over 1,700 Christian volunteers to Israel to work the land by pruning vineyards, harvesting olives and farming the land of the Bible.
“Once you get your hands in the dirt, there’s a spiritual change that’s very strong,” Tommy explained.
However, fulfilling the words of Jeremiah was just the stepping stone to what became a larger mission. “We missed something important. It was the Jewish people returning and their desire to bring about the redemptive process here at the center of that plan that brought me to this,” Tommy told Breaking Israel News.
Reflecting on the miraculous history and survival of the Jewish nation, Tommy explained how his attitudes towards the redemptive process changed.
“For 2,000 years, the Jewish people didn’t look ‘chosen’. They were treated badly, they didn’t run the countries they lived in. There was no Jewish nation, and it didn’t even look like there would be an Israel. It looked like God had gotten really ticked off at the Jews, and they had dropped the ball,” he said. “So we thought we were supposed to take over the work of being a light to the nations. But then in 1948 and 1967, the reality of that all changed. We had to recalibrate. We had to put the Jewish people and Jerusalem back into our understanding of the redemptive plan.”
According to Tommy, many Christians make the mistake of thinking that Israel is just for the Jews, but the picture is much bigger. “Jerusalem is what it’s about. It’s the epicenter. It’s what the prophets talked about so it can’t be just for the Jews. We need it too,” he explained. “We missed this point for 2,000 years. We didn’t understand Israel, Jerusalem, or the Jewish people. We have to find out what our place is. We aren’t going to be the priests or the Levites, but we have to have a place. We are going to be participating in the ‘house of prayer for all nations’. It’s the thing that is going to bring peace to the world, and we want to be a part of that.”
“This is where God is. God has a plan…This is a redemptive path that the Jews have been placed on and we need to accept that and find our place on the redemptive path.”
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Touching upon the fractured history between Jews and Christians, Tommy expressed his belief that a new generation of Christians with new understandings of the teachings of the Bible are stepping in to rectify past wrongs and work towards a better future alongside the Jewish nation. “It is very difficult for Jews to understand that Christianity can have a positive place in this process [after all that has happened in history], and I understand that,” he said.
HaYovel is doing all it can to rectify that by educating Christians on their role in Jewish history, taking all their visitors to Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s Holocaust museum. “Unfortunately, most Christians don’t know the story and that [it] was done by a Christian nation. I have to take responsibility for that,” Tommy said. “Every Christian who comes to Israel has to do that to be part of that, to take responsibility for the sins of our fathers.”
It isn’t easy, he said, to explain his mission to his co-religionists in the US. “None of this makes sense in America,” he told Breaking Israel News. “A lot of our Jewish friends have had relatives killed here in Israel, and yet they stay. To believe in something so strongly, that faith is something you don’t see in America. To believe in something so strongly that it’s worth laying down your life for. Unfortunately there are Christians that come here and don’t get that.”
No stranger to criticism for his work, Tommy made clear that his organization works to help others become closer to God and nothing more. “We don’t want the land,” he added. “We want to take part in connecting to God, and you need to relate to the land to get that.”