Boys at Lachish Stream Park in Ashdod
Boys at Lachish Stream Park in Ashdod Hadas Parush/Flash90

A missionary group operating in the coastal city of Ashdod has been reaching out to local children, a missionary watchdog group warned Wednesday, distributing gift boxes in public parks.

According to a report by the Yad L’Achim group, which monitors missionary activity in Israel, Dutch Christian missionaries from the ‘Beit Hillel’ center were spotted handing out gift boxes to local children in Ashdod parks.

The Beit Hillel center drew protests when it opened a new facility last year. Yad L’Achim says the missionaries have targeted Ashdod for its large immigrant population, using the name “Beit Hillel” to pose as a Jewish organization.

While Yad L’Achim said the gift boxes handed out recently do not contain missionary material, “the writing is on the wall.”

"From our past experience with the modus operandi of the missionaries, we know that they start off by acquiring the trust of the children, and of the parents, and only then start inserting missionary material," said one Yad L'Achim official. "The children often swallow the bait and agree to come and participate in children's activities at the Christian-missionary church."

Yad L'Achim notes that in the past year alone there were several incidents of children and young teens being taken in by deceptive missionary practices, including some who were even baptized.

In all the cases, family members turned to Yad L'Achim for help; after meeting at length with the counter-missionary organization's experts, the youngsters understood their mistake and left Beit Hillel.

Yad L'Achim officials stress that in light of the fact that a large container of presents has been delivered to the Ashdod missionary church, they anticipate that the missionaries will increase their efforts to use the distribution of gifts as a way to entice children, in Ashdod and around the country, in the month and a half that remains until the start of the new school year.