How it all started
The acronym for Behold Your God—the Jews for Jesus five-year plan to reach every city (outside of Israel) with a population of 25,000 or more Jewish people—was no coincidence. But acronyms aside, what we really dreamed was that through this BYG outreach, people all over the world would, indeed, see the Savior.
The idea for Operation Behold Your God originated as one of many that surfaced in a two-day brainstorming session. The brains that were “storming” were those of the Jews for Jesus leadership who met in the upper room of our “Shalom Hospitality House” in San Francisco.
The baton had been passed from Moishe Rosen to me, and I began my tenure by asking the senior staff to agree on how to articulate two things: a mission statement for Jews for Jesus and a set of our core values. It was important for us to affirm that “new management” was not going to change our purpose and values. The mission statement and core values reminded us tangibly of who we were and served as a platform for dreaming about what we would do in the future. And the brainstorming session was just that, a time for dreaming. We imagined ways that we might make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue for Jewish people worldwide.
We used 3x5 cards to jot down sky’s-the-limit ideas of how to approach our mission for the next five years. We pinned up more than 100 such ideas onto large bulletin boards. With prayerful consideration, each leader chose seven ideas and applied small reddot stickers to the cards that expressed those. This “dotting down” process helped us narrow down the ideas to 15 or so displaying the greatest number of dots or votes.
The leadership was energized, encouraged and overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to implement even our narrowed-down list of ideas. We all agreed to introduce the ideas to our various branch locations and spend time in prayer with our fellow missionaries. We were asking God to show us a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal—a term from the book Built to Last by Jim Collins and Jerry I. Porras) that He would enable us to reach. The New York branch was most enthusiastic about a plan they called 25 by 5. The idea was to have, within a fiveyear period, an evangelism campaign in every city with a Jewish population of 25,000 or more. At the time, we did not even know how many cities that would encompass.
Avi Snyder, who had a key role in articulating our mission statement, privately told me that we should call our BHAG “Operation Behold Your God,” based on Isaiah 40:9: “O Zion, you who bring good tidings, get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, you who bring good tidings, lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”
The leadership really came together around the idea of campaigning in cities of 25,000 or more Jewish people and, after much prayer, we committed ourselves to Operation Behold Your God. It seemed like it would require us to reach many of the other goals we had talked about, such as developing new evangelism methods and materials, growing our number of missionaries, and raising up new leadership. All of these and more would be necessary in order to implement Behold Your God.
At first, we listed 64 cities for the BYG campaigns, but on further investigation into the population levels, we concluded that 55 cities outside of Israel had Jewish populations of 25,000 or more. For a five-year program, we had to conduct at least 11 campaigns a year, but we actually started fairly slowly and ramped up to a pace that enabled us to complete all 55 in approximately five and a half years.
How to go about it
From the start, it became obvious that I could not effectively oversee the entire Behold Your God program on my own. Initially, we created commissions on literature, recruitment, finance, follow-up, etc., to deal with overseeing various aspects of the campaign. While these commissions were helpful, they proved to be impractical for providing the direct oversight that each campaign leader needed. So we created a structure to oversee BYG proceedings and called it the Strategic Coordinations Council (SCC). The SCC was comprised of a cross section of leaders of different ages, experience and areas of expertise. I asked Avi Snyder to head the council.
Each member of the SCC also served on one of the commissions. In addition, each member served as a liaison to one or more Behold Your God campaigns in any given year. This helped to motivate the campaign leaders as well as to provide the resources necessary to fulfill the assignment.
The SCC became the advisory board and cheerleader for those campaign leaders. The team would meet by teleconference every week for an hour of discussion and prayer. The SCC also led a three-hour session of reporting and discussion in each council (leadership) meeting, where many senior staff from around the world gathered three times a year. Those sessions helped us see our progress, learn from our mistakes and brainstorm for future campaigns. Two of the SCC members, Jonathan Bernd and Andrew Barron, put together a preparation manual that helped campaign leaders to lay the groundwork by meeting various goals at particular junctures, beginning at 18 months, 12 months, 6 months, and 3 months prior to campaigns.
How it almost came to a halt
We launched our first BYG campaign in March of 2001. That same year a series of financial downturns in the U.S. hit hard. The “dotcom bust” and the terror attacks of September 11 impacted the economy, and many ministries found themselves in financial difficulty and facing drastic cuts. Meanwhile, Jews for Jesus had begun to launch the largest evangelistic outreach of our ministry’s history, and connected with that we had a nationwide media campaign. We were also going through a computer conversion at our San Francisco headquarters, which caused more upheaval than we’d anticipated.
When the reality of all these problems hit home, we had to make some sacrifices. We had to let some of our administrative staff go (as did many ministries at that time) which was painful. And still, more adjustments were necessary. Senior staff met with the board to discuss whether we would postpone BYG or go forward—and the only way we could go forward was by cutting salaries. It was a time of testing as to whether or not God had really called us to do this. I am proud to say that our senior staff all agreed to take a 20 percent cut in pay. Those with somewhat less seniority took a ten percent cut, while missionaries who hadn’t reached seniority took no cut. With those senior level cuts, we were able to move ahead. Those cuts lasted for six months and then we were able to restore the normal salaries.
Something old, something new
Since Jews for Jesus conducted our first New York City witnessing campaign in 1974, we have utilized tried-and-true methods of street evangelism.
Sometimes, simply seeing our Jews for Jesus T-shirts is enough to prompt a person to engage us in conversation. Over the years, we’ve settled on a system of three T-shirts per campaign, with teams wearing the same color/design on a given day. This makes us easily identifiable (and switching T-shirts daily is a must for laundering when you are in sweltering subway stations). But it helps to be able to offer people something interesting to read.
Broadside tracts are one of the hallmarks of Jews for Jesus. We create each one to be an invitation to interact with the gospel. These tri-fold pamphlets deal with contemporary themes in a humorous and thoughtprovoking way. Each one contains scripture verses, and is designed to be read within a minute or two. Jews for Jesus has distributed millions of these broadsides during our campaigns and we’ve found them effective for engaging people on the streets.
Along with handing out literature, our campaigners utilize a tool we call a “proposal statement.” The statement is really a series of questions and affirmations about Jesus, and, for those who are willing, it leads to a prayer of repentance and surrender to Jesus.
Other methods we’ve employed to reach people include phoning homes, utilizing secular media for gospel advertisements, outdoor concerts—sometimes we even conduct our own parades.
As BYG progressed, in many cities we found it necessary to use a multipronged strategy involving all of these modes of outreach. And we added methods we hadn’t used in prior campaigns, including door-to-door evangelism, special events like evangelistic film showings (we used our own “Survivor Stories” and “Forbidden Peace”), public debates between an anti-missionary rabbi and a Jewish Christian scholar, and direct mailings to homes of Jewish people in the areas of the campaigns. We have even placed kiosks in shopping malls.
Our philosophy regarding methods is never to discard something that works just because it is not new, while at the same time never giving up looking for fresh ways to tell the gospel.
Who’s in charge around here?
Before we launched BYG, relatively few of our missionaries had led evangelistic campaigns. Throughout the ministry’s history, that position was reserved for the more senior leaders. As we faced the challenge of completing 12 to 15 campaigns per year, that had to change. BYG not only provided opportunities for younger leaders, it made it necessary for them to lead—which was part of the reason we felt this project was right for us. I knew that I ought to lead the first BYG campaign beginning in San Francisco (where our founder, Moishe Rosen, handed out the first broadside of the campaign). I knew we were going to end with NYC and that I should lead that campaign as well. Other than that, leadership was “up for grabs.” And quite a few newer leaders rose to the occasion.
Sometimes I would ask someone to consider leading a campaign, but a number of our newer leaders stepped up on his or her own. Each person who requested an opportunity to lead was duly considered. Sometimes a person’s background in a given area (culture, language, etc.) made him or her the obvious choice. Sometimes leadership was a combination of a seasoned “veteran” and a younger leader. One of the most encouraging aspects of BYG has been seeing the next generation of Jews for Jesus leaders develop. I don’t mean just the campaign leaders, but within each campaign, particularly on the NY grand finale, the team leaders tended to be younger people with more senior missionaries on their team to uphold and cheer them on.
It wasn’t all that we hoped . . .
Recruitment was definitely our biggest BYG disappointment. We had anticipated that the BYG campaigns would produce a whole new crop of potential young missionaries and that did not happen. Before this time, we had annual summer witnessing campaigns that fit with the college break system, as well as other special outreaches during spring or winter breaks. With several campaigns each year, we could not schedule them all to occur during college breaks.
So we expanded the parameters of who could serve on campaigns both in terms of the age range and in terms of allowing non-Jewish campaigners. Even so, those participants who fell within these newly-expanded parameters were only to comprise a certain percentage of our campaigners in each city. And we postponed more than one campaign that we’d announced because we hadn’t recruited sufficiently to meet our standards.
Frankly, even during the summers, we found it difficult to recruit enough young people, particularly when we had more than one campaign per summer. I suspect that some of our campaign locations were also not a draw for younger people. Whereas we had mature and godly campaigners who gave their all, many did not have the physical energy needed for this kind of saturation effort.
I don’t think the problem is peculiar to Jews for Jesus; it’s a challenge that I think has existed since Jesus walked the earth and told His disciples to pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers because the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. The fact that we had such a difficult time recruiting young Jewish believers for the campaigns—and the fact that very few of those who actually came to Christ through our outreach could be considered eligible for serving with Jews for Jesus—has to be one of the biggest failures of the campaign.
Every knock is a boost
God’s winning ways typically employ the small and weak to overcome “the powers that be” and thus show Himself as the real Power-To-Be-Reckoned- With. Regardless of how our opposition may perceive us, we know ourselves to be small and weak and therefore prime candidates for God to use. And when God does this type of “against the odds” battle, He’s got an age-old technique that we never grow tired or bored with seeing. It was best articulated by Joseph, when comforting his brothers in Genesis: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
Even so, what our opposition has meant to hinder us has spread the gospel seed further than we could have on our own, and we trust that God will bring it to fruition.
Take the media for example. Numerous campaigns were preceded by newspaper articles warning the Jewish community of our coming. We sometimes heard people parroting the suggested anti-missionary line, “No thank you: I’m happy with my Judaism,” but more often the warnings seemed to create a buzz and curiosity. People are not accustomed to being told who they may and may not talk to and so these warnings probably only worked on those who would not have been inclined to speak to us anyway.
Pretty much any article that was written against us ended up creating a platform for even further broadcast of the good news. The media attention that came as a result of dire predictions that Jewish community leaders made about us often far exceeded whatever we might have been able to produce on our own. Media always generates more media, and that is exactly what happened.
I don’t believe that we’ve ever had as many news stories, in terms of secular newspapers, television, radio and internet, written about our mission and our message. What always delighted me was how these secular news organizations understood and accurately reported what Behold Your God was all about. Sometimes I felt like these news reporters articulated our goals more succinctly than some of our own staff.
Every report on Fox News or MSNBC or Canadian news or in the New York Times explaining Behold Your God put a smile on my face. I believe it was a continuing reaffirmation of how God led us to this Big Hairy Audacious Goal. And the campaigns with the most media coverage (probably Toronto, Washington, D.C. and the greater New York area) invariably began with complaints from our opposition.
Then there was the lawyer’s letter we received from the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which generally speaking, has not been at all hostile towards us. They accepted our ads in the subway cars and in the tunnels. When pressured to take them down, they explained that the ads did not violate their policies and were in accordance with First Amendment rights. However, they took exception to a logo we had on one of our T-shirts that utilized three colored circles with letters inside. While we did not believe they would have won a case against us, we had no problem complying with their demand to stop using the logo. We simply turned the circles into Jewish stars, which satisfied the MTA . . . and this turned into another media event covered by various newspapers, local TV news programs and who knows how many blogs.
We are accustomed to opposition from various sources. But the really painful and unexpected opposition comes occasionally from brothers and sisters. Yet God has used even those instances for good.
In one city, a member of our anchor church convinced the pastor that it would not be best for the church to host us. We had very short notice to find a new anchor church, but God had a plan. The pastor of the church that came to our rescue had just been praying about how to be a testimony to the Jewish community in his neighborhood . . . the day before the campaign leader called asking if he would consider partnering with us. That church was an excellent base of operations for our Denver campaign.
In Lyon, France we faced opposition from another Jewish mission, the head of which discouraged local Christian pastors from participating with us. This brother pastored a church in that city, while we were virtually unknown. Many churches heeded him and refused to have anything to do with us. In fact, the only churches that wanted to partner with us were outside of the center of the city, far from where we needed to be located.
In the end, one of the churches put us in touch with a Christian ministry to Muslims, which had a more centrally located facility. That ministry graciously offered us the use of their building as a day base on the condition that we cover up our Jews for Jesus T-shirts prior to coming in or out of the building. They didn’t feel it would help their ministry in the Muslim community to have people with Jews for Jesus emblazoned on their shirts identified with the center. Nevertheless, we enjoyed good fellowship and worked out of that facility for the entire campaign. As it happened, fully one third of all the unbelieving contacts that we received in Lyon were Muslims. We gave those contacts directly to this ministry, which benefited their work in the Muslim community and enabled us to bless them as they had blessed us.
Experience is still the best teacher
We had quite a learning curve during these five and a half years—and of course we wish we could have known everything we know now from the very beginning. But problems and mistakes can be good instructors.
In hindsight, I could have done a better job of scheduling these campaigns further in advance and selecting leaders sooner. I tried to give ample preparation time, but did not always do so.
Most of what we did, from the SCC to the various campaign commissions, developed along the way out of necessity. We did not create a leadership training program until we were halfway through the five-and-ahalf year program, and then it was because others stepped up to meet that need.
Another lesson: I didn’t insist on unified reporting from the outset. As we began to collect reports on the campaigns, the inconsistencies in reporting made it difficult to evaluate the earlier campaigns.
We came up with a program called the Olive Tree, which was designed to involve churches in the planning process for each campaign. We developed an elaborate system that asked a great deal from partnering churches and their members. We hoped that the churches would support our campaigns, not just financially, but also by having members of the congregation spend time in prayer and then attempt to set up opportunities for us to meet with and share the gospel with their Jewish friends. It would have been a great idea if it worked—but with a few exceptions, most were not able to arrange those kinds of visits. That is not to say that we did not have churches involved in most of the campaigns. In fact, if it weren’t for local churches most of these campaigns would not have happened.
To all the churches that made the campaigns possible!
Most of the campaigns had what we called an “anchor church” that allowed us to use their facilities for our base of operations. We were continually amazed by the generosity of these churches. They not only provided facilities for us, they allowed us to use their telephones for evangelistic calling, their kitchens to prepare our meals, and often their pastors encouraged and ministered to the troops at our chapel services. Large and small alike, these churches were the backbone of many of our campaigns and we are grateful. Some of them withstood pressure from surrounding Jewish communities who felt that their friendship toward us spelled antagonism to the neighborhood. At times I was privileged to see the loving, gracious and godly responses that pastors of these churches wrote to local rabbis or other representatives who had complained. Their witness and willingness to stand with us showed their amazing commitment to the gospel and to the message of Romans 1:16. It would be difficult for me to list all of these churches without leaving someone out and I’m not even sure they would wish to be publicly acknowledged. Still, I hope that folks from those anchor churches will see this, pass it on to your pastors, and know how very much we appreciate you.
Some of the best results aren’t planned
One of the biggest surprises in the BYG campaign was how it impacted our Co-Laborer in Messiah (CLIM) program. The Co-Laborer program is for volunteers who take a training course and receive a charter to represent our ministry in their own city or town. We have some 90 or more Co-Laborer chapters. Most of the Co-Laborers’ involvement has been limited to about ten hours a month, divided between seeing that our materials are available in local bookstores, representing us at church conferences, or hosting traveling groups like the Liberated Wailing Wall or individual missionaries on speaking tours.
BYG provided opportunities and inspiration for many of our Co-Laborers to “kick it up a notch” in terms of their evangelistic participation. In fact, the Co-Laborers were key players in many BYG campaigns, particularly around the U.S. They served as stewards, campaigners, and in some cases, they stepped up to leadership levels in planning and in preparing for the campaigns. Many of our CLIMs are remarkably gifted in evangelism and have a passion for Jewish evangelism.
Another blessing we hadn’t fully anticipated was how BYG served as a catalyst for cooperation between other Jewish ministries and Messianic congregations. In some instances we had as many as seven different mission agencies and congregations shoulder-toshoulder with us in various BYG campaigns. This kind of inter-agency cooperation reflects a wonderful trend in ministry that I hope will continue.
The vision for the New York finale evolved over time. I didn’t plan to have all of the staff together at the outset, but as BYG progressed, it became evident that this would not be just another typical campaign.
New York is “the mother of all cities,” and certainly of all Jewish cities. Only recently has any city in the world rivaled the NY metropolitan area for Jewish population, and that city, Tel Aviv, is in Israel.
Prior to 2006, we had 32 years of experience with campaigns in midtown Manhattan. As we began thinking of BYG New York and how it would differ from our annual summer witnessing campaigns, we realized that we needed to go beyond Manhattan. According to the 25,000-person guideline for Jewish populations, many communities in the greater NY area qualified for their own BYG. We wanted to focus on those specific geographic areas as though each was a separate campaign in and of itself. There were also unique challenges for ministry to the Russian-speaking, Hebrew-speaking, and Yiddishspeaking communities. Ultimately, we came down to having these nine separate campaigns: Manhattan, Brooklyn/Staten Island, Bronx/Westchester, Long Island, Queens, New Jersey, Israeli, Russian-speaking and Hassidic (ultra- Orthodox, or as they prefer to be called, fervently Orthodox).
About 18 months prior to Behold Your God New York, we decided to send all the leaders on a special two-week probe campaign. Everyone came a year in advance to explore the areas where we hadn’t conducted regular campaigns. We gathered together several times over those two weeks to learn from one another and to lay the groundwork for the grand finale.
During that probe campaign, I realized that some of our best broadsides had been written in the ’70s. While some of those broadsides are timeless, others were obviously outdated. I challenged our staff to produce 25 new broadsides in time for the BYG campaign. Our literature commission created many of the new broadsides, but a large percentage of our staff also kicked in their ideas and talents. Together we penned not 25 but 30 new broadsides, and were very pleased with the quality of the literature.
Another strategy determined over 18 months prior to the grand finale was a “pre-campaign” outreach into the Hassidic communities. Jay and Lauren Bockisch had secured the rights to develop and produce a Yiddish version of a well-known film about Jesus. However, they did not have the funding to duplicate or distribute the film, and when they approached us, we agreed to partner with them to do just that via DVD.
During the previously mentioned probe campaign, we had secured the addresses of approximately 80,000 fervently Orthodox homes. We mailed the DVD to these homes in advance of the campaign so that the responses to that mailing would be available to our missionaries during the campaign. As a bonus, this began to ramp up the media interest before the official campaign even began.
We also settled on the slogan “ Jesus for Jews” for a special media campaign to reach all nine groups. We produced an inexpensive, easy-to-distribute book by that title, with four testimonies from our staff. We created a direct mail piece offering the book (see left) to 440,000 Jewish homes two weeks in advance of the campaign.
With the completion of BYG NY, by God’s grace, we have fulfilled our mission statement to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue in many cities worldwide. That is a great joy. Of course, every person who had the opportunity to freely consider the gospel and every person who actually received Jesus as their Messiah during these campaigns is a source of joy. Who can place a value on one soul?
BYG, as you know, was restricted to cities outside of Israel. Many have asked why. Was Jews for Jesus overlooking the obvious for a reason? Following is the answer.
We expect, by God’s grace, to launch BYG Phase 2—a city-by-city outreach in Israel—sometime in 2007 or early 2008. We are still praying and thinking through how best to do this.
The challenge of campaigning city-bycity is much greater in Israel than it has been in most cities outside of the Land. We have already established a Jews for Jesus work in Israel with nine full-time missionaries stationed in the Tel Aviv area and possibly more in the near future. And in recent years, we’ve seen God raising up a cadre of young Israeli believers in Jesus; perhaps the most promising future Jewish missionaries are among them.
Added to this burgeoning group of young Israelis are other Jews for Jesus staff in various parts of the world who feel especially equipped to minister in the Land. I believe that God has given Jews for Jesus a vision of BYG Israel for such a time as this.
How you can pray for Jews for Jesus
While Phase 2 is being planned for Israel, we have set three priorities for the overall ministry of Jews for Jesus now that Phase 1 is over. Our first priority is to strengthen the work of our existing branches and to develop stations that have sprung up through BYG. Behold Your God has, understandably, taken a great deal of our missionaries’ time and effort. We perhaps underestimated just how much, and now are eager to concentrate fully on the everyday work of our branches. Part of that everyday work includes five new Jews for Jesus centers established in conjunction with our BYG campaigns: we now have a branch in Boston, and outposts (fewer staff than branches) in Miami, Phoenix and Montreal. Miami and Phoenix are our newest works, having just opened after the completion of BYG’s New York finale. The Brooklyn branch will officially open in January.
Our next priority flows out of our biggest disappointment in BYG, the failure to recruit new missionaries. As the founding leadership of Jews for Jesus ages, it is time for a newer generation of leaders to step up to the plate and take greater responsibility in the future of the mission. This requires more young people coming in to fill their places in the role of general missionaries.
To that end, we are committed to raising up 50 new missionaries in Jews for Jesus over the next five years. This challenge looms large for us. Like BYG, this goal requires us to meet other goals. An increase in our staff requires us to increase our support base. We cannot recruit new missionaries without helping them find new friends to raise their support. It can be difficult to fill the schedules for our existing missionaries to speak in churches (which is where we meet most of our new friends). We will need more opportunities for these speaking engagements if we are to sustain our current staff and add significant numbers. We believe that if God wants us to increase our staff, He will provide. But we need wisdom in how to do our part.
Aaron Abramson, our Minister-at-Large and director of recruitment, is spearheading our recruitment efforts, but all of our missionaries are responsible to seek out and invest in potential new evangelists. We are asking God to enable us to meet that challenge, and we trust that our praying friends and supporters will help us to carry the burden. This is a major need—and a major prayer request.
A third area of focus for Jews for Jesus post-BYG is to develop new materials and methods for outreach. We found for the New York finale that we could produce more new literature than we had thought possible. Creating and handing out 30 new broadsides was fun and exciting. We need to remember that and continue keeping our literature up-todate. We also found during our BYG campaigns that, in certain cities, we needed to try new strategies. We had some success in that area, but we definitely need to continue pushing the envelope to develop new methods. We need a burst of creativity and the Holy Spirit’s energy to meet the challenges of the future.
In December, we will gather once again in the upper room of our Shalom Hospitality House. We will pray and discuss new ways of reaching out. We will talk about how best to keep the simple tasks of reaching unsaved Jewish people through phone calls and visits at the forefront of our day-to-day branch work amidst the other challenges we face. Please pray that God will meet us as we continue pressing on to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.