It’s June of ’92, and our Jews for Jesus team of 20 board the British Airways plane from London to Israel. Our faces show a mixture of excitement and apprehension. We are about to spend two months on a moshav (a farm/hotel) outside of Jerusalem. From this base we will do evangelism and take courses as part of a Fuller Seminary extension program in Missiology. Our team had spent the previous three summers at the school’s campus in Pasadena in a similar study/outreach type of program, only now, instead of having half a million Jews in our sphere of ministry, we would be situated amidst 4.5 million Israelis.
After the five-hour flight to Israel we settled into our rooms at the moshav. We began classes the next day and also began planning for our first evangelistic foray onto the streets of Jerusalem. A team of 15 went the next night to Ben Yehuda Street, a busy, noisy touristy area of shops and restaurants and multitudes of people just hanging out.” We scattered in groups of twos and threes, handing out Hebrew gospel broadsides. We were encouraged because so many were open to taking our literature.
But within two hours we were bombarded with comments like, “Traitors! You’re not Jews, you’re enemies. You don’t belong here—go home!” Our vocal opposition egged on the crowds. The situation grew so intense that one of our small teams was forced to wait in a store doorway while their leader, Steve, was taken away by the police. Imagine being harassed, then calling for help, and when the police come, you get arrested! The larger contingent returned to the moshav, shaken and unnerved. A discouraged and battle-weary Steve returned several hours later. While no formal complaints had been made against him, he was not able to convince the police that it was he who was in need of their intervention. We immediately recognized that evangelism in Israel would NOT be business as usual.
During the next few weeks, we met together often to prayerfully plan “strategy.” After finishing our classroom work we would travel to Haifa, Tel Aviv, and back into Jerusalem to do evangelism. We were often met with hostile comments and conversations, but there were also moments when understanding pierced the darkness and different ones led Israelis to the Lord right on the street! Even one of the volunteers who came alongside us on an evangelistic outing to Jerusalem led an unsaved Jewish man from India to the Lord. This volunteer is mentioned as “Steven” in Moshe Shuai’s story in Yeshua—The Missing Piece of the Puzzle.
Back at the moshav, we had befriended one of the Israeli waitresses who regularly served us in the dining room. Bat Shaachar (“daughter of the dawn”) asked us one day, “How do you know Hebrew if you are not Jewish?” You see, she thought that because we believed in Yeshua, we weren’t Jews. We realized that the word was out about us on the moshav, but of course, the understanding was less than accurate. On one occasion, Lisa (one of our team) took a bus into Jerusalem and encountered Bat Shaachar, who sat down next to Lisa. They talked about Yeshua for the entire half-hour trip. Lisa gave Bat Shaachar a Hebrew story book we were using in our evangelism. A week later, she apologized for not yet having read the book, but remarked that she was still open. Our dialogues continued throughout the summer. We had made a friend and we introduced her to Israeli believers we hoped would serve her in conveying the message of salvation.
One of the best times to do evangelism in Israel is on Saturday nights, when everyone comes out to celebrate the end of the Sabbath. One of the places where Israelis congregate at that time is on the Promenade near the public beaches of Tel Aviv. A festive, relaxed mode pervades and people are more willing to stop and talk about anything that peaks their interest. It was on one such Saturday evening that we decided to try to do some parabolic preaching. This is a form of street evangelism that uses modern-day parables with drama and kinetic movements to make a gospel statement, and it usually draws a good crowd. One of our team had many years of experience doing this type of preaching in other venues—but only in English. We had never done this with simultaneous translations and wondered if it would work as effectively.
Our most veteran team member started speaking in a loud, dramatic way, and to our joy and amazement, some people stopped, and then a few more, and by the middle of the parable there was a good crowd. Our translator kept pace so that not a word was lost during the ten-minute street witness. After extending an invitation to the crowd to come and talk, many responded. We spent a good hour fielding questions from interested Israelis. It was a remarkable moment.
While our evangelistic opportunities increased in the days and weeks ahead, so did all sorts of tsuris. Illnesses and minor accidents began to plague our team, even among our children. It seemed that daily a different one came down with a new ailment, anything from earaches to flu, stomachaches to cuts that required stitches. If the situation wasn’t scary, it could have been funny. Each day took on an air of survival mixed with adventure. We not only were captivated and challenged by our studies, but our evangelistic efforts kept us on our spiritual toes (and knees). And our personal physical trials only underscored that the spiritual forces of darkness were quite unhappy with us being there.
The battle escalated at the end of July. On a Monday afternoon my husband Jhan contracted giardia, an intestinal parasite. By Wednesday afternoon I went to bed with a sore throat and slight fever?or so I thought. That is the last thing I remember until Sunday evening.
Part of our outreach/study team in Israel
When I awoke, my family and many of the Jews for Jesus were sitting around me in the cramped Hadassah Hospital intensive care unit. They told me I had been in a coma since Friday. Tests showed that I had encephalitis, a sometimes deadly virus that attacks the brain.
While everyone around my bed seemed very relieved that I was conscious, I was bewildered. There is an Amy Grant song that says, “When I feel afraid, think I’ve lost my way, still you’re there right beside me.” I was afraid, I had lost my way and DIDN’T feel that God was right there beside me. The spiritual battle we were all undergoing had hit home. I really needed a sign that God was going to bring me through it, and so He sent an angel to my bedside the next day! Not the chubby Raphael variety. Carolyn was a believer living in Israel who’d heard what had happened to me (my illness had made the “messianic headlines” both in Israel and at home). This “angel” had been praying all summer for our team’s effectiveness and safety.
Carolyn brought words of comfort and confrontation: She wanted me to see that unless God had intervened, I would not be alive. The same God who was providing us with victories in the classroom and protection and power on the streets was also present in my situation. I latched on to Carolyn’s words like one fleeing a house on fire, to whom an escape ladder has been tossed. She brought me a picture she had colored in pastels. It read: “Unless the Lord had been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence” (Psalm 94:17). God was all the help we all needed and if anything, we needed to step up our presence in the Land.
On days I felt better, I walked around the hospital hallways. l noticed one family who, hour after hour, hovered around an elderly male patient. I spoke to Ilana, who explained that her father was in a coma. I struck up a friendship with this young woman. She would often come and sit by my bed, too, and I was able to tell her about Yeshua and that I was trusting God to heal me. Ilana listened and asked many questions about how Jews can believe in Yeshua. We exchanged addresses, as she said she might come to visit the United States. Sadly, her father passed away and our visits together ceased. But I was aware that my presence in the hospital was serving God’s greater purposes of bringing His Word into a needy place.
At the same time, our team had not retreated from doing evangelism. Yes, the opposition continued, but God was faithful. Instead of discouragement, different ones were seeing His hand in their witnessing encounters. After two months in Israel we had handed out 75,000 Gospel tracts and had received the names of over 400 unsaved Israelis for follow-up. We prayed with three Jewish people on the streets to accept their Messiah, and who knows how many more had seeds planted that will bear the fruit of salvation in the years to come. Meanwhile, we entrusted the names of all those who wanted further contact to local believers who continue to do the work of evangelism in Israel.
Reflecting back, some of our experiences in Israel could parallel accounts in the Book of Acts. At times we felt like the Apostle Paul, who wrote, “…as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance, in troubles, hardships and distresses…in imprisonments and riots…dying, and yet we live on…always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 5:4, 5, 9, 10). Not only did God bless us in our affliction, He provided others among His children to stand alongside. We will be eternally grateful for the Carolyns and the Stevens who welcomed us and withstood the forces of evil with us, to the glory of our Father. It behooves all of us in the worldwide messianic community to pray for protection and boldness and blessing upon those believers in Israel who stand for the gospel on a daily basis, all year-round. They are our unsung heroes, and we admire them greatly. They are close to the heart of God.
I offer my own special prayer of thanks for those who helped me through a difficult time of illness, doubt, and pain. When asked by well-meaning, but incredulous friends, “Was it worth it? Would you do it again?”—I can only answer, “Was Moses Jewish?”