A Personal Glimpse at Our Early History
Throughout the ages, there have always been some Jews who have believed in Jesus. Most people know Jews for Jesus were a reality in apostolic times and that the Christian era began with converted Jews” preaching the gospel to Gentiles. But, in a sense, they were not converted Jews?they were converted sinners who happened to be Jewish. They never renounced their heritage nor the faith of their ancestors. They remained very Jewish.
In 1954, about a year after my Jewish wife Ceil and I became believers in Jesus, I felt God’s call to minister to my Jewish people. I enrolled in Bible college, and in my senior year became a fulltime missionary under what was then the world’s largest Jewish mission board. For 10 years I labored in Los Angeles and saw more than 200 Jewish people commit their lives to Christ.
Moishe Rosen preaches in the early 70’s.
In 1967, the same mission moved me to New York to serve in an executive capacity. There I discovered certain factors that I felt were hindering Jewish evangelism agencies from being truly effective. With only minimal results, we all had allowed ourselves to think we were successful. I saw that we needed to face the reality of our failure and rectify the situation.
How It All Began
In 1970, God moved me to the San Francisco Bay Area under the same mission board, not as an executive but once again as a field missionary. I wanted to try some new ways of communicating. I rented a small office in suburban Corte Madera and set out to work with only a secretary and a handful of newly-saved Jewish “hippie” volunteers. Those Jesus People had no preconceived ideas about Jewish evangelism. They only knew that they loved the Lord and wanted to tell everyone about Him. It was God’s time for us to pioneer some new evangelistic strategies based on the recent insights I had gained in New York.
We had to stop trying to avoid conflict. Most of the workers in Jewish evangelism were well-meaning Gentile Christians who, above all, sought the goodwill of the Jewish community and tried to avoid friction at all costs. Yet as soon as the missionaries’ efforts began to be effective, the Jewish leaders reacted with a show of displeasure and accused them of insensitive or offensive methods. Usually the real problem was the offense of the cross, not insensitive methods. Fearing the potential effectiveness of the missionary work, the Jewish community leaders chose to find it offensive. As a result, the missionaries often aborted promising projects for fear of further antagonizing the Jewish community.
There was no way?however tactful, loving and sensitive?to tell Jewish people that they needed Jesus without risking the displeasure of the Jewish community leaders. Having committed myself to the idea that disapproval and rejection were a normal part of Jewish evangelism, I taught my helpers that we all must bear the cross and risk rejection. Once we oriented ourselves to handle rejection, we began to win many Jews to the Lord.
We had to find more effective materials and literature. Jewish people are generally quite literate. Therefore we needed quality literature for our evangelism, but most of the evangelistic material at that time was poorly written. Though scripturally accurate, it failed to communicate. It was stodgy, uninteresting and never used in large enough quantities. (The largest number of any tract ever printed by a missionary society was 10,000?a meager amount in terms of mass distribution. Without substantial distribution over a short time, it is impossible to gauge a tract’s effectiveness.)
We devised a new form of gospel tract. Based on contemporary issues, ours were humorous, easy to read, good-natured and not at all “preachy.” They were also inexpensive to produce. We called them “broadsides.”
Using a mimeograph machine, we printed, hand-folded and gave out 50,00O broadsides a month. We distributed them wherever we found crowds?at shopping areas, on campuses and in theater districts. With our address and telephone number on the back, the broadsides were our initial contact material. They invited inquiries, and recipients responded by the hundreds.
The Name: Jews for Jesus
We didn’t name ourselves. One day in a brainstorming session we invented a slogan to proclaim in short, cryptic terms that Jewish people can, and many do, believe in Jesus. The slogan was simple and direct: Jews for Jesus. We painted or embroidered it on the denims most of the young people wore. Then we silk-screened 500 posters with the same three-word slogan and plastered them all over a couple of the Bay Area college campuses. We didn’t explain the posters, but let them speak for themselves. Ten days later, we distributed tracts with the same title and created quite a stir. Some thought the slogan was our name, and soon they were calling us Jews for Jesus.
We had to bridge the culture gap. Jewish missions in general had neglected the principle of indigenousness: winning those of a specific nationality, tribe or social segment to Christ and training them to witness to their own people within the framework of their own culture. A communication gap existed between the missionaries and the Jewish people they wanted to evangelize. The missionaries expected Jewish believers to behave like Gentiles when they came to Christ, almost as though eating non-kosher food or totally ignoring Jewish holidays would prove that they were Christians.
Heeding Paul’s example to be as Jews to those who were Jewish, we began to use elements of our own Jewish culture in evangelism. We wrote Jewish melodies to sing praise to Jesus and on Jewish holidays, such as Passover and the Day of Atonement, we pointed to Him as the Lamb of God and our atonement for sin. Instead of retreating from our Jewishness, we valued it. This showed those we wanted to evangelize that coming to Christ did not mean abandonment of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and that Christ is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Law.
We had to raise our profile. Until 1970, it had been relatively easy for Jewish community leaders to state that Jews did not believe in Jesus. This false premise seemed true because the Jewish believers generally were not visible. Even though numbers of Jews received Christ, they tended to assimilate, leaving their testimonies unheard in the Church and in the Jewish community.
By banding together, using teamwork and a high degree of mobility, we raised the image of real Jews believing in the real Jesus. As we began to make our message known throughout the country, it became apparent that there were thousands of us. No longer could anyone say, “Jews never believe in Jesus!”
In 1973 we became an independent entity. God had given a vision of what could be done, and it was working. To be most effective, however, it was necessary for us to form a new and separate missionary organization. Within three years we became the largest mission to the Jews in modern times.
We have preserved and fostered the courageous evangelistic distinctions that first made us an effective missionary organization. As we move ahead after more than 25 years of ministry, we are pleased that many other Jewish mission groups have begun to incorporate some of our innovative approaches in their own outreach efforts.