I am not ashamed of Jews for Jesus

I grew up in a Conservative Jewish family in Newton, MA. In the fall of 1994 I was managing a furniture store in a mall outside of Boston, MA. My friend Amanda worked as the assistant manager of a shop across the hall. Amanda knew that I had been reading the Jewish Bible in search of spiritual truth when she told me about a Jewish woman who had visited her church recently. Amanda said that the woman was from a group called Jews for Jesus,” and asked me if I would be willing to talk with her about God? One of my employees, who was Jewish and also for Jesus, had already been telling me about God and Jesus using my own Jewish Bible! Since my employee had not convinced me that Jesus was really the Messiah of whom the Prophets foretold, I figured I had nothing to lose by talking to this Jews for Jesus lady?

Soon afterward I received a call from Sharon. She identified herself as a missionary with Jews for Jesus and asked me if I would be willing to study the Holy Scriptures with her. I agreed, but stipulated that we had to stick to the Old Testament, since we Jewish people were taught that the New Testament is not really the Bible and that we should not engage in reading the New Testament. Sharon and I looked at many Scriptures together such as Isaiah 53, 7:14, 9:6 Micah 5, Zechariah 12 among others. Each of these Scriptures from the Jewish Bible identified a Messianic figure who bore the name of God, who was pierced, rejected and despised by His own people, who was born in Bethlehem of a virgin, and who bore the sins of His people like a sacrificial lamb? I did not know who the man was in these Bible passages and at the time I was not ready to accept that they were referring to Jesus Christ as Sharon would have me believe. So one day our conversations ended and I went on with my life as a Jew sans Jesus. Nevertheless, the seeds had been planted. Ten months later after losing my job and in the midst of a broken relationship with a Jewish athiest named Noelle, I found myself pouring my sorrows out to my best friend John by phone one night in the winter of 1996. John, who is Greek Orthodox, suggested that I read the Sermon on the Mount. At the time I did not know what the Sermon on the Mount was. John told me that it is located in the New Testament book of Matthew, chapter 5. By this point I figured I had nothing to lose; two Jews for Jesus had failed to convert me, so what harm could one Greek Orthodox fellow’s suggestion do?

That night I opened a New Testament which my employee had given to me and read the Sermon on the Mount at my kitchen table: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” Mt 5:3-8. Such beautiful and comforting words I had never read before. They were the words of Jesus.

I began to read the New Testament in earnest after that night and soon became convinced that Jesus wasn’t so bad after all and that He might even be the Messiah of Israel! I prayed to God to show me the truth about Jesus and to stop me from considering him if I was on the wrong path. But God never stopped me; in fact He revealed himself to me to be Jesus himself.

It was February 14, 1996 when I was finally ready to accept Jesus as my Messiah and Lord. I had gone to bed on the eve of Valentine’s day with a broken heart over the loss of Noelle. I woke up in the middle of the night gasping for air and unable to move. I felt a strange sensation of energy around me and my heart was beating too fast and irregular. I felt as though I was dying and I could not reach the phone nor could I cry for help? I was panic stricken when the words came to my mind, “The Lord Jesus loves you, you have nothing to fear?The Lord Jesus loves you, you have nothing to fear.” At that moment, all my fear vanished and I felt an overwhelming sense of peace come over me. Though I was still experiencing the physical symptoms, I was no longer afraid to die. Somehow I believed that Jesus would save me. I can remember making peace with death in my mind and being ready to go on to the hereafter. I remember missing my family and friends and feeling sad that I would not have a chance to say goodbye to them, but I really felt that my life on earth had come to an end.

While this was happening to me, I found myself turned from my side onto my back with my arms out to my side; I had surrendered my will and my spirit to God and began to feel an electric charge stream through my limbs to my heart. My heart was beating so fast I could not count the beats. I did not know what was happening to me, but I felt a sense of ecstasy and total joy. I began to call out, “Come into my heart Lord Jesus, come into my heart Lord Jesus!”

Some time later the energy subsided and I discovered that I was still very much alive. The Bible calls it being “born-again.” I was so excited I just wanted to tell the world that God had forgiven my sins and saved me from death! A day or so later I called Sharon, who had moved to Florida. When she answered I told her, “You win, I believe in Jesus.” Sharon said, “No Joe, God won, you won, mazel tov (congratulations)!”

Since that time I have devoted my life to sharing the Good News that saved my life. I went on to serve with Jews for Jesus for a few years and now I am a Messianic Jewish rabbi living in Tennessee with my wife Dawn and my son Isaac.

I will never forget the part that Jews for Jesus played in helping me discover the truth about the God of Israel. There are many other stories I could tell and people who I could mention at Jews for Jesus that played a part in preparing me for the ministry, but I will have to save those for another day. I just want to say that I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the courageous phone calls of a Jews for Jesus missionary, who risked personal rejection every time she dialed a Jewish person’s number. Jews for Jesus Ministry is where the roots of my faith in the Messiah took hold, and I am not ashamed of Jews for Jesus.

Joe Bell
Former member of the Liberated Wailing Wall