Shalom — peace to you in Yeshua — the messiah!
I am not an ex-Jew, nor am I am ex-for Jesus!
My name is Steve Cohen and I served with Jews for Jesus from June 22, 1976 to July 31,1996. I began as a volunteer in Seattle in 1974. After meeting Moishe Rosen at Lutheran Bible Institute, I sensed a strong desire to want to be a part of what God was doing in reaching our people with the Gospel. Steffi Geiser (now Rubin) invited me to come to San Rafael to check it out for myself and I did. What I saw was a dedicated group of people my age determined to use their energies and creativity to make a difference in the lives of others.
In 1974, we started a small Bible study/fellowship group in Seattle that met monthly. I drove the 60 miles from Tacoma to be with others who share our passion to grow in the knowledge of God and his grace. In 1976, Jan and I applied to the council and were unanimously accepted onto the staff. Our first event was Operation Birthday Cake, a huge witnessing campaign that took us from Chicago to New York City, Washington DC and Boston in the span of about 8 weeks.
From there, Jan and I went on a 9 month tramp tour. We did what most missionaries do in any mission organization, we approached churches and individuals to see if we could tell our story, invite people to pray for us, witness to others, and give financially so that we could carry on our mission efforts. I had taken speech 101 as an undergraduate at the University of Washington was so terrible at public speaking, I vowed I would never do anything like that again. I was extremely thankful to have help with presentations to give so that our vision, passion and mission would come through to others. Moishe Rosen’s personal assistance in this area meant a lot to me!
I also have the joy of reporting back to our supporters the victories and trials we faced on the field by sending personal post cards. While some looked at it as nothing but a chore to be done or a goal to meet, Personal communications with our donors give us the chance to tell people that they were important to us. After all, they cared enough to invest in our lives by praying, volunteering and giving. Any missionary from any organization would do that — thank supporters and let them know that they count or they wouldn’t be missionaries for very long because people would not know what the needs were or how to pray.
Jan and I met one faithful supporter, Helen P., in 1977 in Lemmon, South Dakota during a raging winter snow storm, She gave a small amount of money from her limited resources every month. Helen inquired where we were after we left Jews For Jesus so she could keep in contact and still supports our missionary efforts monthly! She writes treasured notes with a hand that trembles with her age of 88+ years and always is thankful to receive written responses. It is a privilege to communicate with people like this!
We were first assigned to work in New York City in 1977. I was thankful for the structure of the work, because the size of the city and level of opposition was daunting to this new kid on the missionary block. Because the leadership was young and at times inexperienced, the mistakes of youth were certainly present. But we were all learning and growing together. I learned early on that as Believers in the Messiah we live daily in God’s grace and the forgiveness of sins.
From New York City, we were sent to Omaha to build a new drama troupe that was going to tour the country, The New Jerusalem Players. Each of the five us brought unique gifts to this dynamic effort. We had the time of our lives flooded with memories and friendships sealed forever. Whenever I meet up with our former teammates (and I am only sorry it is too infrequent because of our distances), warmth, love and kindness is shown. Because Jan conceived our first born, Micha, while on the road, we were assigned after Avodah , a time of re-grouping and training when all the staff were together for a year in San Francisco, to return back to New York City in 1980.
I am thankful for the thoughtful, though sometimes inconvenient policies of Jews For Jesus. For instance, wives, according to the workers covenant, are to step down from mission service in order to serve their first ministry responsibility — their children, until they start school. It was inconvenient because that meant our income was cut in half. But there was always enough to go around, put food on the table and have enough to give to others.
Only much later in life did I see the great wisdom in having these policies. Jan and I are blessed with five children. Micha, our oldest is finishing up his undergraduate studies at Moody Bible Institute and will be starting his missionary training with Jews For Jesus soon along with is new bride, Leah. (Interestingly enough, he will be trained by Karol Joseph, someone I helped join Jews For Jesus back in the late 1980’s.) The policies of the ministry helped strengthen our family and can been seen in the maturity each of our five children exhibits in the wake of a debilitating genetic disease, Huntington’s Disease, that Jan has been battling since 1990.
In 1981 we were sent to Toronto where we opened the first foreign branch. It was hard work because by Canadian law, we had to replicate much of what was already done at the administrative headquarters in San Francisco. Serving in Toronto gave me an opportunity to further sharpen my skills at cultivating and training volunteers to come work with us. I valued Moishe’s insights and those of the board of directors. On the occasions where we did not see eye to eye, it was more a result of my inexperience and wanting to learn from the school of hard knocks thinking I knew better. But then that was usually my own pride speaking and not wisdom.
From Toronto we went to Boston for two years, and then to Ft. Lauderdale to begin a new branch. During our twenty years I saw up close and personal the maturing of a growing international ministry and its own internal culture. The Board of Directors provided chaplains to encourage us in our spiritual development, and an ombudsman to address the interpersonal tensions that arise in any organization of two or more people. This provided a reasoned, Biblical means for conflict resolution. Sadly I watched some who chose to not use the systems in place and instead of seeking resolution they chose roots of bitterness that lead to their departure.
I will not sugar coat the fact that there were three times in 20 years when I strongly felt like leaving Jews For Jesus. I sought counsel with many including the chairman of the board of directors, Byron Spradlin. His advice was always sage, If God is leading you then it is right to go. But if you are leading yourself, then consider what you might be running from, address it, solve it and then you will be able to move ahead with a clear conscience whether you stay or choose to leave.”
That advice helped me see each time that my reasons for wanting to leave were simple: I was not living up to my own expectations. It was not what others were saying or pressure from above as some have claimed. I knew what was expected, and in all honesty to myself I was falling short of doing what I knew I could do.
Jan and I had 20 years of service with Jews For Jesus. In 1996 I was offered a leadership position with a main-line denomination to bring those years of learning and maturing to a church body of over 6,000 congregations and lead them forward in Jewish missions. When we finally did leave to do something on an even larger scale than my branch ministry, it was with a victory in hand from 20 years and 1 month of being with a group of passionate friends and co-workers who have made a difference in the lives of so many Jewish people and gentiles around the world.
Because of my continuing good ties with Jews For Jesus, we have joined ranks in 4 outreaches in the past two years. All those who participated have seen the blessing of continuing strong relationships and Jewish people are still coming to faith.
As a parent, I also trust the organization to do right by my sons who are serving with them: Micha, will soon enter missionary training, and Noah who joined the Liberated Wailing Wall right out of high school, and has signed up for a second 18-month tour before he starts college in 2004. He, too, will have the great benefit of memories of the friendships established and discipline in working as a fine tuned group.
There are no perfect churches, there are no perfect messianic congregations, there are no perfect mission organizations and apart from Y;shua, there are no perfect people. But there is a perfect God who loves us and makes it possible to receive grace and mercy. Just as we have received what we don’t deserve from our creator, so too can we extend grace and mercy to those around us. As we mature in Christ, may that lesson be one in which we all grow! May our efforts to bring that message of hope increase especially in these very uncertain times.
Po Box 6977
St. Louis MO 63123