Serving Jews for Jesus in the Boonies”: Co-Laboring in Outlying Areas”
Is it possible for friends in outlying areas to be of service to the Jews for Jesus ministry? Many praying friends of Jews for Jesus who wish they could help in some way may hesitate to volunteer because they live in an area where Jews do not live or where there is very little contact with Jewish people. As a Co-Laborer in Messiah who lives out in the boonies,” I can say from personal experience that it can, and it does, work!
Columbia, California, the town where I live, is 150 miles east of San Francisco, in the Sierra foothills. It is the best preserved of all of the Gold Rush towns in the Mother Lode. Remember the musical “Paint Your Wagon”? In its heyday, Columbia was just like “No-Name City” (the fictitious town described in that story).
When gold was discovered in Columbia in 1853, miners from all over the world traveled there by foot, horse, mule and wagon in search of riches. Soon merchants came to the camps and established businesses offering a wide assortment of necessary supplies. For the most part, those merchants were Jews who, with their families, brought stability to the rough-and-tumble world of the Gold Rush camps. When the gold petered out, the miners left in search of new camps where gold strikes were rumored to have been found; and with most of their customers gone, the merchants left for bigger cities where they could earn a living for themselves and their families.
By the time my husband Harry, son Daniel and I moved to Columbia State Historic Park in 1971, there were very few Jewish families living here. Actually, it might be safe to say that Daniel and I were probably the first Jewish believers in Christ ever in this area! As for the general Jewish population, there were one or two other Jewish families living in neighboring Sonora—one actually dating back to the days of the Gold Rush. If those families wanted to attend synagogue or celebrate a child’s bar or bat mitzvah, they had to drive to Stockton, one and a half hours away.
One of the first things I discovered when we moved to Columbia was that the Gentile community had no idea what a Jew looked like! Daniel and I were “oddities” among them. Coming from the melting pot area of Los Angeles I found this rather amusing, but I soon learned that my Jewish heritage could provide opportunities to share in the local churches of Columbia and Sonora about what Jews thought and believed, the idea of Jewish believers in Messiah, and the need for a Christian witness to Jewish people.
I have found that for a Co-Laborer in small communities such as mine, the key words are availability and willingness. One always needs to be ready to share with local churches and individuals. I receive phone inquiries about various topics: Jewish holidays; how to witness to a Jewish friend; or what the Jews think of a given subject. Being open to such inquiries provides me an opportunity to present the Jews for Jesus ministry and to suggest that a missionary come to speak. Any contacts I make are then referred directly to Jews for Jesus headquarters for follow-up.
Though the Gold Rush is long gone, remnants of the old Jewish community can still be seen in Columbia. Some storefronts bear Jewish names, and it is even thought that the site for the synagogue that existed in the 1850s was the field next to our house! Neighboring Sonora has a Jewish cemetery dating back to the Gold Rush that is kept up by volunteers from synagogues in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In the leather shop my husband and I operate in the tourist area of Columbia State Park we have Jewish artifacts. It’s amazing how much response we receive when Jewish visitors see a seder plate or a menorah in our store! I explain why we have Jewish things on display, give them an article I wrote on “Jews in the Mother Lode” and try to open the door for a word of witness.
In recent years there has been a new influx of Jewish people moving to the foothill communities. As a result, approximately 80 Jewish families now live in the Columbia/Sonora area. Slowly contacts have been made. For example, recently while I was faxing an article to Today’s Christian Woman, the salesclerk noticed the Star of David on my letterhead and commented that she too was Jewish. We talked for a few minutes, as I told her that the article I was sending was my story of how I came to believe in Yeshua. When the faxing was completed, it was time to conclude our conversation. After publication, I plan on taking her a copy of that article!
Another way I help is by promoting Passover seders in our local churches. In 1974 we held our first seder (with a complete meal) at the First Baptist Church of Sonora and invited Moishe Rosen to lead it.
Even though it was a rainy night we had a good turnout, and from that humble beginning we have held seders every other year. (I have found that in remote areas, it is best not to do it every year because the mindset of some is, “I have already been to one of those. Why do I need to do it again?”)
These bi-annual seders involve the cooperation of many people and several church denominations. Two years ago more than 200 people heard Jews for Jesus missionary Tuvya Zaretsky explain how Yeshua is truly the Passover Lamb.
Yes! Volunteering as a Co-Laborer with Jews for Jesus in outlying areas can be a very rewarding experience. There are many unique and wonderful ways to serve: You can organize a core group of believers to pray for the Jewish community and for any local Jewish believers; or you can hold monthly fellowship meetings that feature activities or programs that show the Jewishness of Jesus to your Bible study group, your women’s ministry or your entire church.
By presenting Jews for Jesus to the Gentile community in your area, you may win support for the Jews for Jesus ministry through their church missions programs. In addition, your unique position offers another bonus: Gentiles need Jesus, too. You are limited only by your imagination!
So you want to help but there are no Jews in your county? Don’t let that stop you. There’s a world of Gentile Christians out there who need to learn about Jews and about the Jews for Jesus ministry!
Jewish Population of Northern California and Distances of Jewish Communities from Columbia/Sonora Area.*
|Community||Distance from Columbia/Sonora||Jewish Population|
|San Francisco (Bay Area)||3-hour drive||210,000|
|Sacramento (County)||2 1/2-hour drive||12,500|
|Stockton||1 1/2-hour drive||1,600|
|Modesto||1 hour drive||450|
|Columbia and Sonora||—||approx. 75|
* Figures taken from the Jewish Yearbook, 1991, except those on Columbia and Sonora