It was summer, hot and gritty. I was in New York City volunteering for a Jews for Jesus street witnessing campaign with a group from a Bible Church; we were planning to begin a program of Jewish ministry in the Washington, D.C. area. We were prepared to endure a trial by fire,” handing out pamphlets to the multitudes of passersby in Manhattan.
We passed out broadsides (gospel tracts) from funky Greenwich Village to conservative Wall Street. We stood on street corners in New York’s elegant upper east side and descended into hot, dirty subway stations to pass along the message of Yeshua. Most people we encountered seemed indifferent. Some were open and friendly. Others were blatantly hostile. One young Orthodox woman grabbed my broadsides and attempted to rip them to shreds. She angrily told me I wasn’t Jewish. A yeshiva student I encountered was a little more friendly, though he insisted I was misguided and was helping to commit the genocide of my people.
During one particularly hot afternoon in front of Bloomingdale’s, I began reflecting on the fact that I was on the streets of my hometown, passing out Jews for Jesus broadsides to people from nearly every “tribe and nation.” New York is indeed a melting pot! I was glad to serve God in this fashion, but I suddenly realized, “My 90-year-old grandmother is sitting in a nursing home in Staten Island, perishing because she has never heard the good news of the Messiah.” Here I cared enough to tell the message of Messiah to countless strangers all over New York City, while my own grandmother had never even heard of my faith. Surely my Grandma Rose had at least as much of a right to hear as they did! I made a decision then and there to find a car, drive out to Staten Island and tell my grandmother about Yeshua.
I borrowed a car, and after several false starts and a number of wrong turns I found my grandmother in her Orthodox nursing home. She looked older and more frail than I had ever seen her. Fortunately, her mind was still relatively alert. She smiled as I entered her room. She had not seen me for more than a year, and sadly I knew this visit must be brief. I didn’t have time for complicated theological explanations. All I had time to share was the simple truth: the basic and profound love of God manifested in the giving of his Son on the cross for the redemption and salvation of all who trust in him. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would do his work and lead my grandmother in truth.
“Grandma,” I started, “I don’t have much time, but I need to tell you something very important.” I took about five minutes to explain about Yeshua. I told her she needed to receive forgiveness from her sins to be right with God.
She again smiled and said, “You sound like a preacher.” I smiled, too. It was not a role to which I was accustomed.
“Grandma, do you believe?” I nervously questioned as I concluded sharing with her the message of Messiah.
“Yes” she said simply, “I believe.”
I was astounded. She believed in the message of the Son of God! So simply. So easily. My grandmother Rosie believed that Yeshua was the Holy One of Israel, the light to the nations, the one who could free her from her sins.
We prayed, or rather I prayed and she repeated the simple words of one receiving salvation. I left in a daze. I was so amazed that the next day I brought a Jews for Jesus staff member with me on a return visit to the nursing home. Again, my grandmother Rose repeated the simple words of faith in prayer, asking Yeshua to forgive her of her sins and be Lord of her life during her few remaining years.
“What do you think?” I asked my friend. I was still awe-struck by the incredible grace of God.
“It was a decision,” my friend said. “Your grandmother accepted the Lord.”
The group I had come to New York with returned to Washington that evening. We were exhausted and physically aching, but exuberant. Each team member had his or her report of people who had made decisions to follow the Lord. There were even more reports of encounters with people who were open to the message of Messiah and wanted further information. But all agreed that the most heart-warming event of the experience was the story of my ninety-year-old grandmother Rose, who simply—like a child—received the good news of salvation and is now heaven bound.
Postscript: I have since reflected upon this experience in depth. I had never before shared with my grandma and there she was, open and receptive! How many times have we, have I, not shared with someone who only needs to hear.
“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?”