Dialogue Across the Seas
My previous article, The Desert Hasn’t Blossomed Yet sparked several interesting responses. We enjoy the letters of appreciation but it’s also good to know when people take exception to what we say. After all, Havurah is for our family in Messiah—and what Jewish family doesn’t argue and dispute now and then?
We thought you might want to see some of the comments from our brothers and sisters in Israel:
“Are you willing to consider that there is a world apart from tracts and street corner preaching? Are you willing to acknowledge that there are people here in Israel who are doing things for God’s glory in ways that you cannot even begin to appreciate? People who suffer quietly the consequences of their faith…people whom you probably never heard of because they are humble.…”
“…while I wasn’t offended by the article, a sensitive nerve seemed to be touched in others. I heard from others that the article held up a mirror of deficiency. We all want to do more and want to do it better. People are trying so hard to serve the Lord here, and it hurts to be faced with our shortfalls, especially by other Jewish believers. Your organization has had its share of knowing this sting.”
“Keep writing like that and challenging people here. We need it. I am excited about the process of a little cross-fertilization across the Atlantic.”
You can see from these comments that my article did, indeed, touch a sensitive nerve. I said some difficult things in my article. There is a time to say hard things and a time to hear them. There is a time to be comforted and a time to be challenged. I do believe that it’s important for Jewish believing communities around the world to “cross-fertilize” as we share our thoughts and plan our actions and hopefully grow in the Lord together. Another metaphor comes to mind: “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” (Proverbs 27:17). Let’s sharpen each other as we endeavor to speak the truth in love.
For years, we Jews for Jesus have heard from believers in various parts of the world that while street evangelism may work well in the United States, due to cultural differences, it turns people off in other countries. Some of you know Richard Harvey who served on our staff for several years and now teaches at All Nations. He used to insist that handing out tracts would never work in London?until his brother took one of our tracts and it became a step along his journey to faith. I admire Richard’s humility, because once he realized he’d been operating on some false assumptions, he was ready to do the very thing he had disdained. And while many reacted just as he’d expected, he found that others were willing to engage in meaningful conversations. Such has been the case wherever we (and others) have done street evangelism, including Israel. But if I have been remiss in failing to point out that many other evangelistic methods are being used by faithful and humble people, let me clarify something. No value judgment was intended. While street evangelism is an important part of Jews for Jesus methods, it is only a part of what we do. Please don’t think for a moment that we believe handing out tracts is the only way. We certainly respect and appreciate any and all forthright witnessing.
In his book, The Purpose Driven Church, author Rick Warren states, “I always refuse to debate which method of evangelism works best.…It depends on who you are trying to reach! Different kinds of bait catch different kinds of fish.…We should never criticize any method that God is blessing” (page 156).
Some people were discouraged because they felt the following paragraph pointed a finger at them:
“Although there are approximately 3,200 people in Israel today who receive overseas funding to do missionary work in the Land, most of these workers are not engaged in direct evangelism. Many are pastors, Bible teachers, publishers or shop owners who sell Bibles among their other wares. The pastor has his congregation, the Bible teacher has his class, the publisher and shop owner have their customers, but the task of going out to proclaim the gospel doesn’t happen as it should. There are many ‘missionaries’ in Israel, but too little missionary work is actually being done.”
That was not meant as an indictment of anyone who is doing the work of evangelism. But I think that most of the mishpochah in Israel could agree that the proportion of missionary work being done in Israel does not reflect the number of those claiming to do missionary work. Still, I wish that I had highlighted more of what is being done in Israel. For example, The Messianic Action Committee has placed evangelistic newspaper ads. I’ve heard good reports of all the youth work being done by the Messianic Assembly in Jerusalem and by Keren Achavat Meshiach, which engages post-army young people. Operation Mobilization carries on an effective work in which Israelis and others courageously partner to proclaim the gospel.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list. As was pointed out, most who are doing the real work do not care for recognition because they are humble people who are serving the Lord, not looking for accolades.
These “unknown” believers who quietly and faithfully serve the Lord demonstrate great courage and determination. They have been threatened by anti-missionaries. Some have lost their jobs and the trust of neighbors because they dare to share their faith in Israel. Let’s pray for them as they face such persecution.
I was glad to see one letter that pointed out several good things that are happening in Israel. While we’ve not printed the letter in its entirety, I hope what you see will encourage you, even as I was encouraged.
As an evangelist of course I would love to see more people involved in direct outreach. We could all use more help. I also realize I need the other people to do their jobs too. How can I give out books if the publisher isn’t translating and printing them? I have been picking up van loads of literature for our summer outreach and I know from talking to publishers that people write or call and they send many Bibles and Christian/Messianic books out directly from their warehouses. Is the shop owner only “selling Bibles among his other wares?” I personally know two Bible book stores that do outreach every week. [You say] “The Bible teacher has his class;” that’s right and those classes are full of Messianic believers who go out regularly in evangelism and who are built up in their faith and knowledge of the Word through those classes. I have done presentations in the Israeli Bible schools and I know how involved they are. Shouldn’t evangelists be trained how to handle the Word of God? What about the pastors? I can name lots of congregations that do regular outreach and the dozen or so congregations I visit regularly are all growing in numbers. Why are they growing? Because members are reaching out.
My organization has been doing outreach in Israel since 1964. A post box distribution of invitations to receive a Jesus video in Hebrew or Russian was very effective. 500 responses. It is important to know the area, pray for it and have a congregation to do follow-up.
Passing out tracts or books on the street is totally different from a mass mailing. We do it all the time. We also do door-to-door and open air and special seeker services in the kehilah. I know the “native born Israeli has seen many Israelis and others come to faith through his story book.” Does Stephen think Jacov gave all those tens of thousands of books out by himself? No, believers in the land gave out most of them for and with him, as well as visiting short-term teams.
We and many others do week in week out outreach. We do a few hours direct outreach three times a week during the usual year and twice a day during holidays and in summer.
Regarding Pinchasi’s new bill, 3 years or 50,000 NIS, is not “buried in committee.” On May 20th it was presented as a private member’s bill and was passed 37:28 with Bibi voting for it. It will now go to committee and be submitted to the Plenum where it must pass three readings. It cannot die in committee; it must be brought for a vote in the Plenum within six months of being sent to committee unless the chairman of the committee gets an extension or two.
If the anti-missionary, actually anti-believer, legislation passes there will be thousands of Israelis and foreign believers who will potentially go to jail.
I’d like to add a postscript to that letter with regard to the proposed anti-missionary legislation. The Messianic Action Committee in Israel is suggesting a letter writing campaign to the members of the Knesset committee, which is considering the bill. Such a campaign has been waged in the past and proven effective. If you would like to participate in this, we will be happy to give you the names of these Knesset members and the address where they can be reached.
I hope this edition of Havurah will spark a renewed spirit of prayer for evangelism in Israel and for all the believers there who are paying a price for being open about their faith. As the Apostle Paul wanted his readers to pray for him, let us do likewise: “Pray also for them, that whenever they open their mouths, words may be given them so that they will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” Amen and amen.
North American Director
Stephen's grandparents immigrated to America from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, ultimately settling in the Chicago area. As a boy, Stephen enjoyed sports and excelled in school. In his high school years he began to question the values he had been raised with, and instead of focusing on academics, began to spend all his time playing guitar and harmonica. Over the next few years he searched for answers to his many questions about life, eventually becoming a follower of Yeshua. Three weeks after receiving his bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Illinois, he got married and began to work with abused and neglected youth in a residential treatment center in Chicago, which he did for 10 years (taking one year out to live on a kibbutz in Israel). He received his master's degree in social work from the University of Illinois in 1984. He and his young family attended a messianic congregation for 13 years, where Stephen served as the worship leader. In 1989, Stephen began missionary training with Jews for Jesus and now serves as North American Director. For 12 years he oversaw our work in Israel and still continues to be involved with our work there. Laura and he have four children, three of whom are married. He received a master's degree in intercultural and Jewish studies from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1997. Stephen is known to be a warm-hearted and engaging teacher and a good listener.