Jews for Jesus wanted to put together a good program that could train Jewish believing college students in evangelism as well as encourage them in their Jewish identity in Yeshua. What better place to do that than in Israel?
When we first announced Project Joshua, a two-week study and evangelism trip to Israel, the situation in the Middle East was tense. Then things got worse. Project Joshua was scheduled over the Christmas/New Year’s school break of 2001-2002. We prayed and God encouraged us to stand fast, so we did not cancel the trip.
In retrospect, we can see how God protected us in amazing ways. We know that many were praying for the safety of our group and God answered those prayers. The suicide bombings and other violent acts stopped on December 16. The team left for Israel on the 26th. The violence didn’t pick up again until January 9, a day after we left to return to the States.
We also know that many prayed for the group to have a time when their faith would be strengthened and their vision expanded. This prayer was certainly answered in the lives of the 13 young Jewish believers who came on Project Joshua.
Some of their time was spent receiving on-site teaching in areas of biblical and historical geography. They even followed the routes of some of the military campaigns recorded in the book of Joshua. Some time was spent in meeting other believers in the Land and learning about their lives and struggles. And some time was spent doing the ordinary tourist things like shopping. But what will endure for eternity are the times these college students spent on the streets of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem sharing the message of life in Yeshua with Israelis. Will, one of the students, who had been involved in our camp programs and Ingatherings, remarked, You know, I’ve been involved with Jews for Jesus for a long time but I was never on a sortie (tract-passing expedition) before. I always tried to avoid it. Now I can see that it is just a way of meeting people and it really works!” And it does.
The team drove to Tel Aviv and saw the Jews for Jesus office, where they prepared for their time of evangelism. They were given instructions and then were split into four teams, led by experienced staff workers. Each team went to a different part of the city to engage Israelis in a discussion of the Messiahship of Jesus. That day they were grateful and thrilled to speak with many people, including 18 who gave their addresses so they could receive more material to read in Hebrew.
Language was not really a barrier, as many Israelis spoke English well enough to communicate with the students. Though there were some that were verbally hostile, most were very willing to talk openly about matters of faith. The students were pumped up after their times out on the streets.
Here are some stories about the students themselves. We trust that you will be encouraged with us in knowing that God is raising up a new generation of Jewish believers with a heart for evangelism and a concern for our people who are lost without Yeshua:
Dan found that most Israelis don’t mind discussing religion, but they have little or no idea of who Yeshua is. One of the sorties he enjoyed most was at Tel Aviv University. Ao5 young woman engaged him in conversation. Dan explained, “We’re Jews who believe that Yeshua is the Messiah who was prophesied about in the Old Testament, the Tenach.” She asked him how he became “one of those Jews” so he told her how he had come to believe in Yeshua. She answered, “I don’t understand how you can be both! There must be some mistake!” They talked for a while, and she gave Dan her name and phone number so that one of our local missionaries could call and give her more information.
Tamar talked to two young men about messianic prophecy. When they realized that she was a believer, they asked her, “How do you know it is true?” She explained that she knew from her own experience and how God had moved in her life. (This was the first time she had ever shared her story in public while witnessing to someone.) She also told them that she knew that Jesus was who He claimed to be by what it said in the Bible. Tamar had a list of messianic prophecies that Jews for Jesus had given her. And so she shared from Micah 5, where the prophet says that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. She also showed them part of Isaiah 53. They were totally blown away and said, “That’s in our Bible?” Tamar had a Bible in her backpack so she showed them. Then they gave their contact information for follow-up.
The group was in a shopping mall wearing their Jews for Jesus T-shirts. Some were more outgoing than others about walking up to people and engaging them in conversation. Naomi was somewhat shy, so some of the others on the team helped her to be more outgoing by initiating conversations with unbelievers, so that she could then join in. Daniel and Athena went up to a group of Israeli soldiers who were standing outside of one of the stores. The conversation didn’t seem to be going anywhere until Naomi was able to give the soldiers our proposal statement, which basically begins like this: “Can I ask you something? Who do you think Jesus is?” The conversation went really well—Naomi got their contact information for the branch to follow up.
One of our team members, Daniel, was witnessing to an Israeli who thought it was strange that they were having a conversation about Jesus because he had just gotten a video in the mail—it was the “Jesus” film! The man was open to learning about different religions and that’s why he responded to get the film. He told Daniel that he thinks about such things in a more intellectual way and Daniel explained how there is one absolute truth and how he could know it. The man gave his contact information so we could witness more to him.
Some of the team had the chance to share their faith with several “Birthright Israel” students. These are Jewish college students from around the world who come to explore the Land, much the same way that we do. The Jewish community sponsors their trips. There were several “unplanned meetings” with those who wanted to hear about Jesus.
One of the trip’s highlights was a great opportunity to share our faith with a group of Orthodox young people outside of a falafel restaurant in Bet Shemesh. They asked a lot of questions after seeing our T-shirts, which read (in Hebrew and English): “Jews for Jesus; Is There Such a Thing?”
The group drove to lunch at a small restaurant owned by a Yemenite man named Shalom. Their tour leader, Efraim, had previously been visiting with Shalom whose son had become a believer in Yeshua within the last couple of years. While enjoying the unique Yemenite flavors, a group of Lubavitcher Chassidim came around, asking if anyone wanted to lay tefillin (phylacteries). Some of our group went out to talk with them. The Lubavitchers believe that their rebbe, the late Menachem Schneerson, is the messiah. They admit that he was never raised from the dead, but they say he will some day. They think that if they can get others to lay tefillin, that will hasten his return. The students confronted these religious Jews with what the Scriptures had to say about the Messiah, including where he would be born (Beit-lechem, Bethlehem). The Chassidic Jews told them that they had never read in the biblical prophets where the messiah was to be born. They continued to quote from famous Jewish rabbis and sages, but they were unfamiliar with the biblical text. It was sad.
The group did evangelism in Haifa, but it was raining pretty hard so they split into two teams and went to a couple of malls to try to engage people in conversation. There were many, many good discussions with people, 12 of whom gave their addresses so that they could have further contact with our Israel staff.
One day the group headed out on the Sea of Galilee, and in the middle of the sea the captain turned off the engines and they had a good time of worship. Sammy, one of the men who worked on board, sat with them and, though not a believer, followed along and joined in during the songs that were in Hebrew. He was given a Hebrew edition of More Than a Carpenter, which he said he would read.
On the plane going home, many of the Project Joshua students were wearing their Jews for Jesus T-shirts, which opened lots of witnessing opportunities. Even before they got on the plane, their presence was known. One of the students, Mitch, was the last person on the bus that transported the passengers to the plane and as soon as he got on the bus the whole Project Joshua group started cheering. Many in the crowd on the bus looked at our group and started talking to Project Joshua students around them, and continued these conversations during the 13-hour flight!