In cities where there are not large Jewish populations, the custom of the congregation is to have laymen lead the weekly worship services, and a special rabbi is hired from a nearby large city for special services and holy days. Such was the case in the small town in eastern Washington where I grew up. My parents made sure I had some religious training, but for the most part, any formal religion was downplayed. However, I was always taught that it was important to be a good person, to respect my fellow man, and to remain loyal to Judaism (regardless of how I chose to express that loyalty). When I went off to Seattle for college, I might well have been described as a steadfast and sincere young man, and that was pretty much how I pictured myself.
I wanted no part of the fraternity life, which I soon judged to be frivolous. For a while, I gave it a chance, but one night when there was $3,000 at stake in a "friendly poker game" in the frat house, I knew that my studies were not going to be broadened by taking part in this lifestyle.
What I did feel would broaden my horizons, however, was to become proficient in my studies, which were in Cosmological Planning (a theory of the ongoing processes in the universe, integrating various scientific disciplines). My studies in Cosmological Planning helped develop my sense of logic so I could become a criminal attorney. If I had articulated my view of God (which I didn’t), it would have been pantheistic: God was a force in all things, and could not be understood as a personal deity.
After my third year of school, I decided to get my military service out of the way. I joined the Air Force Reserves and was sent to San Antonio . There I met another student, named Alan Rither, who was much like myself (also in the midst of law school). I knew Alan was religious and a good person, but I never paid much attention to the various religions of the Gentiles. We became fast friends, and when we both returned to Seattle , we continued to get together on a regular basis. I knew he had something in his life that I wanted in mine, but I didn’t know what it was.
Returning to my studies, I completed my undergraduate work at the University of Washington and made plans to move to Tacoma to attend the University of Puget Sound Law School . One day I went to take a last look at Seattle when a very strange event occurred. A black Lincoln Continental drove up the hill on which I stood and stopped next to me. A man got out of the car, approached me, and without any introduction said that he knew I was Jewish and he had a message from God for me. Then he said, "You should study the Bible and turn your life over to Jesus, the Messiah. Your mission in life will then be to bring the message of the Messiah to your Jewish people." Then he got back into his car and drove away. Talk about crazy!! I thought I had encountered a genuine nut!! But I couldn’t quite forget what he had said.
My life proceeded according to my schedule; law school was going well; I had friends, a wife and a meaningful existence. One night over dinner with Alan, my comfortable existence was challenged when he asked, "Steve, what do you think is man’s purpose for living?" I spent the next three hours answering his question just as if I were delivering a peroration in court. I was actually quite pleased with myself.
Then he picked up a Bible and read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.”
All my logic went flying out the window. "But I’m Jewish. I can’t accept that," I told him.
Soon my life changed . All my best-laid plans were falling apart. School presented problems; my great future lay in jeopardy, and I longed for stability that I couldn’t produce within myself. One night, I challenged God. “Are You there?” If You are, show me. Make the street lamp go out." SNAP!! Out it went. I figured God got lucky. It would never happen again in a million years. It was just that we were in the middle of a storm. But something told me that it wasn’t just a coincidence. "Okay," I ventured, "If it was really You, make it go on again." CLICK!! On it went! That night I went to bed with the realization that God might have something to say to me. I began reading the Bible to find out for myself what God had to say.
On December 23, 1973 , six months after the street lamp incident, Alan was over at my house again. On this night, he did a foolish thing. "Steve, would you like to receive Jesus as your Messiah?" he asked.
I froze. Silently I prayed, asking God for some indication that this was really what He wanted for me. Still silently, I prayed, "If You, the God of Israel , want me to accept Jesus as the Messiah, give me one last sign. Make one of the candles in this room go out." For no apparent reason, Alan got up and blew out one candle.
As Alan walked back to sit on the couch, I told him I was ready to believe and receive Jesus. He opened his Bible and read to me Romans 10:9:
"That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved."
We prayed together as I received Christ. I’m grateful for this faithful friend who cared enough to pray for two years before God answered him, and even more grateful to the God who cared enough to answer.
STEVE COHEN and his wife, Jan, have been on our missionary staff since 1976. They were first assigned to a mobile evangelistic tour during which they ministered cross country. Then they were assigned to our New York branch. After 15 months in New York City , they went to Omaha where they headed an "outpost" for Jews for Jesus. Since January 1979, Steve has been the leader of our Mobile Evangelistic Team, the New Jerusalem Players.