What a remarkable ending to a fifteen-year story! When I joined Jews for Jesus back in 1976, I wanted everyone to know about Yeshua. But of course like any Jewish believer, I had an even deeper desire to see my own family come to faith.
At first I urged my parents to read the evidence about Yeshua in the New Testament. Then I asked them if they would consider what my faith meant to me. Ultimately, I had to face a very harsh reality.
One frigid January afternoon in 1977 my wife Jan and I were at my parents’ home in the state of Washington. On a nationwide speaking tour, we were telling people in churches about the Jewish roots of their faith and our evangelistic ministry. We had hoped that Mom and Dad would be willing to attend one of our presentations.
We thought we were coming for dinner, but we were met with something far different. You have broken with Jewish tradition,” my parents told me. “Jews don’t believe in Jesus. You are to leave us alone. Do not write, call or visit us ever again!” Jan and I left their home that afternoon with shattered illusions and heavy hearts.
Frequently after that we asked others to pray with us that the Lord would break through where we could not. We hoped that God would raise up another believer who cared and would share unashamedly with my parents that our Messiah has come.
During that period of fifteen years we moved several times before coming to our latest assignment, where I am the head of our Jews for Jesus South Florida branch. At each move we wrote informing Mom and Dad of our new address. With the birth of each of our five children, we sent them announcements. We sent pictures, even flowers on occasion, but never received a response. I didn’t know if anything we sent even got looked at, or was just thrown away unopened. It was as though my parents had become only a memory—one that was fading deeper and deeper into our past.
Then late one evening a couple of years ago my brother called us. (I was a missionary at the Boston branch of Jews for Jesus at the time.) He said, “Dad has cancer. The doctor said it is a type that spreads rapidly and he doesn’t have much time to live. Furthermore, he is refusing any kind of treatment. He has decided that he would rather take his own life when things get too bad.”
Now it seemed that my father was certainly nearing eternity, and without faith in Yeshua. But the doctor was wrong. The cancer did not spread as rapidly as he had thought it would.
On May 22, 1990 I was speaking at a pastors’ conference in Massachusetts. I had spoken about my father’s condition and had asked prayer for his salvation, for a reconciliation between us and for his healing. As soon as the session ended, I was given an emergency message from my brother. My father had attempted suicide but had failed.
What should I do? I knew that I was not welcome in my parents’ home. Yet it was clear that I might never have another chance to see my father alive. I decided to try.
Jan brought me some clothes from home, and I went directly from the conference to Logan Airport. The next thing I knew I had landed in Pasco, Washington. My brother Dennis picked me up. He said, “They don’t want to see you. I am instructed not to bring you to their home.”
Well,I had not flown all that way not to see them. Even though they were resisting me, I would not receive it. The next day I met with Alan, the person who had led me to the Lord. We prayed that the Lord would break through the years of separation with my parents and heal our relationship.
On May 23rd I went to my parents’ home once again. I had no idea what to expect as I rang the doorbell. But my brother came out of the house and said, “I don’t understand it! They said that they will see you now!”
With rivers of tears and huge bear hugs, nearly fifteen years of separation ended that day. I spent a couple of days there. It was like my father and mother who were dead were alive again. And almost like the return of the prodigal son (though I like to think of this as the return of the prodigal father and mother) a feast was called for. We didn’t have fatted calves, but we had the next best thing—Chinese food from the restaurant where we used to get it during my childhood. While sitting around the table, my parents said, “We don’t understand it. It seems that your faith in Jesus has made you even more Jewish than before!” Aware of our celebration of the Jewish holidays and how we were rearing our children, they realized that believing in Jesus had not turned me into a Gentile.
Now that we had been reunited, I hoped that my parents would be saved, for surely my father did not have long to live. Yet they were still resistant to hearing about Jesus from me. When I left to return to Boston, both my dad and I thought it was the last time we would see each other. That made it an exceptionally difficult parting. I asked many friends and ministry supporters if they would write Mom and Dad and let them know they were praying. That really made an impact. My parents received more than fifty pieces of mail from people they never knew.
One result of our restored relationship was huge phone bills, but I would not trade that time for anything on earth! The cancer progressed, and finally my cousin Nancy talked Dad into going into a hospital, at least to get relief from the pain. Amazingly, Dad agreed. He needed surgery, and there was a chance he would not survive the operation. Again I found myself on a plane to the West Coast—this time to St. Vincent’s in Portland, Oregon, the very same hospital where I was born.
The next five days blurred into one. The highlight was when my cousin Susan, who is a believer, came up from Eugene. Susan and I had discussed over the months how she was in a better position to witness to my dad than I. Dad had helped to raise Susan while her father was in the army, and they were very close. Susan had given Dad a Bible which he literally cherished. As she and I were together in the hospital, we prayed that God would show Dad the truth about Yeshua.
When it became clear that Dad would survive the surgery, I returned home. But I knew that it was the last time I would see him. As my family and I were getting ready to move to our new post in Florida, many were undergirding us with prayer. My Dad’s illness, the move and opening a new Jews for Jesus office could have been really overwhelming, but the Lord’s grace was definitely sufficient!
On Thanksgiving morning at 1:30 a.m., Susan called me. “Steven, I couldn’t wait. I had to call and tell you that I just got off the phone with your dad. And Steven, guess what? Your dad prayed with me to receive Yeshua as his Messiah.” I was instantly awake. I knew the angels in heaven were rejoicing, and so was I!
The next day I had my last conversation with Dad, and I told him how grateful to the Lord I was about his salvation.The movers had just come, our housing details were settled and we were soon on our way. The next few days the Cohen family was on the road, driving down to Florida. When we arrived in the Ft. Lauderdale area, I called my mom to let her know we were safely there. She told me that Dad had died two days ago.
“But fifteen minutes before he died,” Mom said, “Dad sat straight up in bed and said, ‘I’m starting my journey now.”
I know that Dad is in the presence of the Lord, and I rejoice that the prayers of many have been answered. My mother is still considering what has happened, and she is willing to listen now, more than ever, about how good our God is.
Please pray that others will not give up on their families. God’s timing is perfect. We need to remember that while a situation looks impossible to us, from his vantage point, everything is under control.