It Started in Israel…
I began my missionary service with Jews for Jesus on February 1, 1974. I was twenty-seven years old at the time. The ministry was little more than a year old, so people kept asking me What will you be doing five years from now?” The question seemed to imply that I was doing a good thing, but that there might not be much of a future for Jews for Jesus. Well, on February 1, 1999, I will celebrate a full twenty-five years on staff! I’d like to pause and reflect on what the Lord has done.
I came to faith in Christ in 1970. Uncertain about where I fit into the American Christian scene, I moved to Israel, where Christian friends helped me grow as a new Jewish believer in Jesus. While studying Hebrew at an ulpan (a language school for new immigrants and foreign workers), I realized the intense desire in my heart to tell my people about Yeshua the Messiah of our people.
One cold winter afternoon in 1971, I was sitting in the sun on the roof of a mission house in the center of Jerusalem. I had been reading about the revival in the Southern Kingdom of Judah during the reign of good King Josiah. My heart was aching with the hope of seeing such a revival among our people again. I prayed that afternoon, and often afterwards, that God would use my life to make the message of Jesus known to my Jewish people.
After I’d lived abroad for eighteen months, the Lord began to speak to me about returning to the United States. In the course of exploring my options, I sent a letter to Moishe Rosen. I asked if he might have a job for me. At the time, he was working for another Jewish mission. He wasn’t in a position to hire me, but he offered me something far better—an opportunity.
I simply wanted to serve the Lord in whatever way He wanted, so an opportunity suited me just fine. I moved from Jerusalem to northern California, got a part-time job selling clothes at J.C. Penney and began handing out tracts with the other volunteers at “Moishe’s office.” I later took a job with a children’s group home, but continued spending much of my time as a volunteer with Moishe and the gang.
Six of us “irregulars” formed a drama team, calling ourselves the New Jerusalem Players, to compliment the musical ministry of The Liberated Wailing Wall. I enjoyed being used in a way that allowed my life to be an ensign for Jesus to the Jewish community. I could see that we were in the process of changing the climate of opinion in the Jewish community. As my joy in doing the work lasted from week to week, I began thinking about becoming a full-time missionary.
Jews for Jesus was barely two months old when, for the first time since Israel, I asked Moishe once again if he might have a job for me. He encouraged me to be patient and to wait for the organization to develop a bit further. Three months later, in February of 1974, Moishe offered me a position.
Money wasn’t the draw to Jews for Jesus. In fact, I took a pay cut down to one third of the $635 a month that I had been making in order to be a missionary. It was the opportunity to reach my Jewish people for Jesus that attracted me.
Nearly twenty-five years later, my enthusiasm for the ministry has not diminished. I still enjoy the work that the Lord has given me to do in His service. It amazes me to think how He answered my prayer on that Jerusalem roof top. I just wanted to acknowledge publicly what He did to answer me in private. How great is the loving kindness of the Lord Almighty! Should He tarry, Lord willing, I’ll be right here in five more years and five more after that. Thanks to all of you who have made this mission possible over the years.
Tuvya Zaretsky is one of the founders of the Jews for Jesus ministry. He was the first field missionary beginning his service in February 1974. Tuvya continues to serve the Lord, now as the Director of Staff Development internationally, based out of the Los Angeles office. He also chairs the Board for the Jews for Jesus branch in Tel Aviv, Israel. Tuvya was raised in Northern California in the institutions of American Judaism. During his bar mitzvah at age thirteen, Tuvya read from Isaiah 6:1-8 and declared with the prophet, Hineni-Here I am, send me!" However, his search for God and spiritual truth didn't come into focus until ten years later, when a Christian colleague encouraged him to seek God in the pursuit of truth. Tuvya came to believe in Y'shua (Jesus) on December 7, 1970. Ever since, he has been joyfully saying to God, "Hineni-Here am I." The full story is available by that title, in a booklet form here. Tuvya has provided the leadership of Jews for Jesus branches and evangelistic campaigns in major cities of the US and in Israel. He headed up the Las Vegas Behold Your God (BYG) campaign in 2005 and co-led the 2006 BYG outreach in New Jersey. He is now also an administrator for the website www.JewishGentileCouples.com. In April, 1989, Zaretsky was present at the Willowbank Consultation on the Christian Gospel and the Jewish people, that produced the watershed Willowbank Declaration. Tuvya has presented missiology papers at the Evangelical Theological Society, the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE) and at the Global Diaspora Missiology Consultation in 2006. He currently serves as president for the International Coordinating Committee of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, a networking body of Jewish mission agencies. He was editor of the Lausanne Occasional Paper 60, Jewish Evangelism" A Call to the Church in 2004. He was a contributing author of Israel the Land and People edited by H. Wayne House (Kregel Publishers, 1998). His doctoral dissertation, co-authored with Dr. Enoch Wan, was published as Jewish-Gentile Couples: Trends, Challenges and Hopes (William Carey Library Publishers, 2004). He authored or edited articles for the June 2006 issue of MISHKAN themed, "The Gospel and Jewish-Gentile Couples" (Jerusalem) . And in 2008 he was coordinator and contributor for the World Evangelical Alliance Consultation that produced "The Berlin Declaration on the Uniqueness of Christ and Jewish Evangelism in Europe Today". In 2013 Zaretsky was appointed to serve as the Senior Associate for Jewish Evangelism by the International Lausanne Movement. Tuvya has an M.A. in Missiology concentrating in Judaic Studies from Fuller Seminary's School of Intercultural Studies and the Doctor of Missiology degree from the Division of Intercultural Studies at Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He is married to Ellen, who is also a Jewish Believer in Jesus. They have three young adult children: Jesse, Abbie and Kaile.