I am always puzzled when I hear Jews for Jesus criticized for our street evangelism on the basis that handing out tracts is an impersonal or superficial way to greet people with the Good News of salvation through Yeshua (Jesus). In the first place, we view street evangelism as a means of making contact with those who may, prayerfully, be open to further interaction. (We do not advocate one instead of the other.) But secondly, handing out tracts publicly need not be impersonal. On the contrary, there is great potential for highly personal and meaningful interactions.
As part of the San Francisco branch, I do evangelism on several of the local college campuses. Two where I have had particularly fruitful encounters are UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University.
Admittedly, on the arch-liberal campus of UC Berkeley, many are not open. I generally stand beneath that impressive bronze archway that guards the entrance to the center of the campus. From this vantage point I (in my Jews for Jesus T-shirt) am highly visible to hordes of students on their way to various destinations. Sometimes I laugh to myself that this must be how Moses felt, as the sea of bodies parts down the middle, students swerving to the right or left to avoid engaging with me.
San Francisco State University is also eclectic, spiritually and ethnically. It features a large grassy central plaza which, during class changes particularly, affords wonderful opportunities to hand out tracts and speak with students about Yeshua.
In spite of prevailing attitudes, a surprisingly large number are willing to discuss the issue of Jesus’ identity. Prophet? Good man? Social reformer? Who do you think He is?” I query. Some will give their opinions and then listen to some evidence supporting the reliability of the biblical accounts. Some are open enough to allow me to pray for them. Occasionally, I am thanked profusely.
Not only have I met a few Jewish people who are open to further ministry, but many Gentiles are also willing to stop and chat. For example, an African-American student, Sherese, acknowledged that she had been wanting to get close to God. Having come from a church background, she knew who Jesus was, but never made that knowledge personal. That afternoon, after some discussion, she prayed with me to receive Jesus as her Savior.
I have also had fruitful conversations with Jewish students. Adam informed me that he is Jewish and has believed in Jesus for about a year. He is already firmly planted in a local church, but asked if we have resources “for guys like me.” Adam’s pastor had recently encouraged him to lead the congregation in a Passover seder, and I was glad to inform him that we can help. Adam has since joined us for numerous evangelistic events.
Noam is a young Jewish man who stopped to speak with me. We chatted briefly about Jesus and His claims. Noam’s challenge was, “How do we know the Bible is true?” He was willing to receive literature and gave me his name and address to receive our evangelistic publication, ISSUES, A Messianic Jewish Perspective. (I can’t resist saying this is a great publication that my wife Naomi helps edit!) Nick is another Jewish student who stopped and chatted. His slight accent betrayed his Russian background. He was also interested enough to hear more.
Yanna is a young Jewish woman who looked briefly at my T-shirt and asked me if I could help her find Hillel (a large Jewish organization). When I asked her what she thinks of Jesus, she took a closer look at my shirt and exclaimed, “Oh!” But she was also willing to chat briefly and receive literature.
These encounters were brief, but anything but impersonal. The conversations were short, but not superficial. My hope and prayer is that these and other such encounters will lead to relationships which can be cultivated. But even if they do not lead to deeper relationships, these encounters are meaningful in themselves and abundantly worthwhile. We can make a difference by being available to discuss important matters with strangers…even if we only get to see them once this side of glory.