Never Too Old
I first met Chuck two years ago when I gave a Christ in the Passover presentation at the church where his daughter Judy attends.
Judy was not a Christian when her children began their education at the Pilgrim Lutheran School. However, through the ministry of the church and school she, as well as her husband and children, all came to faith in Christ. That was no easy step for Judy since, through her father, she identifies as a Jew. He was accepting enough; after all, Judy’s mother (now departed) had been an ardent Christian. But though Chuck cherished his wife, he never wanted any part of her religion. After all,” he would say, “I’m Jewish.” The implication that this ruled out belief in Jesus was, for Chuck, the natural order of the universe.
Judy looked forward to the presentation and made matzo ball soup for the supper that took place beforehand. I shared a table with Chuck. He was pleasant as he made it quite clear that his Jewish heritage is important to him and that he would “prefer to remain that way.” Seeds were planted, but he was not interested in meeting further to discuss Jesus.
Last December, my colleague Cyril Gordon gave a message at the church and once again, Chuck attended. The two of them began meeting for Bible study. By late summer, Cyril felt he had gone as far as he could with Chuck. So he invited me to meet with Chuck.
Chuck wanted reassurance that it was okay to be Jewish and believe in Jesus, but even more, he was starting to face his own mortality. Chuck dearly wanted to be with his departed wife, wherever that was. He didn’t see how it could work since he is Jewish and she was Christian. At the age of 87, he wondered who would officiate at his funeral, and what they would say.
We met in August 2008, in the backyard of the house Chuck actually built after the War. He went through his list of objections to faith in Jesus, then shared a poignant new development. A few days before we met, he had been having pizza with an army buddy. Afterwards, his friend had gone home with his wife—and died a few hours later. Chuck was deeply shaken and realized that death could surprise him at any time.
As we sat in the quiet of his garden, his daughter Judy sat at the other end of the table from us and Cyril sat across from her. I’m sure that both of them were praying for Chuck. I asked what he thought would happen after he died. He had only a vague and uncertain idea. I read from Job, chapter nineteen—the passage that shows Job so excited to declare that one day he would be resurrected from the grave and see God with his own eyes. Chuck could see from this that the concepts of resurrection and life beyond the grave are Jewish ideas. He was quiet for a long time.
Then I asked if he knew why people die, and he didn’t have a clue. We looked at the book of Genesis to see how sin introduced death into the human experience. Then we went to the writings of Isaiah and the promise of a Redeemer who would offer Himself for the transgressions of our people. Chuck had never read Isaiah 53 before. He immediately understood that Isaiah had written about Jesus, more than seven centuries before He walked on the earth. The spiritual veil was being lifted.
Our conversation continued for almost two hours. Finally I offered to pray that God would give Chuck faith to believe the truth. He countered, “I do want to believe.” Then he surprised me by adding, “Well, I do believe in Jesus.” I asked if he would like to pray and confirm that faith in Jesus as his Redeemer. “Yes,” he said. “I would.”
I led in prayer, pausing at times to ask Chuck if my words reflected his understanding. He immediately responded in his own prayer, “Yes Lord, I too am a sinner in need of your forgiveness.” And so it went, back and forth. Each time I paused, Chuck would address God, agreeing in his own words, receiving forgiveness and a saving relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through Jesus Christ.
I was so moved to see 87-year-old Chuck find peace with God. No one is ever too old to come to faith in Yeshua (Jesus). Many have been known to say, “I’m too old to change” or “I will never believe like you do,” but do not be discouraged. The Holy Spirit knows no age limit and can change any heart!
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.