Behold, the sower went out to sow…” Being a missionary is a little like being a farmer. You get to know a parcel of land-a particular field. You cultivate it, prepare it and pray for the Lord of the harvest to provide the increase.
Tufts University is one of those “fields” for us here at the Boston branch of Jews for Jesus. Tufts is a small liberal arts college, originally founded as a Christian school, but no longer emphasizing preparation for the clergy. Rather, it is known for preparing the future engineers of America, and it has a high percentage of Jewish students.
When our Boston branch reopened in 1983, 1 addressed the Tufts Christian Fellowship about the need to share their faith with Jewish students. Later that year they hosted us on campus as we distributed broadsides. This produced a blistering vocal reaction from the Hillel rabbi and two Jewish students on campus, who mobilized sentiment against the Tufts Christian Fellowship. For several weeks the Christian club experienced opposition because of their friendship with us.
There were charges of “insensitivity” and “cult-like practices.” The Christian club stated that they saw nothing wrong with either Jews for Jesus or our statement that Christ is the Savior of Jews as well as Gentiles. They invited us back on campus, and our literature continued to be distributed.
This year when the Tufts Christian Fellowship once again approached us about coming to campus, I warned them that they would face fresh opposition for aligning themselves with us. The club had gone through a winnowing process as a result of the previous year’s opposition, and the remaining 12 members were thinking seriously about what they wanted to accomplish for the Lord on campus.
I suggested several alternatives to my coming to speak on campus, but they insisted that they wanted to raise an issue by my presence and grant Jewish students an opportunity to hear about Jesus. A seminar was scheduled for Monday night, March 4, at Cabot Auditorium. It was to be publicized as “A Jewish View of Jesus.” To show fairness, the campus rabbi was invited to participate and give his viewpoint, but he declined.
In the weeks preceding the seminar, members of Tufts Christian Fellowship put up posters on campus. These were immediately and systematically torn down. In the course of one week, 500 posters were put up and torn down.
The president of Tufts Christian Fellowship and I wrote to the editor of the school paper requesting a more thoughtful response from the opposition. Freedom of speech and religion became an issue as it appeared that the posters were being torn down by those who held a different religious opinion in order to prevent our getting a fair hearing. That set the stage for us. A letter appeared in the school paper accusing TCF of insensitivity and Jews for Jesus of intolerance. The writer called for “dialogue” to produce a synthesis of belief and mutual respect. Simply put, some didn’t want our beliefs to be aired.
Early in the afternoon of the scheduled seminar there was a power failure at the auditorium. TCF leaders were informed that they’d have to find another room. The venue was changed to an unused dining hall, and we arrived at 7:00 p.m. to find locked doors and no one around. A police officer came and opened the building, and we posted signs at Cabot Auditorium about the new location. We tried to rearrange the tables and chairs into a more appropriate setting, but we couldn’t obliterate the background noises of a churning ice maker and a burbling fruit punch machine.
It seemed like everything, including the weather, was working against a successful meeting. It was bitter cold, and a light snow had begun to turn into freezing rain, making driving very dangerous. It was the kind of night when no one likes to go out. While I had hoped for 25 students, now I wondered if we’d have only the Christian club. However, by 8:00 p.m. students were continuing to stream in, and at the last count there were 50 in the dining hall.
Some were openly hostile. They spread out in little pockets across the room and pulled out note pads and a couple of tape recorders. I found myself praying, “Lord, grant me the words to speak about you.” There was nothing more important to have recorded.
Because it’s harder to heckle a singer than a speaker, I opened with a couple of songs, including “Behold, God is my Salvation.” It was obvious which were the Christians and which were not; the Christians were singing along! Then I began by saying, “The message I bear makes some people uncomfortable,” and went on to discuss “uncomfortable truths,” the first of which was that humanity loves darkness rather than light because our deeds are evil (John 3:19). That got us into a discussion of sin.
The second uncomfortable truth was that truth is always absolute and stands on its own. Though some might want to deny, reject or modify it, it still stands absolute.
The third uncomfortable truth was that Jesus Christ is the only way to God. 1 was amazed that as I spoke, people sat quietly, many taking notes. As I quoted the words of Jesus in John 14:6 and of Peter in Acts 4:12, 1 imagined how I would have felt to hear them before I became a believer. Uncomfortable truths, indeed!
The last uncomfortable truth I spoke of was God’s love. Like a parent who cares and knows best for his children while they often behave like little ones in rebellion, God, in his loving kindness, extends grace and faith that all might know him. He is so big and gracious that he sent his Son to die for the rebellious ones so that we might turn again and devote our lives to him. In loving kindness he takes us who are broken and, in the Messiah, makes us whole. We are weak, and he gives us strength; incomplete, and he becomes our sufficiency.
Afterwards during the question and answer period, the real, volatile nature of the meeting came to light. Several of the Jewish students objected and wanted to use the time as a platform to explain why Jesus couldn’t be the way. I kept a tight rein on the discussion, explaining that the gospel hadn’t been given a fair hearing at Tufts because of intimidation, tearing down of posters, and dissenting letters in the school paper—all designed to dissuade others from considering faith in Christ. Now this night was to be the time that we would openly profess not just a “Jewish view of Jesus,” but that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of Jew and Gentile alike.
At the conclusion of the question and answer period, I and some of the other members of the Jews for Jesus Boston staff stayed and made ourselves available to talk with the students. I found myself talking softly and gently, with openness, to a group of seven or 10 listeners.
Two students particularly stand out in my memory. One never gave me his name. He said that he believed in God and was convinced that Jesus couldn’t be the Messiah. When I asked why, he responded, “It just couldn’t be true.” I pointed out that it might be an uncomfortable truth, but that didn’t make it an impossibility. I asked if he would be willing to believe if the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were to show him that Jesus was the Messiah. The young man said “No,” and with lowered eyes stepped back into the crowd. I think his own prejudice had suddenly convicted him. It gave me a chance to explain again to the others what it means to approach God not as rebels, demanding that he live up to our ideas, but as vulnerable children, seeking to know him on his terms.
The second student was a girl named Yvette. She identified herself as Jewish. We had come to Tufts to raise an issue and sow seed, and Yvette was one of those who had “ears to hear.” She asked questions with longing in her voice and hope in her eyes. “If I ask God to show me, how will I know that he’s answering me? If it’s true, how will I know?” she asked. It gave me a chance to speak reassuringly, and from the smiles of the Christians around us, I knew that many were praying for Yvette.
I wish I could say with certainty that fruit was borne that night at Tufts and some came to Christ. I don’t know that yet. We’ve been working in that field cultivating, sowing, plowing, preparing the ground. Now we wait upon the Lord for his increase.
I feel that the sun is shining and a spiritual rain is falling, and I believe that there is seed germinating in good ground. Pray with me that in the days ahead there will be reports that some from the household of Israel have come to trust Jesus as Messiah and Savior because of the seed that was sown that day in the field at Tufts University.
When I was in college, “No Nukes” was a popular student slogan. A colleague who had attended college 10 years earlier than I told me that the cause at that time was purely and simply “the Vietnam War.” Today the issues on college campuses are wide and varied, but they tend to be lumped under one banner of reform. If one issue is supported, it seems to demand support of all the others.
Even as I write this, the University of California at Berkeley students are boycotting classes and holding rallies over the apartheid issue, and recently a “prochoice” rally was held at San Francisco State University. The problem is that students don’t have the option of supporting just one cause without being drawn into a whole spectrum of causes. At Berkeley it’s not only apartheid; and at San Francisco State it’s not only prochoice, because the protesters have developed a network of mutual support.
Since I regularly broadside the San Francisco State campus, I knew beforehand that the students were planning a rally opposing a pro-life film that was going to be shown on campus. I thought that since there would be a crowd at that rally, it would be a great opportunity for me to hand out our gospel tracts.
As I stood on the outskirts of the crowd, I was amazed by what I saw and heard. The pro-choice supporters took the platform and began to speak out not only in favor of abortion, but also against nuclear arms, apartheid, President Reagan, involvement in Nicaragua and El Salvador, and for gay rights and a myriad of other causes. The real issue of abortion—the life of the unborn child—was never discussed as they focused instead on the bombings of abortion clinics and how the pro-lifers would like to force women to go into back alleys for unsafe abortions.
I felt frustrated as I stood there because I saw that many students were standing around listening and agreeing to all that was being said, seemingly without thinking through each issue for themselves.
I remembered what it was like for me before I became a believer in Yeshua. At that time I was blind not only to the gospel, but to many things. Even after I became a believer, it took time and the work of the Holy Spirit in my life to convict me of the true and righteous issues for which I ought to stand based on the teachings of Scripture.
I looked at those students on campus and saw myself. “Blindness” was the only word that came to mind, and I thought of 2 Corinthians 4:4: “the god of this age hath blinded the minds of them who believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” I remembered the statement of Jesus concerning the Pharisees: “…blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14).
I felt the hostility of many of the students as they passed me. Even though I wasn’t distributing literature that spoke directly about the issues being discussed, they sensed who I was and what I stood for because of the “Jews for Jesus” boldly printed on my jacket. The tract I was distributing that day was “Why You Are Important.” As many passed, demanding to know if I was “pro” or “con,” I simply handed them one of my tracts saying, “Read it and figure it out for yourself.” I wanted them to think, not to make a choice because I had talked them into it.
It’s so sad that people can be persuaded by an emotionally charged speech rather than by the truth or falseness of an issue. Satan, the god of this world, has truly blinded the eyes of unbelievers. We need to pray especially for the young people—the students—who are at a questioning time of life, that the sight of many will be restored by the light of the gospel.
One of the places I like best for handing out gospel broadsides is the UCLA campus. Most students enjoy communicating their ideas and there are people of all ages and cultures who will talk openly about controversial subjects.
One day as I stood at one of my favorite spots near the Humanities Division, I saw a wiry, darkhaired man stop and glare at me. His friend called to him, but determinedly he kept looking at me. I noticed that he was wearing a rock star T-shirt with the cynical face of some super idol on it.
“Have you ever seen our literature before?” I asked.
“Sure, and it makes me sick,” he remarked coldly. “You’re not Jewish!”
I grinned at him and said, “So, you with the ‘idol’ on your T-shirt, we Jews for Jesus worship only God according to his command through Moses. Have you ever heard of the ‘Sh’ma’?” (Deuteronomy 6:4, Judaism’s primary confession of faith.)
That challenge angered him, and he started towards me with a clenched fist. His friend stopped him by grabbing him around the waist. “Aw, leave her alone,” he chided. (At that point I decided that he was my friend, too.)
I was about to turn away when Andi, a new believer in Yeshua, walked onto the scene. The T-shirt-clad young man was yelling that no normal Jew could ever believe in Jesus. I smiled and introduced him to Andi, who innocently asked what was going on. I explained to her that I was trying to tell the young man that Jewish people should not worship idols.
Andi told me later that she had thought she had walked in on one of our creative Jews for Jesus street testimonies. Thinking that all of us were on staff, she had just played along.
Well, it’s not as though the whole incident hadn’t been “staged.” It’s just that Jews for Jesus can’t take the credit for it. God put together a great “skit.” I got out quite a few tracts during that exchange, and I think that a clear message was transmitted that Jewish believers in Yeshua worship only one God as Moses directed. We also were able to show that we can laugh at ourselves and some of the strange situations in which we find ourselves.
Besides that, the experience was good for Andi. Having known Yeshua for only a few weeks, she was strengthened as she had her first opportunity to take a public stand for her Messiah. It’s exciting to see how God works in the lives of his people, sometimes by allowing confrontation and opposition.
“You’ve got to be kidding!” was Richard’s opening statement to me as I handed out broadsides at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Obviously, something about my handing out tracts while wearing a T-shirt that said “Jews for Jesus” had struck a responsive chord in Richard. He was ready for me with a whole set of arguments about why Jesus is not, and could not possibly be, the Messiah. Not one of Richard’s arguments was based on the Bible. They were all based on learned prejudices and biases.
When I challenged Richard with what the Scriptures say about Jesus, he admitted that he really did not know enough of either the Old or the New Testament to discuss the issue of Jesus from that basis. Although Richard was confused and somewhat upset, he did agree to receive our Yeshua book and some more literature about Jesus and why we believe that he is the Messiah.
I have had so many conversations like that one. They all serve to remind me that the issue of whether or not Jesus is the Messiah is not a theological question to most Jewish people. Instead, it is a very emotional issue. The general Jewish reaction is, “How can I believe in the very one who (supposedly) has been the cause of the many atrocities committed against Jewish people in his name? How can I believe in something that is so Gentile?”
My people have been blinded spiritually, and the only thing that by God’s grace will help to open their blind eyes is to present Jesus to them as he really is—what he really said and did instead of what they’ve heard, or what has been misrepresented about him from generation to generation. We must be in constant prayer for the many like Richard who need to look past their preconceived ideas until they can see and understand the truth. Pray that the Holy Spirit would send his healing “laser” of light into the minds and hearts of those who are so blind to the truth, especially the student population of this country who will soon become the leaders of their communities and of this nation.
Note: The schools mentioned here are only a few of the scores of campuses cross the country where Jews for Jesus has been able to make a gospel statement. We have helped many student Christian groups raise a story for the Savior. Your prayers for our campus ministry are appreciated as many students will be returning to school in just a few weeks.