The Value of Street Ministry
Well, possibly you have heard by now, but in case you have not, rejoice with us. On June 15, word came down that WE WON our case before the United States Supreme Court, 9-0. The ruling means that, at least for the time being, we are allowed to continue distributing our broadside gospel tracts in the Los Angeles Airport. I say for the time being,” because Justice Sandra Day O’Connor pointed out that the Court did not rule on the “public forum” issue. It only ruled against the way the regulation was written by the Los Angeles Airport Commissioners. Justice O’Connor’s wording hinted that some time in the future the Court might hand down another decision that could prohibit tract distribution at the airport.
The lower courts that found in our favor had done so on the grounds that government-owned airports are traditional public forums. However, in writing the Supreme Court decision, Justice O’Connor pointed out that the ruling had not decided whether or not such airports were “public forums.” She went on to say that they need not do so until another day, because a ban such as the Los Angeles Airport attempted “cannot be justified even if the airport were a nonpublic forum…no conceivable governmental interest would justify such an absolute prohibition of speech.”
At the same time that I heard about the Supreme Court decision in our favor, I also found out that Steve Cohen, the head of our Toronto ministry, had been issued a citation for handing out gospel tracts in front of the Toronto Blue Jays ballgame at Exhibition Stadium. A couple of weeks prior to that incident, Steve Burg of our Boston branch had also been arrested for handing out gospel tracts in front of Boston’s Fenway Park stadium. In addition, we have had indications of problems with the New York police as our people were handing out tracts in New York City.
At this point, many might be wondering why Jews for Jesus continues this kind of street ministry—street preaching and handing out tracts in public places. After all, we do have some alternatives.
We have had some very successful media outreaches, like our Yeshua Campaigns, whereby we place gospel statements in secular newspapers and magazines, many of which offer a free book on messianic prophecy. Our staff workers are trained Bible teachers, and we conduct many Bible studies. And beside that, we have found that people are willing to receive us in their homes for individual study and discussion.
Why, then, do we continue to insist on proclaiming the gospel in public places like street corners, campuses and outdoor sporting events? The answer lies in a true story.
Once there was a 16-year-old Jewish boy who was very serious for his age. He had it within himself to want to change the world—somehow to make his life really count. At the age of 13, when many other boys were still involved in the Boy Scouts, he had chosen instead to involve himself with a group called Youth for Democratic Action. Unknown to one of such a tender age, they were a Communist-front group. They talked a great deal about a revolution that would change the world—that would make for a classless society where all people would be free. By the age of 16, the young man had given up on Youth for Democratic Action. He could not explain to himself whether it was because he had discovered that the group leaders really did not mean what they said, or because a year earlier he had found himself a girlfriend who now received most of his attention.
Like him, the girl also had grown up in a Jewish home. Nevertheless, they both were floundering so far as values were concerned. They knew that they wanted to remain Jewish, and at 16 they even knew that they wanted to be married some day. The future had to mean more than just that, but for the time being, they were busy with one another and finding their place in everyday life.
The boy was probably overly ambitious. He was so busy that he lived a compartmentalized life. He had a job after school that kept him working until 9:00 at night. That did not allow much evening “date time,” so Sunday afternoons were reserved for going to the movies. All this happened in a time before most 16-year-old boys had access to automobiles, and for their Sunday afternoon dates the two young people would take public transportation downtown and walk to a movie theater.
There was one particular street corner in that town where every Sunday afternoon a certain man stood for hours, preaching and singing hymns. Though there were many people on that downtown street, for the most part they ignored him and simply passed by.
The young man never stopped to hear what the preacher was saying. Somehow he knew that it was about Christianity, and Christianity was not for him because he was Jewish. But one day as they passed that familiar scene, the young man turned to his girlfriend and said with conviction in his voice, “I wish I believed in something so strongly that I would be willing to stand on a street corner to tell others about it.”
Perhaps if the young man had seen many people listening to that preacher he would not have been so impressed. But while nobody seemed to be listening to the preacher, and some who passed were even abusive, he continued to stand and preach with dignity and a certain calmness. That fact influenced the 16-year-old all the more.
A year later, when the young man was 17, he had another meaningful experience. He was waiting at a bus stop after work one evening, when he met another young man, slightly older than him. They struck up a conversation, and the talk moved naturally to the subject of Jesus and faith in him concerning sin and atonement. At the time, the young man did not realize that he was the object of what Christians call “a witness.” All he knew was that he had met an interesting person who was talking to him about God, the Bible, the Jewish people, and how it all worked together. That conversation, begun at 9:10 p.m., continued until well past midnight.
It is doubtful that the young Jew ever would have gone inside a church. He certainly did not recognize within himself any kind of interest in Christianity. But that night he was confronted with the gospel message, and he faltered—faltered in his unbelief. He began to doubt the conviction with which he had been indoctrinated as a child—namely that Jesus could not possibly be the Jewish Messiah.
As he recalled the evening’s conversation, it seemed at times to the young man that his head was spinning—that what had been told him might possibly be true. But he decided that he did not want to know, even it is were true. He did not want it to be his problem. And that was the end of the matter, so far as he was concerned. But it was not the end of the matter. The person he had met at the bus stop did try again to witness to the young Jewish man, but the young man’s mind was closed. But the young Christian was persistent. If he could not talk to the young Jewish man about God, he could certainly talk to God about him. He began to pray. Four years later, the young Christian’s prayers were answered in a strange way.
The young Jewish man’s girlfriend at 16 had now become his wife. She was a person who was well-versed in the Jewish religion, but had strayed from the Orthodoxy of her upbringing during her teen years. Now suddenly and mysteriously, she started to want something spiritual for herself. On the verge of returning to Orthodox Judaism, she was also curious about the New Testament, when at just the right moment one cold, snowy February day, a lady came knocking at her door. The lady, a missionary, found an open heart in that young Jewish wife. The young woman began to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, and she started to tell her husband about it, completing the witness that had begun on a street corner four years earlier.
From the mouth of his own wife, the young man began to hear the message he had never stopped to hear from that downtown outdoor preacher—the message he had rejected from the friend he had acquired at the bus stop. He decided he would not listen to it from his wife, either. But she was persistent. She kept leaving tracts and pamphlets all around the house. One day he picked up one of the pamphlets and began to read it. It caused him to examine his own heart, and he found faith in Jesus.
There are those who say that outdoor meetings will not work, and that outdoor preaching is a method to be avoided. Then there are those who say that tracts and literature really do not speak to people and that handing them out is useless. But I know that they are wrong. How do I know? I was that 16-year-old young man!