Things are heating up in our campus ministry at Northridge, California. As any Jews for Jesus missionary will attest, that’s the way we prefer it—anything but lukewarm. Lukewarmness does not promote interest and repartee.
During one mid-class lull, while I talked with another believer about campus evangelism and offered and received mutual encouragement, I spotted Moses, whom we have observed to be the most active and zealous member of a certain Jewish organization that advocates a return to Orthodox Judaism and strict adherence to the Torah (Law of Moses). He was peering from behind a tree like some six-foot vulture waiting to pounce on me. I broke off my conversation and headed back to check on my broadsiding partner, Lynn Wein.
Moses, generally a quiet sort, was irate. That day I was using our tract Torah is good for the soul,” and this had struck a sensitive nerve. Moses asked if we had any more of this “garbage.” “No, I don’t have any garbage, just more of this literature, although some seem to find it good littering material,” I said.
“I assume you’re familiar with this,” he said. He held up a booklet published by a semi-scholarly and semi-gentlemanly self-determined opponent of Jewish evangelism in the Pacific Northwest.
“Yes, I believe I’ve seen that,” I replied.
“If you continue to pass those (our tracts) out, I will be forced to mobilize people to hand this out, which will hurt your work and show that Josephus was not accurate,” Moses threatened.
“Okay, shall we say next Wednesday?” I responded.
“Fine,” Moses said.
“How about 11:30?” I asked.
“Okay, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he replied.
As I left, I was containing quiet “hallelujahs” under my breath. For too long this campus had been all but apathetic toward the issue of Jesus. This was just the kind of “free advertising” we needed to produce a godly controversy.
When I returned the following Wednesday, I was alone, so I occupied what we consider the best spot on campus—the spot my co-worker Lynn had occupied the previous week. Arriving early, I was disappointed when I didn’t see Moses.
After a little more than a half hour of good broadsiding, I saw Moses carrying a large, wrapped bundle of the promised booklet. I knew Moses had engaged in a good phone conversation with Avi Snyder, our branch leader. Avi had instructed me not to spar or strive with this fellow, as he was remarkably sincere and consistent within the framework of his world view. He was refreshingly different, and this was not a case of “answering a fool according to his folly.”
Moses greeted me and explained why he was late. He had thought I was going to be where I had been the week before and trusted it had not been an intentional deception. I empathized with his standing for a half-hour with an unwieldy package and a zealous sense of urgency in his heart. I pointed out that I was nearer to the location of his table where I was now, and had honestly assumed that this was where he would set up again.
I was surprised when Moses said he found the tract I was using this time rather harmless and generic compared with the previous week’s. I learned that his objections stemmed from our using elements of Jewish culture for the sake of identification with Jewish people in giving them the gospel. If our broadside was obviously Christian from its cover, or one of general evangelism, he had no problem with it.
Somewhat to my disappointment, he decided not to use his booklet. We had our first really civil discussion, and I learned to like this man, affirming him where I could for his consistent forthrightness. I pointed out that Jews for Jesus was not borrowing elements of Jewish culture for the sake of Christian witness; rather, those of us who were Jewish were just being their “own Jewish selves” in their mode of expression, and this was especially true of the writers of such literature, who, unlike myself, had been raised in the same Jewish culture as had Moses. This led to an interesting discussion about the double-standard among the ultra-orthodox sects, who view worship of Jesus as perfectly acceptable for Gentiles under the “Noahic Law” but as idolatry for Jewish people.
Learning that he was dealing with a Gentile, Moses began politely and discreetly to withdraw. I felt it was a good opportunity then for me to “pour on the Yiddishkeit.” I pointed out that my wife and children were Jewish, at least under the definitions popularly accepted in the State of Israel.
In a good-natured fashion Moses expressed open interest in talking to my family under the banner of his ethic of persuading the Jews and leaving the Gentiles alone. I quipped that I would be willing to consider his working for me for seven years, as did his forefather Jacob, for the hand of my six-year-old daughter Bethany, although a resume would have to be submitted. I also invited him to lunch. He declined as he reported with pride that he must meet with a Jewish individual for some instruction, which was his business on campus.
It has always been liberating for us to be about our business, acting according to our principles and letting the chips fall where they may. Unfortunately, from a subsequent conversation Avi had with Moses, we learned that Moses thought he had struck a deal with us about not using a certain class of literature on “his” turf. We had made no distinction between the broadsides from one Wednesday to the next; but I can’t think of a better way to get feedback.
Needless to say, for that reason another printing of “Torah is good for the soul” is in the works. We don’t want it too quiet on campus!