Who Needs It?” He Did!”
I first met Howard when he walked into our headquarters office completely unannounced. In just a few minutes of conversation I knew that here was a Jewish man who was open and willing to discuss the claims of Jesus.
When I asked Howard how he knew of Jews for Jesus and how he had found us, his answer was most encouraging.
Are you kidding?” he quipped. “Everyone knows where you guys are!”
Later that week I met with Howard in his home, and I was immediately struck by the Jewish atmosphere. His paintings, his books, his sculpture and other decorations were all identifiably Jewish.
Howard told me his story. His boyhood home life had not been deeply Jewish. His family had celebrated both the Jewish holidays and Christmas. His father was a believer in Jesus who had attended church every week; yet he had kept his faith and church attendance a private matter, never bothering to teach his children or even to discuss with them what he believed.
As time passed, Howard did not have a clear idea of his Jewishness, so he began to explore what it entailed. First he got involved with a radical group called the Jewish Defense League. After that he lived in Israel for several years and experienced Judaism through the guidance of the Lubavitch Chabad sect of “ultra-orthodox” Jews.
Through the years Howard kept searching for a genuine spirituality, but never found it. Over and over he asked his rabbi friends what he must do to experience God in his life. The answer was always the same: “Do more mitzvot” (meritorious deeds to fulfill the Commandments). Howard did this and that, just as the rabbis suggested, but he always came up empty.
One issue kept intruding on Howard: the question of Jesus. At various points through the years and during his search Howard would get confronted with Jesus in one way or another, and every time it happened he felt like something real was there.
“But who wants Jesus?” Howard said. “Who needs it? Come on! My son had a bar mitzvah, my wife thinks I’m absolutely crazy when I talk like this, and besides, I don’t want to believe in Jesus. My problem is that I can’t get rid of Him! Every time Jesus comes into my life, I feel like that’s the answer.”
Howard and I conversed for close to an hour. As I left, I gave him an article called “First Things First” to help him understand why Messiah had to come twice. The rabbis had taught Howard to look for only one coming of the Messiah, not two.
By the next time we got together, Howard had read that article as well as several other pieces of Jewish Christian material he had managed to acquire. By now he knew that what he was reading was true. In fact, he told me that he had gotten on his knees at home and had repeated a sinner’s prayer to ask Jesus to come into his heart.
Just to make sure that Howard’s commitment to the Lord was genuine, I invited him to pray with me. I wanted him to confess in my presence that Jesus is Lord and had risen from the dead. Though he was reluctant at first, after a short time Howard agreed to pray with me. To cement things further, he then agreed to tell one of his Christian co-workers what he had done.
Talking with this new believer was a refreshing joy. Whatever the Lord had changed and was beginning to change in Howard’s life, his sense of Jewish humor was still intact.
I wish you all could meet Howard to encourage him in his faith, as well as to laugh at his sharp humor. But if you don’t meet him on earth, you certainly will meet him in heaven. In the meantime, pray that his faith and obedience will grow, and that his wife and his son will also come to receive Jesus as their Messiah and Savior.
Editor’s Note: Last summer Stephen Katz was transferred from his post in Los Angeles to take up the reins of our Berkeley/San Francisco branch. Much of Stephen’s outreach efforts will be centered on the University of California at Berkeley. Under Stephen’s supervision, San Francisco missionary David Mishkin will continue to minister in the Bay Area.
North American Director
Stephen's grandparents immigrated to America from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, ultimately settling in the Chicago area. As a boy, Stephen enjoyed sports and excelled in school. In his high school years he began to question the values he had been raised with, and instead of focusing on academics, began to spend all his time playing guitar and harmonica. Over the next few years he searched for answers to his many questions about life, eventually becoming a follower of Yeshua. Three weeks after receiving his bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Illinois, he got married and began to work with abused and neglected youth in a residential treatment center in Chicago, which he did for 10 years (taking one year out to live on a kibbutz in Israel). He received his master's degree in social work from the University of Illinois in 1984. He and his young family attended a messianic congregation for 13 years, where Stephen served as the worship leader. In 1989, Stephen began missionary training with Jews for Jesus and now serves as North American Director. For 12 years he oversaw our work in Israel and still continues to be involved with our work there. Laura and he have four children, three of whom are married. He received a master's degree in intercultural and Jewish studies from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1997. Stephen is known to be a warm-hearted and engaging teacher and a good listener.