When I saw the subject of the email, I actually thought it was a joke. I had known the sender and, while we had not been in contact for years, it was unbelievable to me that he would seriously title his email, Can my Jewish son become a Christian?”
I would not want to embarrass him, knowing that he occasionally reads our newsletter, so I will refer to the writer of this email as “Barry.”
When I first came to Southern California, Barry called our office and represented himself as a seeker. I entertained him at my home and met with him for personal Bible studies. Then I learned he was actually working with an anti-missionary organization, and far from having a personal interest in the gospel, saw our message as a threat to the Jewish community.
On one occasion, Moishe Rosen was giving a Jewish Evangelism Seminar at a Presbyterian Church in West Los Angeles. The program included dramatic skits as well as role-playing with the participants. In the late afternoon, Barry burst through the back door of the sanctuary, shouting as he stormed up to the front: “This seminar from hell is over. Everybody go home!” The congregants were stunned and a bit amused by what they assumed was another dramatic piece intended to shock them into alertness. Amusement quickly vanished as they saw us escort Barry out of the sanctuary and call for the police.
We didn’t hear much from Barry after that. The last email I recall from him was in 2003, when he wrote, “You ‘Jews for Jesus’ are plainly fools in your war against the established Jewish community.” So when I read his inquiry concerning his son, I was admittedly cynical.
I responded to that email by reminding Barry of his earlier contact and conduct towards Jews for Jesus. I wrongly assumed that his latest email was more of the same. But there is a living, loving God in heaven, and it is a thrill to see His transforming power at work.
Barry responded to my email with apologies for his past actions, taking responsibility for each one. His changed tone and question concerning his son seemed surreal, but I offered to meet with him. If God was moving in his heart, who was I to stand in the way?
We met at a coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon. Ironically, earlier that day I had ministered at the worship service of the very church where Barry had interrupted Moishe’s seminar years before. I had told the pastor (who had come to serve with the church after the incident) about the meeting and asked him to pray; he was so moved by the story that he drove to the coffee shop after the service, remained in his car and prayed for us.
As I sat with Barry, I was amazed to hear how God had been working in his life. For more than a decade, this once antagonistic man had witnessed the genuine faith of two Christians at his workplace. Both had displayed amazing love for others. They prayed for Barry and demonstrated God’s kindness to him.
At the same time, Barry’s oldest son had become an atheist and was now hostile to his father’s Orthodox Judaism. Plus, Barry was undergoing his own struggles with Orthodox Judaism in his community. “They don’t believe the Bible,” he remarked in profound disappointment. As a result of all these things, he was beginning to question old assumptions and open his heart to seek the Lord.
When we finished that incredible meeting, Barry came with me to meet the pastor in the parking lot. He apologized and extended his regrets to the congregation for his former intolerant and hostile behavior. Amazed, my pastor friend returned Barry’s handshake and expressed appreciation for the apology. I told Barry that if he would like to attend a church where he would hear the gospel and be appreciated as a Jew, the people at this church would readily forgive and welcome him. His responded, “Would they really do that?” The pastor of that church took the opportunity to display Christian love to one who had once opposed and tried to disrupt his congregation.
Barry and I met again, some four months later. As we concluded that meeting, he asked, “Tuvya, do you think we are living in the last days?” I thought to myself: “I’m talking to Barry, the anti-missionary, about Jesus, and he’s seriously interested. Yes, we must be in the last days!”
It has been more than a year now since Barry and I reconnected, and we continue to be in touch. I hope that one day he could see for himself that the gospel is true. Please join me in praying for him. Please also join me in praying for wisdom and for a way to speak to Barry’s son.
I don’t know the ending to Barry’s story. I do know that he has inspired me to remember Yeshua’s command to love and pray for those who oppose us, and to remember that God is in the business of changing hearts.
Tuvya Zaretsky, one of the original Jews for Jesus staff (actually, back then, volunteers) is our director of development. He also specializes in ministry to Jewish Gentile couples. Tuvya and his wife Ellen (also a Jewish believer in Jesus) have three grown children: Jessie, Abigail and Kaile.
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.