What does the term “college search” bring to mind? Do you recall angst-filled days searching through college catalogues, trying to decide where to apply? Or “searching” through your mailbox—for letters of acceptance from said colleges? Or maybe the term has a deeper meaning for you. I know it does for me.
College is the time and place for many people to search for life’s meaning and purpose—and to try to discover if, or how, God figures into it all. I remember the confusion I felt during those days; after a few years of ignoring God, the things I’d tried replacing Him with were leaving me empty and unsatisfied.
Last May, my newsletter article, “Prodigals Do Come Home,” described how God used Jews for Jesus missionaries to reach me when I was a student at Boston University. That’s one reason why I’m personally committed to making sure we’re continually renewing an authentic, creative and robust campus outreach. But aside from the part that Jews for Jesus campus outreach played in my own story, it truly is part of our ministry’s DNA.
Did you know that Jews for Jesus was, in a sense, launched from college campuses? Back in the early seventies, “Jews for Jesus” was one slogan among others, such as “Jesus Made Me Kosher.” Our founder, Moishe Rosen, asked a volunteer to silkscreen 100 “Jews for Jesus” posters to put up at San Francisco State University. He couldn’t find a 100-sheet pad of newsprint, so he bought a 500-sheet pad—figuring we’d use the rest of the paper another time. Instead, Lana (our wonderful volunteer) printed the whole pad! 500 posters! Moishe and his band of volunteers ran out of places to post them at San Francisco State University, so they went over to Berkeley and put up posters all along Telegraph Avenue, as well as on the University of California campus.
The response was amazing. Campus activists concluded that Jews for Jesus was a new “underground religious movement.” We were only a handful of people, but many assumed there were hundreds of us, “mistaking posters for people” as Moishe used to say. The media began looking for interviews with what they titled “the Jews for Jesus” and the name stuck!
Fast-forward to 2016. College campuses are once again hotbeds of activism. The search for “something better” is not dead, and provides a good context to connect people with the gospel. Aggressive secularization is also underway on these campuses, both public and private. That trend is hostile toward any faith in God, and uses stereotypes to blame much of today’s violence on believers. An equally aggressive wave of anti-Jewish rhetoric and activity is also darkening many of our colleges and universities.
These are all reasons why, more than ever, we feel called to bring the truth of God’s Word to university and college campuses. The good news is both salt and light, and our institutions of higher learning desperately need its seasoning and illumination. We’ve been renewing our presence on campuses, sharing the good news of Messiah Jesus with future leaders who will have increasing influence on our culture, businesses and governments.
Boldly proclaiming the gospel as Jews leads to meaningful interactions with all sorts of people who are searching, and also helps to push back against the evil tides of secularization and prejudice. And though the gospel we proclaim hasn’t changed, some of our methods have.
A few months ago I joined our younger Los Angeles branch missionaries on the campus of UCLA. Along with gospel literature, we handed out cups of cold-brewed coffee with “Brews For Jesus” printed on the side and as a Twitter hashtag.* (By this month, even down south I imagine we’ve switched to hot chocolate!) Normally our team comes to UCLA on Thursdays, but my schedule was tight and the team had waited till Friday so I could join them. I was so pleased to see how a Jews for Jesus presence has developed on that campus. Several people remarked that they had missed us the day before. Others expressed gratitude and genuine curiosity about our message.
At one point, four young women stopped to hear more. As I explained the good news one remarked, “That’s so cool! It makes so much sense. My dad is Jewish and my mom is Catholic.” Her friend exclaimed, “Really? Wow, my mom is Jewish and my dad is Christian!” They took our literature and walked away comparing notes about their lives and their spiritual searches.
People seem to enjoy the “Brews for Jesus” word play on our name; some post pictures of the cup on social media while others bring it to class or work to show their friends. Many contact us for further conversation.
For example, in New York City one Jewish NYU (New York University) student took our “Brews for Jesus” coffee cup to his marketing class. Others had shown it to the professor, and he proceeded to use it as a positive example in his lecture. Not only did the class hear about Jews for Jesus, but one Jewish student who brought in the cup later met with our missionary, Eryn Black.
Another “newish” aspect of our campus outreach are Shabbat dinners/Bible studies that many of our staff are holding in their homes. Many students we meet feel comfortable coming to these informal gatherings, and they often bring their friends.
I want to ask that you stand with us. First of all pray for us. We need courage in the face of opposition, be it anti-Jewish aggression or misunderstanding of our message and motives by our own Jewish people. Boldness in the face of opposition doesn’t come naturally, but by the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. So along with the apostle Paul we ask that you pray for us, “that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly to make known the mystery of the gospel” (Ephesians 6:19).
You can also pray for meaningful connections with students at our Shabbat dinners. And whether or not you’re near one of our branches, if you haven’t already, take note of the local campuses in your area and add them to your prayer list. Maybe even partner with ministries on those campuses—partnerships are such a blessing! And if you know any college students, why not take a moment and write an encouraging note to them? They might welcome the encouragement to write or call you if they need your prayers or help. Who knows what wonderful things the Lord will do with His people’s renewed awareness and effort to minister to today’s college students!
* The hashtag symbol (#) is used as an informal way of indexing topics on the Internet. For example, if you typed #brewsforjesus into a search engine or social media space, you would get a list of photos and comments made about our coffee outreach.