I first saw Stoney Burke at the University of California Berkeley campus where I was handing out broadside tracts. He had drawn a large standing crowd. About 150 students had circled around him, while about 50 more stood on the nearby steps, all straining to see this madman’s” antics. I watched him for a few moments. He made radical statements about every major issue of the day. As he spoke, he made sudden jerking motions and paused now and then to shout profanities before continuing his speech. A self-appointed prophet of this modern age, he was sharing his world view with the “future of America.”
At first I was merely offended at his coarse manner and language, but in a few minutes I found myself amused by his strange antics. I marveled at the attention he was receiving from the usually apathetic students. They listened and laughed and commented to him as he asked for their response.
The next time I saw Stoney, he was at San Francisco State College doing a similar “performance.” Always topical, he jeered and slandered the local and national leaders. In between “acts” he walked past me and noticed my jacket with YESHUA boldly painted across the back. He took one of my tracts and did a double take at the Jews for Jesus logo. I could almost see the gears going around in his head. Twenty minutes later I knew what he had been thinking.
He was standing on a bench, surrounded by 200 or more students, and he was reading my tract out loud. Of course, he did add his own comments here and there. I was looking at him when he turned and saw me. He smiled a big smile that seemed to say, “Pretty funny, huh?” I smiled too at the free publicity, and I continued to hand out my literature.
The next time I saw Stoney, he saw me first. I was on the Berkeley campus again, wearing my old denim jacket with YESHUA painted across the back. He walked past me and did a double take. “You again? You sure get around,” he said. “I guess I do,” I responded, and continued broadsiding.
I watched Stoney for weeks after that. Weeks turned into semesters, and semesters turned into two years. He always drew large crowds, and eventually my amusement turned into jealousy. Yes, I was jealous of Stoney’s ability to draw and hold a crowd. Our Jews for Jesus staff goes regularly to San Francisco State College and to the Berkeley campus. We have done street theater and parabolic street testimonies there, but I never saw a crowd gather as large as those that Stoney drew.
Each week when I went back to the campus, Stoney saw me and I saw him. I did what I had to do, and he did what he had to do. Not much changed in those two years, except my reaction to him. It went from offense to amusement to jealousy, and finally to fear. It struck me that I was preaching to an “Israel” that just was not listening, while Stoney was tickling itching ears. I recalled II Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but, after their own lusts, shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”
I was transferred from our San Francisco branch, and now I am a missionary with our Los Angeles branch. One day I was at UCLA (the University of California at Los Angeles) distributing gospel literature. I had just finished handing out my broadsides and had slung my empty tract bag across my denim jacket when suddenly a familiar voice came drifting past me. It was Stoney Burke. He was there—but so was I! Yes, Stoney would probably keep on doing what he was doing, but I knew that as long as I had life and breath, I would keep on doing what I was doing, too.