One of the oldest Jewish communities in the world today outside of Israel is in Syria. Interestingly enough, it is also one of the first Jewish communities in the Diaspora to have heard the gospel message. The Book of Acts, chapter 9, tells us that Saul of Tarsus was on his way to Damascus to persecute the growing community of Jewish believers in Jesus. We know from the Bible account that Saul never accomplished that task because God had another plan. Instead of persecuting them, he joined them in their faith. It was from those Jewish believers in Syria that Paul found comfort, and they discipled him as a new believer in the Messiah.
After the third century A.D. nothing is heard about that community of Jewish believers in Syria. The Jewish community in general continued to thrive in that region. Then with the rise of Islam, the status of the Jewish community became tenuous, but they managed to maintain the status quo.
In 1948 after the establishment of the State of Israel, the Jewish community in Syria came under tremendous pressure. In 1992, the Syrian government finally agreed to grant permission to Syrian Jews who wished to leave the country. They were allowed to immigrate only to the United States, and most of them came to Brooklyn.
Among those Syrian Jewish immigrants were a young man and his cousin. During our 1993 Summer Witnessing Campaign one of our campaigners had an extended conversation with Isaac (not his real name). He had been in the United States for eight months and was very open to the gospel message. During the campaigns when people give us their names, we always have one of our missionaries call them, and if they are open, we arrange a visit with them.
The note I received concerning Isaac indicated that he was very open and would soon pray to receive Jesus into his life. After several days of trying unsuccessfully to reach him on the phone, I began to drop by his home to see if I might find him in. Finally I made telephone contact with Isaac and he invited me over to his house.
After Isaac told me the story of how he had left Syria and how life has been for him in Brooklyn, we began to speak of spiritual matters. He told me that a Christian co-worker in Syria had interested him in the gospel. Isaac explained that he had frequently listened to the Trans-World Radio Arabic broadcast at midnight. Through the concerned witness of that co-worker and the radio broadcasts, Isaac had become convinced that the message concerning Jesus was true.
Since Isaac had immigrated to the United States he had not pursued this important issue any further. He was caught up in trying to survive as a new immigrant and was working very long hours. He was living in the midst of a Jewish community and had no idea where to turn to pursue his interest in the gospel. It was at that point that Isaac had met one of our campaigners.
As I sat with Isaac in his small living room one afternoon, we looked at the Scriptures concerning Jesus. When I explained to Isaac that a person needed to call upon the Lord and recognize Jesus as the Messiah, he responded by asking, What should I do?” We prayed together, and Isaac prayed to commit his life to Jesus.
Isaac asked me afterward if I thought it unusual for a Syrian Jew to accept Jesus. For me it was no more unusual than for Jews from New York, London, Moscow or Jerusalem to make the commitment.
All over the world increasing numbers of Jewish people are responding to the gospel. It is interesting and encouraging that from Syria, one of the first places outside of Israel where Jews began accepting the Lord, Jewish hearts are still being opened.