Whenever unbelievers find out about my involvement with the ministry of Jews for Jesus, I am asked two questions:
Does your mother know you’re doing this?”
“How did a nice Jewish boy like you ever…?” And the rest is far from complimentary.
I can answer both of those questions easily. The first answer is yes. My mother does know what I believe and what I am doing. I only wish that she were a believer in Jesus, too, and I pray that one day she will be.
My second answer will take some explaining. I will not go into the details of my ancestry (such as how my grandfather escaped an angry mob of Cossacks by hiding in a Russian Orthodox lady’s oven). Suffice it to say that I am the son of two Jewish parents. I attended kindergarten classes at a conservative synagogue in North Dade, Florida. Even back then, I had a knack for asking questions that tended to make the rabbi uncomfortable.
Having many Gentile friends on my block who went to church regularly led me to my first question: “Mom, what’s the difference between us (Jews) and them (Christians)?”
My mother said, “They have a different Bible from ours.” That answer settled it, at least for a few months. Then another question arose in my young heart.
God was moving in a very subtle way in my life, even at that age. The summer I was five, two of my friends invited me to their vacation Bible school at a neighborhood church. In the suburbs during the mid-1960s, we children wandered freely in and out of one another’s homes. As long as we were with our friends, our parents didn’t worry much about us. So, while my Jewish mother assumed I was playing at a friend’s house, off I went to vacation Bible school at a church!
What I heard there that day surprised me. I had already learned about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses at synagogue kindergarten class. When those four familiar names came up in the classroom that day, I thought, “Hey, this sounds just like our Jewish Bible!” So, at that young age, a seed was quietly planted in my life.”
The rest of my childhood was relatively uneventful spiritually. During the week I went to regular school by day and to Hebrew school after regular school. On Friday nights I went to synagogue services with my mother, and on Sunday mornings I went to more Hebrew school.
In 1973 I studied and prepared for my bar mitzvah (Jewish confirmation ceremony). Most of my contemporaries in Hebrew school were merely concerned with how to recite the Hebrew Scriptures properly, but I was different. I puzzled my teachers by saying, “I can read this Hebrew with no trouble, but please tell me what it means in English.”
The regularly scheduled synagogue reading for the day of my bar mitzvah was from Isaiah, chapter 54. The reading for the week before mine was chapter 52. I wondered why they had left out chapter 53.
I went through my teen years with many other unanswered questions. Once I entered high school, I had much the same—well, almost the same-interests as any other teenager. I played the French horn, and uppermost in my mind was how I could get to play it in public more often.
Once again, some churchgoing friends became instruments of God’s hand in my life! I thought those friends were sort of weird because they actually read the Bible. Not only did they read it, but they read it on purpose. No one forced them. They just wanted to read it! Their church had videotaped services that were shown on a local television channel, and they would tape various program segments on different days of the week. The church had an orchestra, the orchestra needed a French horn player, and I needed a place to play. It was a perfect arrangement.
Playing with the church orchestra was like vacation Bible school all over again. The seed that had been planted when I was five was getting watered. Sometimes my Jewish friends would ask me what I was doing on a Christian television program. I would respond by asking them what they were doing watching it!
I went on to college and became an intellectual type. I thought that my scholastic achievements would bring me fulfillment. I was also somewhat radical. I had bought into the popular social science philosophies of the day.
Then one day someone carrying a Jews for Jesus bag over his shoulder handed me a pamphlet. I did what I had been taught to do by my mother in such a situation. Since littering was a socially irresponsible thing to do, I disposed of the pamphlet by neatly dropping it into the nearest wastebasket! Little did I know that was not the end of the matter.
From that moment on, it was like a whole army of Christians started coming out of the woodwork to tell me how to be “saved” (and, what made me recoil even more, how to be “born again”). At first, I tried what I considered an open-minded response. I would say, “You have your beliefs, and I have mine.” But finally, having had enough of those encounters, I became militant about my Jewishness.
One day, perplexed by the unending string of “attacks” by “religious fanatics,” I started to ask questions. Then, feeling really bold in my conviction that I was right and they were wrong, I decided to settle the question once and for all. I looked up into the sky, figuring that must be where God was, and asked, “What should I do with this Jesus that everyone keeps telling me about? Is He from You or not?”
Nothing happened for the next two weeks, until I started my last semester of classes at Miami-Dade Community College. Then God began to answer me.
The interesting thing about how God speaks to each of us is that He always relates to us at a level we can understand and accept. He often sends communicators into our paths who, in many respects, are like us. In those days, someone in a suit and tie would not have stood a chance with me, and God knew that.
Instead, God sent a Christian woman into my life who looked like Janis Joplin, the popular rock star of the late 1960s. I met this woman in a physical education class I was forced to take in order to graduate. This most unusual individual was a new believer. She had never been told that she did not have the right training or experience to reach out and share her beliefs about Jesus with a Jewish person. In her raggedy clothes and her 1960s Woodstock hairdo, with a menthol cigarette in her mouth, she definitely would have looked out of place in a church pew on a Sunday morning. That, however, made her God’s perfect selection to reach out to me.
The more arrogant I was, the more humble she became. The more hostility I showed, the more the love of God was reflected in every word she said. With bulldog tenacity and faith that would not let go, she spent six weeks talking to me about God and His plan for my life.
One day, she gave me a little pocket New Testament. That night, feeling unusually curious, I opened it. To save time, I went straight to the end, to the Book of Revelation.
Anyone who has taken any kind of evangelism training knows that Revelation is not the easiest place for a seeker to start seeking. But at that point in my life, I was ready for God’s Word. God could have reached me with any portion of Scripture, even the two-word verse, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35)!
I came to Revelation 1:12-19 and read:
Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. His head and His hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength. And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, “Do not be afraid; I am the First and the LaSt. I am He who lives and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which will take place after this.
That description sounded familiar to me. There are similar descriptions in Ezekiel 1:26-28 and in Daniel 7:9-10. The passage was a clear answer to my question about who Jesus was. At that point, it became clear to me that He was the Messiah of whom the Jewish prophets spoke.
In Deuteronomy 4:29 we are told, “you will seek the Lord your God and you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and all your soul.”
That is a promise of God. I sought the Lord, and I found Him. I have always found Him to be true to His Word. And that is how a nice Jewish boy like me wound up committing my life to Jesus!
Many things have changed in my life over the past twelve years since I became a believer. I finished that last semester of junior college and went on to finish my bachelor’s degree. I got married in 1984, and recently I finished law school on the “better late than never” program. Through it all, I can say with the Apostle Paul, “I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38).
Editor’s Note: David Jenks has been involved in the South Florida branch of Jews for Jesus as a volunteer helper for about three years.