Venice Beach, described as “a cultural hub known for its eccentricities,” features a two-and-a-half-mile pedestrian-only promenade where performers, mystics, artists and various other vendors “set up shop.” People come to display their tattoos, muscles, and various body parts that Adam and Eve tried to cover with fig leaves. For our missionary Cyril Gordon and many faithful Jews for Jesus volunteers, Venice Beach is a great place to talk to people about Jesus.
Cyril began doing evangelism at Venice Beach fifteen years ago, when he joined our Los Angeles team. He says, “I instantly recognized Venice Beach as a key place to do evangelism in the Los Angeles area. It’s one of the most visited places in California, and it attracts many Israelis as well as local Jewish people. In fact, I used to hang out there in my college days—it’s one of the places where I (unfortunately) visited psychics in my searching days.”*
Knowing Venice to be a dark place, but one that draws many seekers, Cyril wanted to shine Yeshua’s light there. “Many if not most ministries that reach out to people at Venice come once a year and leave. We are there on a regular basis, and that’s huge. Everyone knows that you’ll find Jews for Jesus at Venice.” That’s why when our (then) North America director, Jhan Moskowitz, suggested setting up a free literature table as part of the outreach, Cyril was excited but cautious:
“The vendors at Venice are very territorial—but our regular presence there for more than a decade paved the way for us to become part of that ‘locals only’ venue. The timing was right. I felt that the Lord was paving the way to do something new there. Since 2012, we’ve been setting up our table twice a week during the peak season, May through September. We are there for five hours at a stretch, usually 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. We’ve calculated that an average of 9,000 people would walk by our table during a five hour stretch on any given weekday, and that number goes up to 14,000 on the weekends.”
Cyril found the first and biggest challenge was finding a good spot to set up on the walkway, one that wouldn’t cause friction with the regular vendors. The ideal space also had to be as far as possible from the noisier areas, in order to have meaningful conversations with people. Cyril recalls, “It’s first come, first served for the limited spaces, and on the weekends I used to show up at 4:30 a.m. to secure a good spot if we wanted to be out there all day. Eventually, our volunteer Joe Glauberg became our spotmeister. He lives on a boat in the area and would ride his bike over to Venice in the morning and find the best place for us to set up before our team arrived. He’s been faithfully witnessing with us at Venice Beach for five years.”
Joe participated in some of our events back in the ’70s, but more or less lost touch with Jews for Jesus. One day he was mentioning to a Christian friend that he felt led to witness to people at Venice Beach, and the friend mentioned our ministry there. Joe reestablished contact and the rest, as they say, is history. Joe says, “The Venice Beach outreach is a ministry like no other, and I believe a person needs to be called to it. There is a heavy aspect of spiritual warfare in this place. I have seen many Christians leave shaken and not wanting to return, but I have seen others minister with the love of Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Cyril adds, “The success of this outreach depends in large part on encouraging and praying for the volunteers who help make it all happen. Every year, the enemy does all he can to throw a wrench into our efforts, and we must do all we can to stay unified and vigilant. As Joe pointed out, we’ve had mature Christian volunteers come out to Venice with us for the first time and leave spiritually shaken by the dark environment, never to return. Our most dedicated volunteers (like Scheffee Taylor) will take their only day off from work every week to come out with us. Funny story about Scheffee is, she volunteered with us many times and I was impressed by how unphased she seemed by some of the sights at Venice Beach. Then one day she showed up with a new pair of prescription glasses and nearly passed out. She later laughed and said that she was better off without the glasses!”
“The great thing about having our free lit table at Venice Beach is that our big Jews for Jesus banner attracts all kinds of people. We always have an extra chair available for guests who want to sit down and chat with us for a while. Many Jewish people stop by our table, especially Israelis. They have heard of Jews for Jesus, but never really knew what we were about. Seeing us at the beach when they are relaxed and have nowhere else to be gives people a great chance to finally ask what we believe and why.
“We see a couple dozen salvations (mostly Gentiles) every year at Venice, but for the majority of Jewish people we spend time with, it’s been mostly seed (gospel) sowing. We do however meet Jewish people who came to faith in the past, but never got properly discipled. We take them under our wing and help them get plugged back into the body of Messiah and become fruitful. One example of this is Dan.** He was selling hats in a shop on the Venice walkway when we met him several years ago. He had received the Lord back in the ’70s, but wasn’t living for Him. I started discipling him on a regular basis. Now he attends a good Bible-believing congregation and attends many of our Los Angeles branch events, like our weekly Bible study and monthly Jewish men’s BBQs. He’s also become an excellent volunteer who’s helped us faithfully for several years at Venice.”
Then there’s the young Jewish lawyer, David,** that Cyril met at Venice Beach. David’s Christian girlfriend noticed our free lit table and brought him over. Cyril says, “We had a great discussion, and I’ve been meeting with David ever since to study the Scriptures and see who Yeshua is. David’s begun attending a local Messianic congregation regularly with his girlfriend, and he even comes out for their midweek Bible studies. David also loves our monthly Jewish men’s BBQs. He’s at a point in his spiritual journey where he’s seriously considering surrendering his life to the Lord. Please be praying for David’s salvation as he continues to count the cost.”
In fact, please pray in general for the people who find their way to Venice Beach searching for something, that God will enable our staff as well as our wonderful volunteers to meet and minister to many more of them.
*Cyril has a great journey to faith story and so does his wife, Rhonda, also a Jewish believer in Jesus. Find out how they came to faith and how God brought them together with a free e-book of their story, Matched by Messiah.
**Not his real name