Reflections on Jews in Russia
Recently I’ve been troubled by certain infomercials and appeal letters. Some organizations are using extreme language to put forward heart-wrenching pleas to rescue Russian Jews from the clutches of anti-Semitism.
One of these fundraising organizations is mistaken by many as a Christian ministry. It is called On Wings of Eagles.” One dear Christian recently commented to a member of our Jews for Jesus staff, “Oh yes, our church supports your organization—’On Wings of Eagles.'” What many Christians do not realize is that the spokesperson for that organization, Yechiel Eckstein, is an Orthodox Jew who not only does not believe in Jesus, but is diametrically opposed to our message that Jewish people need the gospel in order to be saved.
Some genuinely Christian organizations use similar tactics as “On Wings of Eagles”, urging the Body of Christ to rally and send funds to rescue Jewish people from Russia. But why should appeals from any organization—Christian or otherwise—trouble me, if they help Russian Jews?
First let me say I believe that anyone who gives to a cause as unto Christ will be blessed for their love and desire to extend His care. But I think that you want to give with the best possible understanding of the need an organization will meet, as well as with your best intentions. And I wonder if some of these letters and infomercials might cloud people’s understanding of the need, while appealing to their good intentions.
Those of you who have followed our ministry in the past few years know that we have more than 30 full-time Jews for Jesus staff (most of whom are Jews) who were born and raised in the former Soviet Union. They are ministering in five cities throughout Russia and Ukraine, along with faithful volunteers. They are out on the streets as well as visiting in people’s homes, proclaiming the gospel. Here is what I can tell you from those who have lived in the former Soviet Union all their lives.
Yes, anti-Semitism is real, and can shift from attitude to action at any time. Our staff in Russia and Ukraine faces a more oppressive government and far less legal recourse than we do in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. Probably the greatest persecution Jews for Jesus face in the former Soviet Union comes from ultra-nationalists, from hard-line Communists, and from anyone else seeking a scapegoat to blame for Russia’s economic and social ills. Many who are Christians-in-nameonly feel threatened by any group of believers outside their particular denomination. Some such nominal Christians work hand-in-glove with the government to repress freedom of religion. They don’t like Jews, but they also don’t like Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.
Anti-Semitism has always been a reality in Russia and Ukraine. But the situation has changed since the 60s and 70s, when many of us wore buttons or even marched for the cause of freeing Soviet Jewry. When the doors opened, many Russian Jews rushed to Israel, and we rejoiced in their freedom. These days, any Russian Jews who desire to come to Israel may still do so, and the Israeli government will pay for their transportation. But the numbers have been decreasing—and not because people are no longer free to leave.
Many Jewish people choose not to leave Russia and Ukraine regardless of the dangers of anti-Semitism. Many Soviet-born Jewish people in their forties or older have managed to receive an education and work in a skilled profession. They know they’re not likely to find comparable work in another land—whether that land is Israel, the United States or Germany. They know this from family and friends who have left Russia. And they know that the cultural and economic adjustments and a new life in a foreign land can be just as stressful as the old life in Russia or Ukraine. Many choose to live with the “known,” the status quo, rather than move to an unknown that may leave them without a sense of purpose. It would be different if they could take with them the meaning and purpose that comes through knowing and serving God, through His son Jesus!
So I am troubled when people cry urgently for help without providing an accurate picture. And I am troubled by something else: the blurring of the difference between missions and charity. The Bible encourages us to give alms, to give charity, and I would never denigrate such acts of kindness. All of us should respond to God’s leading when it comes to giving comfort and aid. Many people are in desperate straits overseas and at home. There are famines, floods, earthquakes and disease, as well as political oppression. But charity is not the most urgent need of my Jewish people—in Russia or anywhere else.
What is the greatest need for Jews in Russia and Ukraine today? To hear and believe the message of the Messiah. Now, I can get very impassioned about the need for my people to hear the gospel. Because my people are dying in Russia and Ukraine—as they are dying all over the world—without Christ. And whether people die in Russia or Ukraine or Israel or the United States, without Christ they are heading for hell. Relocation is not a substitute for redemption. And in the end, it is our final destination that counts.
My dear brothers and sisters, my Jewish people won’t get to heaven on wings of Christian sympathy. They need a future and a hope that no airline or ship can provide. True, most Jews and Gentiles in Russia or Ukraine have a harder life than the majority of people reading this newsletter. But, as is often the case in a society where people are not so self-sufficient, God is working in hearts, meeting needs for His name’s sake.
Good things are happening in Russia and Ukraine! If you’ll visit our website, you can get the final report on our Moscow and St. Petersburg campaigns. I am happy to tell you that during our two-week Minsk campaign in May, 128 Jews and Gentiles prayed to receive Christ. And, as of this writing, during the first 14 days of our Moscow campaign, 175 Jews and Gentiles prayed to receive Christ, as well.
I pray that you support Jewish evangelism because you love the Lord, because you believe the gospel is for all people, and to the Jew first (Romans 1:16). I hope that you support our ministry—and others who are doing evangelism—because you want to obey our Messiah who said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel.” That’s the most compelling reason I know to give our time, our talents and our treasure.
Is God concerned with the plight and safety of our people in the former Soviet Union? Of course He is! But the biggest question is not where my people live now, or where they will live a year or five years from now. The big question is, where will we live forever? Will we spend that forever with Him? Won’t you join me in saying, along with the Apostle Paul, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.