Campaign Reflections: Troubler of Israel
Our month-long Annual New York City Summer Witnessing Campaign begins July 1. In order to help you pray for this month’s campaigners, we thought we’d share reflections from a couple of veteran campaigners. These articles share a vulnerable side of our missionaries that we don’t always portray, because we are not looking to throw a poor us” pity party. We do want you to pray, though, and to be able to imagine yourselves out there with us.
Conflict is part of everyday life when you are a missionary. I’ve often thought of Elijah as a role model, and when things seem rough, I’ve found myself thinking, “It would be nice to be accepted by the Jewish community. It’s no fun getting hassled all the time and being perceived as an enemy. But such is the life of a ‘troubler of Israel’ like Elijah.”
And that is my conviction—that my people need to hear the gospel. And while I don’t enjoy rejection, it is to be expected and endured in order to reach those who do want to hear. But that doesn’t mean we are immune to all the emotions that can well up when we experience hostility.
Last summer, our branch hosted the Washington, D.C. “Behold Your God” campaign. The media picked up the story and amplified our gospel shout. We were featured in around 60 newspaper articles and on six television broadcasts as well as seven radio shows. The story went national and even international as two Israeli newspapers ran articles. God truly allowed us to fulfill our mission statement of “making the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people” in D.C. There was a buzz around town about Jews believing in Jesus.
All this exposure didn’t come without a price. It was our daily experience to be yelled at, ridiculed and scorned. Several of our campaigners were spit upon. Tears were not uncommon. The excitement of turning Washington, D.C. on its head for Jesus was accompanied by the deep sting of continual rejection—not merely of us, but of Jesus—which over time became a constant, soulful ache.
While this kind of hostility may have been new to our volunteers, it wasn’t new to me. Over 15 years of ministry in this field, I have developed a pretty thick skin. So I was—and perhaps still am—caught off guard by my own feelings of anger and sadness. Anger at those who lead our people astray through misinformation, prejudice and fear. Anger at my people for not knowing what their own Bible says, for refusing to consider Jesus because of cultural bias and an uncritical acceptance that if the rabbis say Jesus is not the Messiah, it must be true.
Someone once said that if you repeat something often enough people will believe it. We see this in action and read it in the media. “Jews don’t believe in Jesus!” “You deceive people!” “Missionaries are dangerous!” “Jesus is not the Messiah!” These statements have been repeated so frequently for so long that most Jewish people accept them as facts. And it makes me profoundly sad that so many of my people are lost because they will not allow themselves to consider Jesus.
As I said, none of this is new to me. But during our campaign I began to feel beleaguered by the waves of opposition and rejection that swept over me. Maybe it was the sheer volume of it. I am still wrestling with some of these feelings. So I think back to one of my role models.
After a sensational demonstration of the power of God and a great victory on Mt. Carmel, Elijah fled to the desert, battling feelings of fear and despair. He felt like he was the only faithful Israelite, while all the others had rejected God’s covenant. Self-pitying and depressed, he prayed that he might die, in essence telling God, “I have had enough. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”
The troubler of Israel, the mighty rebel—Elijah—was ready to end it all. Ready to give up. But God came to him in a whisper and let him know that there were others who still followed the truth, who had not succumbed to the lie of Baal. By this amazingly personal touch of God, Elijah received strength. He continued on in his God-given purpose as a proclaimer of truth and a confronter of lies.
Our experience is not unique. Elijah and Jeremiah knew it. All the prophets and apostles knew it. Paul knew it, and was able to say, “We commend ourselves as ministers of God: in great endurance; in much patience, in tribulations, in needs and distresses; by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; genuine,…beaten, as chastened, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing…” (from 2 Corinthians 6:4-10).
We’ve not suffered to the degree of these Bible heroes, but we do need to be lifted up. Please pray for all of us Jews for Jesus missionaries, who at various times experience an emotional response to those whom we want to reach with the gospel. Pray that we will be diligent and engaged in proclaiming the gospel-the more so when we are feeling hurt. And pray that we, too, will hear the whisper of God, reassuring and strengthening us.
Ed: It is important to mention that street evangelism is only one part of our outreach. Our missionaries are not facing this kind of rejection all day, every day, all year round. But it is part and parcel of the work we do, and particularly during witnessing campaigns.
North American Director
Stephen's grandparents immigrated to America from Eastern Europe in the early 20th century, ultimately settling in the Chicago area. As a boy, Stephen enjoyed sports and excelled in school. In his high school years he began to question the values he had been raised with, and instead of focusing on academics, began to spend all his time playing guitar and harmonica. Over the next few years he searched for answers to his many questions about life, eventually becoming a follower of Yeshua. Three weeks after receiving his bachelor's degree in social work from the University of Illinois, he got married and began to work with abused and neglected youth in a residential treatment center in Chicago, which he did for 10 years (taking one year out to live on a kibbutz in Israel). He received his master's degree in social work from the University of Illinois in 1984. He and his young family attended a messianic congregation for 13 years, where Stephen served as the worship leader. In 1989, Stephen began missionary training with Jews for Jesus and now serves as North American Director. For 12 years he oversaw our work in Israel and still continues to be involved with our work there. Laura and he have four children, three of whom are married. He received a master's degree in intercultural and Jewish studies from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1997. Stephen is known to be a warm-hearted and engaging teacher and a good listener.