Imagine standing on a busy New York City street corner or in a muggy subway hole for two and a half hours. You are handing out gospel pamphlets that you carry in a nylon bag over your shoulder. You smile at thousands of people who hurry by. They have countless things on their minds other than the message of Jesus, like work, family, parties and bills. A flash of emotions grips you as one more individual walks by, arid seeing the name on your T-shirt shouts, Jews for Jesus? It can’t be. You should be ashamed of yourself!” But then your spirits soar as you write down the name and address of an honest seeker who wants to know more and is willing to meet later to discuss the real issue of who Jesus is. Then you feel it’s all worth it. Imagine this scene repeated four times a day for 30 days.
For 26 people last year and 28 this year, that description of the month of July was and again will become more than a daydream. This is the reality of a Jews for Jesus Summer Witnessing Campaign. The brave band of staff and volunteers who serve on Campaign not only give a month of their summer, but two additional weeks of training to prepare for this concentrated outreach.
I remember the last Saturday of one campaign. The campaigners were still pouring out their all to reach out to the people of New York. The entire group needed to get away from the bustle of the streets for a few hours, so we planned a devotional to be held on the sandy shores of Brighton Beach. Early in the morning we met in front of the Jews for Jesus New York Branch. As we boarded the train armed with towels, beach balls and a few extra gospel tracts, a fellow staff worker commented to me, “I think these guys deserve a break. Let’s stay on the beach a bit longer than planned and give them some extra time off.” Neither of us realized that God had plans for our morning at Brighton Beach.
The train ride took longer than we had hoped, and by the time we arrived the beach was already crowded with sun worshipers. We finally found a spot wide enough to spread out our towels in a semicircle and turn our attention to Pastor Ted, chaplain for the week. He brought a devotional message on Philippians 4:13, reminding us that we could do anything God wanted us to do as long as we did it in his strength. What a timely message that was as we looked toward the next few days.
Each time Pastor Ted mentioned a verse in his devotional, we began reciting it out loud, and as a result of that chorus reciting Scripture, many of the sun worshipers heard us worshiping the Son. A group began to gather around us, until by the end of the devotional we had almost doubled in size. I approached individual campaigners and asked if they felt up to a beach presentation of the street dramas and skits they had prepared for the sidewalks of New York. We spent the next half hour presenting an impromptu street show (or maybe sand show would be a more appropriate description). Afterwards, the campaigners grabbed bundles of tracts and handed one to each of those who had been willing to listen to the gospel. The campaigners were so energized by the opportunity that those of us in charge actually had to remind them to take a few moments to relax in the water. Many people heard the gospel that morning, and three entered into new life in Jesus. Then on our train ride back to the city another person came to faith while sitting next to one of the campaigners.
As we stood outside the station and planned our evening time of evangelism, I remembered another incident that took place long ago on a sandy shore. Luke chapter nine describes a time when Jesus and his followers also took a few moments to be by themselves, just as our group had taken time to be with God on the beach. The account tells how a group formed around the followers of Jesus, as they had in our beach experience, too. In both cases the listeners had needs—for refreshment and to know God. In our experience as well as in the Bible account, those with genuine needs and willingness to have God meet them found answers by drawing near to Jesus. In both cases, the followers of Jesus began with the intention of resting and instead found refreshment in the negation of that intent. Both weary groups found newness, insight and revitalization in bringing others the good news of the rest Yeshua offers. In both cases, he provided for each person’s need.
As we met that evening for a time of intensive evangelism, the campaigners were excited about what had happened. They expressed appreciation for the beach trip that morning and said that as a result, they thought they would be able to work even harder the next day. In spite of the rain that came, we distributed many tracts that evening.
I learned a great deal about rest that day. We find rest in doing what God designs, knowing that it is accomplished by his strength as described in Philippians. In his power, we can do all things, no matter how tired we feel.