“We have no cause to worry about the Jews for Jesus and other groups like them. They are not self-perpetuating. There may be a fairly large group of them now, but the movement will die out with the present generation.”
So commented a prominent American rabbi regarding the future impact of Jewish Christians within the Jewish community. While his comments were clearly biased against us, and self-serving, they tell of a real concern for us Jewish believers.
Who will be the Jews for Jesus of the twenty-first century? Are we raising our children in such a way that they will be willing and able to carry on the story of Messiah Y’shua to our people in the next generation?
God has always been concerned with the faith of children. He instructed Israel with regard to the Passover, “You shall tell your son in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the LORD did for me when I came up from Egypt’” (Exodus 13:8).
Y’shua showed concern and love for children. When His disciples sought to keep children from Him, our Lord rebuked them, saying, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14).
As God is serious about the faith of children, so are we. Our children remain a focal point in our Jewish celebrations. We seek to transmit to them our sacred history and to bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord that they also may choose to become members of the household of faith in Y’shua.
As Jewish believers and, more specifically, as evangelists and missionaries to our own people, we recognize the unique pressures and problems that children of Jews for Jesus encounter. When, as adults we considered faith in Jesus, we had to deal with the rejection and isolation we knew we could expect from the Jewish community. Thankfully we made the right choice, and God gave and continues to give us the strength to face such opposition. In essence, we have chosen to “go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:13). Our children, however, have not had such a choice, and until they make their own mature decisions of commitment to Y’shua, they face a unique challenge.
Everyone wants to “belong.” We all need community to some degree. Children as well as adults feel this need, though they may not quite know how to express it. Most of us Jews for Jesus have had, at some time in our lives, the feeling of belonging to the Jewish community. Our membership in the Body of Messiah changed that relationship in a profound way, yet we still seek to identify with our people. Our children, however, have never had that initial experience of identification with the total Jewish community. For them, the feeling of belonging to the Jewish people is not as readily experienced.
Our primary concern for our children is their relationship to God through faith in Jesus. Yet while their primary identification must be with the Body of Messiah, if we are to perpetuate a story among our people, it is necessary to give our children a sense of belonging to the Jewish people, too. We must transmit to them a sense of our Jewish heritage.
We cannot look to the unbelieving Jewish community for help. Our instruction must—and does—begin in the home, but we cannot assume that our experience of Jewish identity is transmitted by osmosis. Our home and family life must provide the building blocks for this kind of identity. We take extra care to explain and experience the traditions, times and seasons of our Jewish people. We also try to help our children understand that our position within the Jewish community is that of the righteous remnant as described in Romans 11:5. While we want to guard our children from prideful arrogance, this understanding from the Scriptures can help them see their rightful place within the Jewish community.
We also try to provide our children with experiences of community outside the home. In many cities, there are messianic congregations with a good number of Jewish believers. Many are developing children’s programs. Nevertheless, the majority of Jewish believers choose to fellowship in mainstream churches. In such cases, we must provide other opportunities to help our children recognize and value their heritage as Jewish believers in Messiah.
In Jews for Jesus, we are undertaking to do this for our children and those of other Jewish believers. We have developed an album of songs called Yeladim for Y’shua (Children for Jesus) that teach a bit of Jewishness.* In many of our branches we have started Kids Kibbutz, a summer program oriented to Jewish believers that is similar to vacation Bible school. We also put much effort into children’s programs at our regional Ingatherings (annual conferences for Jewish believers and their families).
In addition, in recent years we have begun a summer camp program. The camps are open to children of Jewish believers and children of the greater Jewish community who have parental consent. The camp program is a major endeavor that involves special staff and facilities and a special curriculum.
Much still needs to be done, and the prayer and support of our ministry friends is needed. Please pray for our children’s programs and for the teachers whose responsibility it is to guide these youngsters. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see, rising from these programs, a whole new generation of Jews for Jesus, dedicated to bringing the gospel to their people?
*Yeladim for Y’shua is available on CD and cassette through Purple Pomegranate Productions. Write to 80 Page Street, San Francisco, California, 94102-5914, or call 1-877-463-7742.