When I first became a father, I was excited to experience the world again through the eyes of a child.” Shortly after our oldest son Josh was born, we moved to a new home just north of Philadelphia. I remember our first trip to the Philadelphia Zoo, and how I enjoyed watching my enthralled son. Josh actually came to faith about a year before I did, and attended several Messianic congregations in New Jersey and Detroit as part of his upbringing.
Fast-forward 14 years later to September 2002. My family was having lunch with David Brickner after a Sunday morning speaking engagement. After lunch, we talked about the possibility of me joining the Board of Directors of Jews for Jesus. As part of the nomination process, the Executive Director takes time to get to know potential board members and their families. I remember David walking with my son Josh, talking to him about a program called Halutzim (“Pioneers” in Hebrew) that Jews for Jesus offers teens 16-18 years of age. They hang out with each other in New York City where they take part in the annual Summer Witnessing Campaign, as well as various cultural activities.
At this point in his life, Josh was growing in his faith and learning to share it “to the Jew first, then to the Gentile.” He had already been on his first mission trip (to Mexico) and followed that a year later by joining the same youth group on the streets of Atlanta (our current home). But nothing could prepare
Josh for the experience he would have with Halutzim in New York City in the summer of 2004. While Josh knew New York City fairly well (from many visits to his grandparents in Queens), he encountered a New York City he’d never seen before. Halutzim brought Josh to frontline evangelism. And it brought him deeper into his faith.
My son came home abuzz with stories, which came to life when he received the 350+ photo CD from Josh Sofaer, Halutzim’s organizer and talented leader. (My) Josh learned how to challenge others to consider the claims of Yeshua (Jesus) as the promised Messiah of the Jewish people. He learned to defend his faith as it was challenged daily during the campaign. He even “stood up” to the Orthodox Jewish man in Brooklyn who tried to rip the broadsides (tracts) from his hands.
Josh started a new high school this past fall, entering as a junior. He boldly wears his “Jesus is the Messiah” campaign jersey to school, where he is a small group leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He is also actively involved in our congregation’s teen group, which hosted “Teen Testimony Night” this past December. Josh gave a 45-minute mini-message centered on his experience as part of Halutzim and how it fundamentally deepened and shaped his faith. He told how Halutzim helped him learn to reach people with the gospel.
Obviously I have enjoyed seeing the world of evangelism through my son’s
eyes. But Josh’s experience with Halutzim has also provided me with my own evangelistic opportunities. Such opportunities are hard to come by in a “protective” corporate environment, where direct evangelizing is blatantly discouraged. However, comments like “My son spent two weeks in New York City last summer” inevitably lead people to ask, “What did he do there?” One coworker recently followed my answer (“He was sharing the Good News of Jesus with our Jewish people”) with the comment, “I knew you were Jewish and that you believed differently. My mother is Gentile and my father a non-practicing Jew, so I’d like to learn more about why you believe in Jesus.” From there I was able to offer my full story…thanks to Josh!
Josh’s 82-year-old grandfather just recently came to faith. I have no doubt that Josh’s witness, day in and day out, helped plant and water the seeds of his grandfather’s salvation. Josh is about to embark on his college journey. Please pray that God will continue to use him to lead more Jewish people to their Messiah—and to give me even more opportunities to draw those I encounter to Him as well!
Please be praying for this year’s group of “Halutzimers” as they meet up in New York City next month. For more articles/information about this program, check out our Halutzim page.