Bits from the Branches
Jeremiah Zaretsky reports, “Not too long ago, Rich Robinson (our scholar-in-residence) forwarded an email to me from a man whose daughter was about to be engaged to a Jewish man named Sam.* The soon-to-be father-in-law had witnessed to Sam over time, reading Isaiah 53:1-12 with him and taking him and his daughter to church. However, he knew that Jews for Jesus would be able to answer Sam’s questions in a way he could not.
“Sam had grown up in an Orthodox Jewish home, yet his fascination with Jesus started when he was sixteen. Sam had been exposed to Jesus as a ‘Higher Power’ through Alcoholics Anonymous, but it wasn’t until he served a prison sentence that he started reading the Bible. He realized his sinfulness and his need for a Savior. God was at work in Sam’s life!
“I had two in-depth conversations with Sam on the phone, as he lives in another state. After I clearly explained the gospel, faith and salvation, Sam was ready to put his trust in Yeshua. I shared from Luke 15:7 with Sam: ‘I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.’ Then I told him, ‘There’s a party in heaven for you, Sam.’ He was so excited after our conversation that he called his father-in-law and said, ‘Well, I guess the angels are rejoicing!’ I contacted a pastor at a church near Sam’s house, and the pastor has promised to follow up with him. Please pray for Sam’s spiritual growth and for the gospel seed to fall on good soil and bear much fruit!”
Editor: Remember Jeremiah’s “Three Jewish Grandmothers” from our January edition? Here’s a “bonus bit” about his continuing ministry to one of the grandmas.
He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus-Philippians 1:6. This verse is often quoted from one believer to another to encourage them in their faith journey. However I believe the implications of this verse can also apply to those seekers who have just begun the journey.
Last year I was introduced to Deborah* by my colleague Shannon Fischer, who works at our headquarters. Deborah was the 91 year old Reform lady, one of the three Jewish Bubbies (Yiddish for Grandmothers) who came over to Shannon’s house to watch the Survivor Stories DVD and have a discussion afterwards.
A few weeks after meeting Deborah, I saw her again, this time at our Shabbat dinner at the Jews for Jesus Hospitality House, where a community of young Jewish believers have been living. Shannon walked in with Deborah and I was so excited to see her. This was Deborah’s first Shabbat ever; and she celebrated it with a group of young Messianic Jews! Deborah loved her experience and said how much she enjoyed the people.
I had a good conversation with her at the end of the evening. Deborah informed me that her daughter was diagnosed with esophagus cancer, so understandably she had a lot of questions: “Why would God allow this?” “Why would I be old and healthy when my daughter is young and sick?”
That evening as I shared the hope of the resurrection with Deborah, I sensed that God was continuing the work He had started in her. God began the work and He will be the one to carry it on, to continue molding and shaping and building. Often the work of God is slow and steady. What I saw that evening was God building a spiritual desire in Deborah.
Sometime afterwards I thought I would take a risk and give Deborah a call and see if she would be open to meeting one-on-one with me. To my surprise and delight Deborah was willing. I picked her up from her volunteer job at the hospital and drove her home saving her a two-hour train ride. Once at her home, Deborah offered me some biscuits and we took a seat on the couch in the living room. I had learned from Shannon just previous to our meeting that Deborah’s daughter had passed away. I wanted to be sensitive to her needs.
What ensued was a Bible study from the Book of Jeremiah. I shared with Deborah that God indeed had great plans of hope and a future for her (sharing from Jeremiah 29:11). “Ultimately”, I said “that future and hope is found in God and having our hearts transformed by him through the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31.”
I shared my heart out. I challenged and encouraged her with every fiber of my being out of a desire to see her saved. At the end of it all Deborah said “I appreciate what you are trying to do. But I’ve lived 91 years believing the same thing and I won’t change now. I can’t believe the way you do.” There wasn’t much else I could say.
We haven’t seen the end of the story. Deborah, like us all, is a work in progress. God started a good work in Deborah and I believe that He will carry it on to completion. I don’t know when, I don’t know how, but I know He is able and He is in control and I can rest secure in that!
*Not her real name
Victoria Negrimovskaya reports, “‘Don’t worry! I’m not going to hell! I help everyone, even homeless people! So I don’t need Jesus!’ That’s how Sophia responded to the gospel when I first met her. She is typical of many people who are convinced that they can earn salvation through good deeds. Sophia’s main focus was on her business, and maximizing her profits. Despite her busy schedule and her belief that she didn’t need the gospel, Sophia never refused to meet with me.
Years passed and gradually Sophia came to understand what I’d tried to tell her from the start. She turned to God absolutely deliberately, realizing her guilt before Him, and asked Yeshua to lead her life. Soon after this she told me, ‘I closed my business. And you know, I began to feel much more relaxed.” She laughed rejoicing at the renewal she received in Jesus.
“Soon after, Sophia told me about her beloved niece, Lera, who came from Israel to undergo treatment for alcoholism. She asked if I would talk to her. We had a nice conversation, during which Lera prayed to repent and receive Jesus. Sophia and I committed to upholding Lera in our prayers.
“After Sophia was baptized, she began to study the Holy Scriptures even more, and they became increasingly more authoritative for her. Our visits are absolutely unlike the ones we had when we first met. Each time, I rejoice as she tells me of her life with Jesus. She is continually offering to pray with people she knows, and is unashamed to identify herself as a Jew for Jesus.”
Dina Markova reports, “From time to time I call Jewish people who once gave us their phone numbers, but have seemingly lost interest in knowing more about Jesus. If they tell me, ‘Jesus is not for Jews, don’t call me again!’ I have other questions, like ‘What do you think about the Messiah of Israel?’ or ‘Would you like us to look at what Torah and the Prophets say about Yeshua?’ And sometimes a closed door begins to open.
That is what happened with Nelya, who responded over the phone that she didn’t want to hear about Jesus. But when I asked about her attitude to Torah, she showed interest. I offered her a Jewish calendar (Messianic edition) with the plan of reading weekly Torah chapters. She was open to us reading those chapters together. We met to read the traditional passages together, which led to conversations about the Bible, and when I suggested that we read the fulfilled prophecy about Yeshua, Nelya agreed. Her absolute disinterest and distrust to it has become a thing of the past.
“During another phone call, I spoke to Arkady, whom I hadn’t called for a long time. He said, ‘There have been many messiahs. You believe in Jesus, but that’s not Jewish.’ So I asked would it be Jewish if I invited him and his wife Mila to talk about the Messiah in light of the weekly chapter from Torah. He agreed, and the two of them read Exodus 10:1–13:16 in preparation for meeting with me. As we discussed that chapter, we all agreed that it talked about the salvation of the Jewish first-born sons and salvation of the whole Jewish people thanks to the sign, the blood of a lamb on door posts. Arkady and Mila agreed that the lamb was a sacrifice. I pointed out that God was showing that salvation takes place through sacrifice.
“Then we talked about the haftorah portions (from the prophets) that reveal and supplement the meaning of a Torah chapter. That chapter’s haftorah was from Jeremiah 46:13-28, but I explained that there is also a “secret” haftorah, Isaiah 53, which is not read as part of the Jewish reading cycle. I offered Mila to read Isaiah 53, and I asked who they, Arkady and Mila, thought this chapter was about.
“Mila said, ‘Do you want to say that this is Jesus?’ I answered, ‘There were rabbis who didn’t doubt that it was about the Messiah. That it is about the true sacrifice, the true Lamb.’ I asked, ‘What do you think about Yeshua now?’ Arkady said, ‘If there is something “secret,” it means they don’t want to talk about, and if that’s the case, it raises a question in my mind. Maybe Yeshua is really the Messiah of Israel?’ We cannot force people to be interested in the gospel . . . but sometimes, if we don’t give up on those who say they do not want to hear about Jesus, it seems they are interested after all.”
Larissa Savelieva reports, “We continue to visit people who gave us their contact information during the Moscow campaign last September. Right before a visit to a man named Adolf, he warned me, as if apologizing, that he had ‘a house full of people.’ His wife, who had passed away, was Tatar, and many Muslim relatives and acquaintances were visiting from her side of the family. When I arrived, we talked a little, but I noticed that Adolf was anxious, couldn’t concentrate, and it seemed perhaps the visit would not happen after all.
“I prayed, and Adolf suddenly suggested that we go to the building next to his and see a Jewish woman whose late husband had been his friend. We went and Adolf introduced me to Sophia. I took out the Bible and shared my story a little. Sophia listened and nodded. And Adolf now relaxed and listened attentively so I had an opportunity to explain the gospel to both of them.
“It turned out that Sophia’s husband had been a Messianic Jew, though she herself had not been especially interested. She now gratefully took invitations to our Shabbat meeting for herself and her sister. I told Adolf, ‘You seem more free here than at home. What if we meet here for fellowship and Bible study?’ Adolf and Sophia were receptive to the idea.
“On the same street, but in another building, I visited another Jewish woman, Irina. It was a drop-in visit as she had given us her address but no phone number. When I rang the doorbell, Irina opened the door and said immediately, ‘If it’s about religion, I’m not going to talk.’ I replied, ‘It’s not about religion. It’s about relationships.’ When I introduced myself, Irina turned her back on me. I said, ‘Irina, it’s a pity that you turned your back on me. But it’s much more important that we not turn our backs on the One who created us and died for us.’ When Irina heard that, she let me in. We went to the kitchen. I opened the Bible and shared the gospel and how it relates to Passover. Irina listened very attentively.
“I discovered that Irina’s first reaction was anger at God over the death of her son. That neverending pain of loss, her loneliness and a feeling of vulnerability had hardened her heart. But now I hope that she might also get together with Adolf, Sophia and me to study the Bible together at Sophia’s home.”
*not his real name