In 1987 the United States Supreme Court upheld the rights of Jews for Jesus by declaring airports to be public forums. This meant that the highest court in the land recognized those thriving hubs of urban transportation as places where the first amendment could be exercised with impunity.
Some expressed a why bother?” attitude when they heard about this Supreme Court case. They said, “The airports are just one place, and there are many other opportunities to proclaim the gospel.” We answered that it was an important victory because airports are significant places to meet many who are spiritually needy.
An encounter I had one Friday afternoon at the Los Angeles International Airport emphasizes the necessity of our being there to hand out literature.
Bob, a young Jewish businessman, was at the airport with time on his hands because his friends’ flight had been delayed. Bob’s first remarks were hostile. I answered in such a way as to make him think about what he had said and perhaps want to stop and talk. He did stop, and it became apparent that he was not as hostile as he wanted to appear.
He identified himself as orthodox, but he wasn’t wearing a kippah (head covering). Also, it was almost sunset on Friday, which marks the start of Shabbat and a time when a religious Jewish person would not be traveling. When I confronted him on those two obvious discrepancies in his claim to orthodoxy, he said he was not a good enough Jew, but he tried his best. Earlier he had challenged me as to how religious a Jew I was. My response also had been that I was not good enough, but I tried. This point contributed to a bond of sorts between us. I emphasized that our right standing before God depended not on how hard we tried, but on our relationship with him, and that relationship was based on the finished work of the Messiah.
As I began to explain the gospel, Bob shot back sharply, “I know all of this and I don’t want to hear it!”
I asked, “If you know so much why are you not willing to listen?”
He stunned me with his reply. In hushed tones he told me that his father was a Jewish believer and many times had tried to tell him about Yeshua. I think that part of the block Bob had against the gospel stemmed from the fact that because his parents had been divorced when he was a child, he would not accept his father’s explanation and had sought another. That spiritual quest had led Bob to explore the teachings of orthodox Judaism. Yet he could not make a full commitment to that way of life. It required a deep devotion and a radical change of lifestyle which he was not willing to undertake.
Bob and I conversed for just a short time, but I feel we covered some important ground. I asked Bob if I could send him some literature that explained our message in a more scholarly fashion, and he readily agreed. I also asked if he would be willing to have one of the men at our Los Angeles branch contact him and he agreed to that as well.
Meeting Bob at the airport was a significant chance encounter. Had we not insisted on our first amendment rights, and had the Supreme Court not upheld us, it would not have happened. Because I did meet Bob, he had another exposure to the gospel. Perhaps hearing it from a stranger will give him a new perspective unclouded by family ties. I’m very glad we won that airport case!