Why Jail?

My wife Ruth called the office. Do you know if you’ll be coming home tonight for dinner, or do you think you’ll be arrested? she asked.

“I don’t know,” I answered. “I hope I’ll be home. But if not, you’ll get a call.”

There was a moment’s pause on the other end of the line, and then Ruth said, “It would be good if you could talk to the kids. Leah keeps getting stomachaches. And Joel…he’s asking.…”

Ruth paused again. “He’s asking what?” I prompted.

“Well, you know how four-year-olds can be.” I sensed that Ruth was trying to make light of the matter so I wouldn’t be too concerned. I could also tell there was a reason for her concern.

“He’s asking what?” I urged.

“He wants to know if they’re going to shoot you.”

Now it was my turn to pause. Finally I said, “Tell him nobody’s going to shoot me.”

“I told him, but you need to talk to him,” Ruth said.

“I’ll talk to them both tonight—when I come home.”

I didn’t come home that night. I was arrested for the third time at Los Angeles’ Pierce Community College while distributing our gospel broadside tracts. The charge was trespassing, even though the campus grounds were public property. The procedure was “arrest and confinement,” even though the City Attorney’s office had already informed the campus police that I was not doing anything wrong. The outcome was a night in jail, even though I had not broken the law.

I could have avoided the arrest. All I had to do was sign a permit committing myself to abide by certain policies which, the campus officials stated, were designed to maintain order. But the permit and the policies themselves betrayed a different purpose. The regulations were designed to curtail and prevent the exercising of free speech in a manner that the United States Constitution already allowed. Signing the permit meant agreeing to policies that were intended to freeze our declaration of the gospel to everyone who might want to hear.

The issue was black and white. In good conscience, neither I nor the other Jews for Jesus could sign away our right to proclaim the good news as fully and freely as the law of our land already allowed. In conscience, neither I nor the others could muzzle ourselves and speak of Christ only if someone went out of his way to approach us and ask a question first. In conscience, neither I nor the others could do anything other than stand firm, even though people would presume that we were the malefactors, that we were the ones breaking the law. We had to stand firm, knowing we would be taken into custody time and time again. We understood.

Later that morning, it happened as I thought it would but had hoped it would not. My co-worker and I were arrested, handcuffed and taken away. By late evening, the guard came to the cell and called my name. I walked forward, then stopped at his command, “Hold it right there.” His routine of unlocking the cell included a quick scan of the other inmates to make certain everyone was well enough in place. “Okay,” he said, “step through.” He had come to take me to a conference room where I could speak with our attorney.

As he led me down the corridor the guard kept a hand on my elbow—a reminder that I was to move at his pace. We had not gone very far when he interrupted what I had thought would be a silent walk with, “I appreciate what you guys are doing.”

Somewhat surprised, I looked past the uniform and studied his face. “Why’s that?” I asked.

“I’m a Christian, too,” he said. “Somebody’s gotta stand up for our rights.”

He understood.

I was released, and by the end of the week the matter seemed to be settled. A conference took place between our attorneys, the campus attorneys and a district judge. I and my fellow workers with Jews for Jesus would be able to hand out our literature without fear of any more arrests while the campus authorities examined the constitutional deficiencies in their present policies. It took a total of six of us enduring seventeen unnecessary and undeserved arrests, but it was finished.

At home, it was time for an overdue conversation with my children. Joel was glad I hadn’t been shot. Leah had another stomachache, but she was not really ill.

I sat on her bed. “Did someone say something to you in school?” I asked. She answered with a shrug.

“What did they say?”


I played my hunch and took another tack. “What did your teacher tell you?”

“She said she saw your picture in the paper last week. So my friends heard her say that, and they came over and asked. So I told them how you work for Jews for Jesus and tell people about Jesus, and how you got arrested.”

Leah stopped, took a book out from under her pillow and started to read. Joel wanted to help her turn the page. “Leave that alone!” she snapped.

“Did you try to explain why I had to go to jail?” I asked.

She shook her head from side to side. “Well, you know they’re not believers, except for some, so they might not understand.”

“Do you?” I prodded gently.

Leah nodded.

“You’d better get up or you’ll be late,” I said.

“Yeah, Leah,” Joel echoed, “you better get up.”

She looked at me with a grimace, and I grimaced back with a face that made her laugh. Then she got up, got dressed and went to school.

She understood!


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Avi Snyder | Budapest

Missionary Director

Avi Snyder is a veteran missionary and director of the European work of Jews for Jesus. He pioneered Jews for Jesus’ ministry in the former Soviet Union, before launching works in both Germany and Hungary. He will share with you what is happening in Jewish evangelism in Russia and Eastern Europe. Avi received his theological training at Fuller Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Ruth, have three grown children, Leah, Joel and Liz.

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