When you hear the word missionary” what image comes to mind? A white-skinned westerner wearing a pith helmet, surrounded by dark-skinned natives wearing loin cloths? Unfortunately, many Christians still imagine missionaries (and those to whom they minister) in terms of these outdated caricatures. And in the Jewish community, the word missionary evokes a decidedly sinister image. Rabbis and Jewish community leaders warn of the dangerous missionaries lurking on street corners to lure Jewish children away from home and family. Obviously, neither image is accurate. So how do we missionaries see ourselves?
We Jews for Jesus don’t shy away from the word missionary, but we like to describe our ministry as apostolic. That’s apostolic with a small “a.” The New Testament model of the apostolic band helps clarify what we mean when we say missionary: “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2).
God set apart apostolic bands comprised of missionaries like Paul and Silas, Barnabas, John Mark and others to go and preach the good news. Their efforts were supported by local churches so that they could devote themselves to the task full time. That “set apartness” for full-time evangelism helps define the apostolic lifestyle of missionaries. At Jews for Jesus, we see missionaries as those who are willing to have “bility”: availability, vulnerability and mobility. This view is so important to us that we spell it out in our core values statement: “We commit to … An apostolic lifestyle of availability, vulnerability and mobility.”
Availability means being ready whenever an opportunity presents itself. That means missionaries make house calls—and it means there is no such thing as regular office hours for missionaries! We must be willing to rearrange our schedules to meet whatever opportunities arise; to care for a needy person, to share the gospel with an unbeliever, to visit someone in the hospital. Perhaps this is what Paul meant when he encouraged young Timothy to, “Be ready in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2).
Vulnerability is very much akin to availability. Making ourselves available to people requires us to make ourselves vulnerable as well. This vulnerability might mean subjecting ourselves to a physical threat, as in the case of our outreach workers in the CIS. The fact that they openly identify as Jews for Jesus allows interested Jewish people to find them, but it also makes them targets of virulent anti-Semites.
Despite the physical vulnerability required to stand on the street corner handing out tracts, more often than not, our vulnerability is on the inside. Missionaries must cultivate a heart to care for the lost and to give themselves that others might hear and be saved. Such caring subjects us to disappointment. Indeed, disappointment is inevitable. The more time we invest, the more we care for people, the deeper the potential for disappointment. When we make ourselves vulnerable, we risk the pain of rejection—not merely personal rejection, but rejection of our message and our Messiah. The old gospel hymn that tells us, “millions are waiting, dying to hear” doesn’t quite apply to Jewish evangelism. It is certainly true that millions are dying, but most are not waiting and most do not want to hear. We have a saying at Jews for Jesus: reach out to many to win a few. We must keep reaching out to many despite the rejection, because it’s the only way to find the few who will receive the life-giving gospel. While we rejoice in the few, we still weep over the many. That is the vulnerability required of an apostolic lifestyle.
Finally there is mobility, which also overlaps with availability and vulnerability. Someone once approached Moishe Rosen at a Bible conference. She explained that God had called her to be a missionary to the Jews and she was seeking his advice. “Where do you live?” Moishe asked. “Cedar Rapids, Iowa,” she answered. “Well,” he replied, “You will have to leave Cedar Rapids.” Moishe was right! It is true that everyone can witness wherever they happen to be. Nevertheless, those of us who commit to the life of a missionary must be willing to be mobile. In order to make ourselves available to go to the specific people God has called us to, we need to be where they live and work. We can’t choose a place to live and then try to become a missionary there.
Most Jews live in and around major metropolitan areas; therefore Jews for Jesus is an urban ministry. Many people who might have joined our staff chose not to because it meant relocating to a major metropolitan area that they either feared or disliked. One missionary couple left our staff when they began to plan a family because they didn’t want to raise their children in a big city. These are choices that everyone has the right to make, but to live as a missionary means giving up those choices.
In addition to relocation, mobility means that missionaries need to be willing to be away from home when necessary. The Apostle Paul was a model of mobility. His three missionary journeys had him conducting more than eight years of his ministry away from home. That is a significant amount of travel time! Jews for Jesus currently has stations in nineteen cities, and only two full-time mobile evangelistic teams. But most of our missionaries are away from home on ministry business several weeks out of the year. In fact, with this newsletter, you may have received notice that one of our Jews for Jesus missionaries will be in your area presenting Christ in the Passover. We have staff all over the world traveling and ministering as they deliver this dynamic evangelistic message. If we are coming to a church near you, I hope you will be able to attend a presentation. You might even bring a Jewish friend, or any friend for that matter, who needs to hear about Jesus. Our three week Passover tours don’t exactly stack up to Paul’s missionary journeys, but we often meet people whom God has prepared to receive the gospel message—people we would not otherwise meet had we stayed home. God continues to bless us when we reach into areas where we don’t have established branches, and that is one reason why we continue to travel.
But mobility is much more than a travel schedule or a major move; it’s a mindset. This brings us back to availability. All of our staff are ready to go should an urgent need or opportunity arise. If there is a sudden outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a particular place and Jewish people become open to the gospel, that is where we want to be. All our missionaries keep current passports. Speaking of passports, next month our mobile evangelistic team, the Liberated Wailing Wall, will wrap up a 20 month tour with overseas ministry in England, South Africa and Australia. I can’t help reflecting back fifteen years, to the time when my wife Patti and I went overseas with the Liberated Wailing Wall. Like our current team, we also traveled to England, South Africa and Australia as well as to Israel. Back then we had no Jews for Jesus branches in any of those countries. Now we have branches in each and every one of those countries! Why? God’s grace, and the “bility” that propels us forward to do more and be more for Him.
If we are to continue making the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide, we need “bility”—availability, vulnerability and mobility. Please pray that God will grant us the courage and grace to maintain that apostolic commitment in all we do.