As the Jewish people prepared to take the Land of Promise , twelve spies crossed the Jordan River on a fact-finding mission. Two of the twelve, Joshua and Caleb, returned with a good report about God’s faithfulness concerning his promise. The others, and the Israelites who heeded them, never inherited it.
Thousands of years later, 15 messianic Jewish college students banded together for a ten-day tour of Israel called Project Joshua,” in Hebrew ” mitzay Yehoshua .” ( Mitzay literally means “in the footsteps of.”)
Jews for Jesus put together Project Joshua to provide young Jewish believers with an Israel experience ordinarily unavailable to them through any agency of the Jewish community, or through a standard Christian tour. They learned about the biblical sites they visited from guides who believe that the Old and New Testaments are God’s Word. They also benefited from being with other Jewish believers their own age, and experienced specialized interaction and activities involving the people of Israel .
A Christian foundation that believed in Project Joshua financed the bulk of the tour for these 15 students. The students had to provide only $200 apiece for their own expenses. In this way, we were able to provide a financial benefit for them that they never would have received through any Jewish community youth tour because of their commitment to the Messiah.
These young people—along with a few others to guide them—retraced the footsteps of Joshua on a 13-day orientation and witnessing trip to “spy out” the land of Israel . They triumphed over physical and emotional challenges, overcame fears and found new depth to the word “fellowship.” Most important, like Joshua and Caleb of old, they learned firsthand that God keeps his promises to those who step out in faith.
On the first day these courageous college students traveled the precise path Joshua had followed in pursuit of the five Canaanite kings as recorded in Joshua 10:16-17. Our expedition ended in a series of caves much like the one in which Joshua eventually found the five kings hiding.
Later the team traveled throughout the Galilee, to the top of Mt. Carmel , where Elijah once did battle with the prophets of Baal, and to Jerusalem . We visited an archeological dig where the students stood at the very steps of the Temple where Jesus walked. We spent time at the Sea of Galilee where Jesus taught, and at the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed before he gave his life as a sacrifice for our sins.
Project Joshua did not focus solely on God’s salvation history. The students learned much about the salvation God is still bringing to Israel as they met in symposium with young Israeli Jews and Arabs who, like themselves, believe in and love the Lord. They heard from representatives of many different messianic congregations in Israel . The Israelis spoke candidly about their needs and, most significantly, told of the good things God is doing in Israel today. As Joshua and Caleb saw delectable fruit to be harvested in the land of Israel, our Project Joshua participants saw the potential for a spiritual harvest as they met and heard testimonies of Israelis who had come to faith in Yeshua.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Project Joshua was that the participants engaged in evangelism on the streets of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem . Most of these young people had never done anything like that even in the familiar surroundings of the United States , yet they were willing to pass out tracts in Israel ! Local Israeli believers led the evangelistic campaign, providing Hebrew tracts and inspiring the students by their example of valor, sacrifice and dedication.
Witnessing in Israel taught the students courage—the courage to stand for the gospel no matter where they are and no matter what the cost might be. How can these students return to their campuses and be apathetic, knowing that their Israeli brothers and sisters are proclaiming the gospel in a land that is hostile to the message of Jesus? How can they do any less when their fellow believers who live in the land of the Savior endure so much for the sake of the gospel?
The team distributed 25,000 gospel tracts. They could have handed out many thousands more if the Israelis had not been so inquisitive. They were constantly stopping the team with their questions! Most of the Israelis the team encountered had never heard the real gospel, so the Project Joshua participants were a genuine curiosity to them. But in addition to curiosity, many Israelis showed a sincere and deep hunger for a personal relationship with God. The Project Joshua team logged approximately 50 names and addresses of Jewish people who wanted to hear more about the Savior Yeshua. Local Israeli believers are following up those contacts. Please join us in praying that God will bring fruit from their efforts.
I could sum up by saying that Project Joshua was a life-transforming experience for us all, but I thought some of the students’ impressions in their own words would he more interesting:
“I think one of the most important things was learning how to use the Bible as a tool and putting things into context. I learned to look behind what the verses are saying to see how God intended it…I learned how he feels about the lost…A lot of times we just relate to them as unsaved people but I really see that his heart is longing to bring them back to himself. It gave me a lot more sensitivity.” – Arielle Gainsburg
“I feel like a ton of work is going on inside of me and I am very grateful for it and for every one of you guys who have touched my life. It has helped me come alive to be with my family [of Jewish believers]; it has been really encouraging. The night I was witnessing in Tel-Aviv, I was putting everything on the line, standing out there being spit at. And stepping out in faith to live for the Lord is a decision I have chosen to make, so this has been really encouraging to me and [has] changed me.” – Craig Rouben
“I was scared to death of the trip, the culture, passing out tracts, etc. I look back at that time and look at what happened in Jerusalem today and it is totally different. I was scared here but…I knew the Lord was with me and I knew he wasn’t going to give me anything that I couldn’t handle. This whole trip has been like that for me. So it has been really encouraging for me.” – Philip Villareal
“I was thinking going on this trip and handing out tracts would he so impersonal…how am lever going to make an impact on these people? It has been such a learning experience to be on the streets. Handing out tracts is one of the most personal things you could do…the eye contact, talking with people. That has had an amazing impact on my life. I came here with little direction, wanting to know where he wants me to go and this trip has really helped me a lot. Just as far as thinking about my future and ministry. Getting the direction has been really important to me. I have been here twice before but being with you guys…I have never experienced Israel like this before. Watching the interactions and watching our lives and seeing how much you all love the Lord has really challenged me.” –Marla Werman
“Being in a ministry back home…was really rough and I didn’t know what to expect here. I thought it would be a hundred times worse than back home. Now I see all these people who are open…thousands of them walking on the street [and I am] thinking that they might be dying and going to hell. They need the chance to hear. I was so surprised that so many were secular. It really touched me because I had been on a ministry before where we did a lot of physical labor, but my desire was to tell people about Jesus Christ, and I thank the Lord that he gave me this chance to do that.” – Irene Glick
“For me there has not been a dull moment. Being able to really see where these things happened in the Bible and being able to envision it in my head when I read it…It is going to be incredible. There really has no been a dull moment. The common bond of knowing fellow Jewish believers…It has really changed my life. It will be hard to be away from you guys and I hope we will be able to get together again.” – Beth Oslander
“I think the most exciting prospect I could ever picture was to be riding on a plane with twenty messianic believers. That was a dream come true. I never pictured that I could ever get the chance to see where my God walked on this earth. I have learned a lot as far as my Jewish identity and I think I understand the concept of really boldly proclaiming the gospel. This has been the most phenomenal experience of my life.” – Jonathan Press
“You know when you read the Bible it is hard to remember that it is all real. But being here and being able to stand in the middle of the muddy side of a road and count the next mountain over and say, ‘that’s where Daniel was born’ makes it so different. You realize that this isn’t just a story that we are reading; it is real people, real things that happened.” – Laura Weinhouse
One Israeli believer said: “I think anything is possible with God, and I saw it here…We can learn something from those Americans! I want to encourage you.”
Editor’s note: We hope to conduct a similar project in the future. Do you know any messianic Jewish college students who might he interested? If so, please inform the Minister-at-Large in San Francisco of their names and addresses, and he will contact them about the possibility of serving as part of another special program like Project Joshua.