Numerous recent personnel shifts within Jews for Jesus have seen some of our younger leaders taking positions of leadership in our branches. That includes the leadership of our flagship branch in New York City, which passed to Joshua Sofaer following last summer’s Behold Your God finale. Joshua Sofaer was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area; his father is a Jew from India, which means Josh is a Sephardic Jew. (For more about Sephardic Jewish people, see an article by Josh from March, 2006 at: http://www.jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/2006_03/sephardic)
By the age of 18, the philosophically-minded Sofaer found himself in New Zealand, looking for life’s meaning. There he met a group of Christians who told him about Jesus. “Finally, I’d found something of lasting value,” he says. “I committed my life to Jesus in 1988.” Joshua volunteered with us for two years, and came on staff as a parttime missionary while enrolled at Brooklyn College. He graduated in 1995 with a degree in Jewish Studies and, until very recently, served fulltime with us in youth ministry from our New York City branch. He met his wife, Annette, through our ministry and they have two daughters, Eliana and Taliah. While you may have read some of Josh’s articles in previous newsletters, we wanted you to meet him on a more personal level, and hope you’ll be praying for him as he leads our branch in Manhattan.
Editor: When did David Brickner first approach you about leading the New York branch?
Josh: It was 2003.
Editor: What was your reaction?
Josh: I was glad that he considered me, but I didn’t want to do it because I felt like it was just too big, and I was still working with youth. I was almost proud of the fact that I didn’t want the position.
Editor: What happened? Can you describe the process that led you to change your mind?
Josh: It was a year and a half before I began to sense that something on the horizon was going to change. I didn’t know what it was. During my Passover tour in 2004 I did a lot of driving and that gave me extra time to pray. As I prayed, to my surprise, I began to have a desire to lead the branch. It began to crystallize that this was the change I’d been sensing.
Editor: Was there something that caused the whole decision to fall into place for you?
Josh: Yes. In the summer of 2005, I looked around at Camp Gilgal [Josh was Camp Director for the East Coast] and said to myself, “Everything that I hoped to accomplish is here. I have done all I know how to do.” I didn’t really have a bigger vision for the camp; I was pleased with how it had developed under my leadership, but I felt it was time for other people with a vision to step in—Elisheva R [who is about to lead the camp for her second summer] and others. Knowing that others were ready to lead that ministry enabled me to move into the next step of my ministry.
Editor: How is leading the New York branch the same or different than what you expected?
Josh: (laughs) I’m learning how to play with adults, and adults are very different than kids. Seriously, I have been learning a lot. I’m now teaching the weekly Bible study at the branch, which means representing that public side of the New York branch.
Also, in the past, if someone wanted us to do something and I got excited and said, “Oh yeah, we can do that,” it didn’t raise any expectations. Now if I say, “Oh yeah, we can do that,” as the branch leader, I’m committing us to something. So I have to weigh things more carefully before I speak. The good part is I have more ability to understand those decisions than I did before. Another difference is that now I’m managing other missionaries, administrative staff, students and interns—a total of 12 people.
I have less flexibility in my schedule. I think much of that is because I’m still new and am still working out the rhythm. The reality is that this whole year, at least August through June, is transition.
Editor: What is the worst of it?
Josh: The worst is when for one reason or another we can’t take advantage of an evangelistic opportunity, or when we see someone who professed faith fall away.
Editor: What is the best of it?
Josh: I am absolutely confident that this is where God wants me to be and that’s a very good, refreshing place to be. The other ‘best of it’ is that I have really good people and the dynamic seems to be mutually beneficial.
Editor: What about missionary work? Do you still get time to meet with people?
Josh: I make phone calls once a week and sortie [hand out tracts] once a week and am still building a caseload [people who welcome visits]. My caseload before becoming branch leader was basically the kids I ministered to, and those have transferred to Liz.
Editor: How can people pray for you and your family?
Josh: We’d like continued prayer for us to find a good balance in our lives and ministry. Pray that our children will continue to do well and grow in the Lord. Eliana is eight and Taliah is six. Pray for Annette as my transition affects her in some ways as much as it affects me.
Editor: How can people pray for the New York branch?
Josh: We have a continuing need for our facility to be working well. We’re getting on top of things and fixing things—New York City tends to deteriorate things faster than other places do.
Pray for our missionary staff, that we all can have more and more opportunities for ministry and influencing people for Jesus.
Pray for our weekly Tuesday night Bible study for Jewish believers and seekers.
Pray for all of us to be strong in our faith, in the Lord, and that our ministry would flow from that. It is a good group; God has given our staff here a lot of gifts and talents—pray for us to stay close to Him so that we may use what He’s given us well.
As Josh mentioned, he felt free to consider the position of branch leader because he knew that Jews for Jesus East Coast children’s and youth program was in good hands.
We first introduced you to Liz Goldstein last November, as a new missionary trainee. You might recall that she grew up in a Jewish believing home, as an “MK” (missionary kid) and that her parents helped to establish the ministry of Jews for Jesus. She has been volunteering with Jews for Jesus camp and youth programs since she was in high school.
You can see how God has been preparing her to take over our East Coast youth ministry from the following brief excerpts from Liz’s prayer letters:
Before camp 2005 Liz wrote:
“Camp begins in just a few weeks and I can hardly wait. I will be part of Camp Gilgal staff for my ninth year in a row and this summer, I will be the assistant director at Junior Camp and the director of both Teen Camp and Adventure Camp. Josh ‘Speedy’ Sofaer will not be there for the weeks of Teen and Adventure Camp. It really is me in charge.”
After camp she wrote:
“The last day of Junior Camp, Speedy gives all of the staff an award, recognizing a spiritual or character quality, something to affirm us. This year, I received ‘Your Driver’s License’—and headed into directing Teen Camp.
“I praise God that this week with 13 to 15-year-olds ran as smoothly as it did! There were 17 campers and 7 tribe leaders. We did a few new things this summer. The main one was that we moved our Tabernacle Time to the evening. We had a worship service and a Bible study then. In the mornings, we added another activity period with three Bible topics that the campers had to sign up for, one each day. The topics included: ‘Messianic Prophecy’, ‘Is the Bible True?’, ‘How to Witness to your Friends’, and two discussions— ‘Who are you as a Jewish believer in the Jewish community?’ and ‘Who are you as a Jewish believer in the Church?’ This was a successful addition to Teen Camp.”
Before camp 2006, Liz wrote:
“As for me, Twister, I am still working on camper recruitment, schedules, Bible teaching preparation and other details! My greatest prayer needs are for the Bible teaching times. I’ve taught these age groups before, but at Junior Camp, I will be teaching from the Bible every day for two weeks— that is more than I’ve ever done. Please pray for me, that I will be actively in the Word myself to teach and challenge others. The other prayer need is for wisdom in this transition and in leadership.”
After camp, she wrote:
“The summer was really great. God was very gracious during this time. I had a great leadership team working under me during camp and all three sessions went very well. Junior Camp was a little smaller this year than the last few, but I didn’t notice a lighter load of work because of that! It went smoothly, but it wasn’t all easy. I faced some real challenges throughout those 21⁄2 weeks.
“Teen Camp was a great week, yet again. The program is solid and as this was my second year directing Teen Camp, I really felt a difference. I knew what I was doing. Praise God! “Adventure Camp was the best (as in my favorite) week of camp that I’ve done in years, maybe ever! I know, that’s a big claim and you’re wondering what was it that made it so good? There were the right number of campers (14), with a great dynamic among them. The staff was a veteran staff that I really enjoy working with. The program (rock climbing in The Gunks, lake chilling, camping) was a lot of fun. And in our worship and devotion times from the Book of Jonah, God moved in the lives of the campers and in my own heart. It was great, a week I will remember for years to come.
“One of our Adventure Campers, Denise, lives in New York City. On our drive back to Manhattan, she rode in the van with me. It was just the two of us and we talked about summers, school, family, God, spiritual life, favorite foods, everything. While we were talking, I asked her if she would be interested in meeting to study the Bible together. She said yes! We began in November to meet once a week, either at her house, near her school or at the Jews for Jesus center in New York City. One of the things that has really impressed me is her ability to put the Bible in her own words. We’ll read a passage, talk about it a bit, and then she’ll say, ‘okay, let me put this in Denise-speak.’ It’s a step in putting God’s Word into practice.”
With summer just around the corner, we asked Liz what she’d like our readers to pray for as she leads Camp Gilgal East this summer. Her requests are:
- Grace for a continuing smooth transition
- Wisdom in leadership— sometimes I still feel quite young and inexperienced
- Growth and sense of family among campers and staff
- That God would meet the campers and staff in a vital way