Has your heart ever been broken over a young person who wandered away from the faith and is now living as though God does not exist? Maybe it’s a family member, perhaps even your own child. I’ve had many close friends, and even Jews for Jesus colleagues, weep with me over prodigal sons and daughters.
I’m sure my parents wept over me as well; I was a prodigal who came home. Raised in a Messianic Jewish home, I was taught that Jesus is our Messiah. When I was eight years old, my faith became personal and yet, in my teen years, I turned my back on Jesus. Throughout high school and into college I threw myself into a lifestyle of parties, friends, drinking and drugs.
I eventually found myself enrolled in a music performance program at Boston University. I was on my way to becoming a success in music, but I was miserable. I guess I knew in the back of my mind that my deep unhappiness had something to do with my relationship with God or lack of it, but I had become quite adept at burying those thoughts.
Then one day as I was walking past the student union, there, standing right in front of me, were two people in Jews for Jesus jackets handing out literature. It was as though a heavenly spotlight shined down upon me. I stood still, as though frozen in time, while all of the pieces of my life began twisting around like a Rubik’s Cube. Then suddenly, as if by accident—yet it was no accident—everything pulled together, matched up… and the puzzle was solved.
I walked up to the man and introduced myself. He was very warm and friendly. He knew of my family and had been hoping to meet me. He and his wife invited me to a Bible study in their home, which was also the Jews for Jesus office.
As I entered their home and sat down in the small circle of people who had gathered in the living room, many uncomfortable feelings melted away. I realized that in a sense, I was coming home. That night I spoke to God for the first time in a long time and told him how sorry I was for the way I had been living. I asked Him to forgive and cleanse me and I returned to the road of following the Messiah.
My story is like that of many others, but sadly, many have yet to come home. A recent Barna research poll found that of those raised in Christian homes, 43% end up walking away from their faith in high school or college, melting into the growing number of people who declare no faith at all. I don’t know how those raised in Messianic Jewish homes fit into these statistics, but I do know that no one is immune. I know God is sovereign and He can bring back those who stray, as He did with me. But I am grateful for those who helped me return to the faith. I feel strongly that our ministry should do all we can to reach out to strengthen children of Jewish believers when they are young, and continue reaching out to them when they are most prone to wander.
Jews for Jesus currently has eighteen missionaries deployed in ministry to children and youth, as well as to young adults around the world, from the U.S. to Israel. They are ministering each week to hundreds of Jewish children and young adults, from believing and unbelieving families.*
Many of these kids face unique challenges that our workers are especially trained and equipped to help them handle. With the advent of chat and social media, our workers can “meet” with them each week for chats and Bible studies, no matter where they may be living. But the highlights of their ongoing ministry are the in-person times together. That includes our summer camps, often called Camp Gilgal, where our ministry to many young people begins. Our program for older teens, Halutzim, usually includes many we’ve met through camp, and so does Massah, a discipleship/short-term mission program for college-aged young adults.
The care that hundreds of children and young adults receive through these programs each year is life changing. I’ve seen it in my own children’s lives. All credit goes to the Lord for the fact that they are walking closely with Him today, but I know He used the Jews for Jesus Camp Gilgal ministry they attended from ages eight to eighteen to help grow the love they still have for Christ today. Their further participation in Massah has led both of them to involvement in full-time ministry as young adults. Yes, I hope and believe their upbringing at home played a significant role, but I cannot overstate the impact this specialized ministry has had in the lives of my children and those of countless other Jewish children around the globe.
Let me tell you about Ben. Ben has been involved with Jews for Jesus his entire life. Ben wanted to go to camp long before he was old enough, and attended camp every year from ages eight to eighteen. When his grandmother, who was his hero, was killed in a car accident, he experienced some difficult times. In 2013 he recommitted his life to the Lord, and over the course of the next year began seriously examining his life and faith. At his final camp last summer, he decided that he wanted to be baptized before he left for college across the country. Ben recently came back to one of our winter weekend camps to minister to other children like himself.
This month our team of children and youth missionaries are working hard to make the final preparations for our busiest season of camp ministry all year. Our Halutzim and Massah team leaders are also busily preparing for summer ministry. We expect to see many young people put their trust in Jesus in the next few months, and many others are likely to begin a deeper walk with Him. And yes, among our older campers there may well be some prodigals who come because of the friendships they’ve made over the years. Your prayers are very important in this process.
We need to do all we can to help demonstrate the kind of faith and provide the kind of nurture that gives kids a fighting chance in this culture so often toxic to trust in Him. My prayer is that by the grace of God we will see many prodigals come home and many children’s faith in Yeshua strengthened and confirmed. May the voices of many parents echo the words of the Father found in the parable, “for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).
* Jews for Jesus does not minister to minors without parental consent.
Editor’s note: This month’s “So What” has further reflections about prodigals. Whether you have a prodigal in your life, have met a prodigal from someone else’s life, or ARE the prodigal in your own life, this is for you.