Our Jews for Jesus staff and volunteers hand out millions of broadsides each year. We stop and talk with thousands of strangers. Some become our friends, and a few even become our brothers and sisters in Christ. In tangential ways we also touch literally thousands of others who usually remain unknown to us. I suspect there are many divinely appointed moments” when the Lord is quietly and effectively touching someone, often when we are least aware of it.
Recently I heard of one such encounter that had gone unknown to our staff for more than 16 years. I heard about it on a hot July afternoon as I distributed broadsides at the Santa Monica Pier in Southern California.
The incident had occurred in the early days of our Jews for Jesus ministry when we were conducting public demonstrations as a way of drawing attention to the gospel. Some of those earliest public “protests” took place on a section of Broadway Street in San Francisco called North Beach.
North Beach epitomized the old spirit of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. In the late 60s its bars were featuring topless dancers, and the area had become synonymous with debauchery on the West Coast. North Beach was the nest that hatched a national fascination manifested as bistro voyeurism—sex shows in night clubs. To gain a hearing for the gospel, we chose to focus attention on one club in particular, the Garden of Eden, because its biblical name provided an excellent background for our message of sin and salvation in Christ. The Garden of Eden featured a “live sex act” on its stage. Actually, I was told that it was a “dance,” and there was a parody with a scene from the musical Hair.
In those days, all of us were volunteers who would go down to North Beach in a car caravan after work. We used to gather outside the Garden of Eden, and carrying placards with messages like “Love, Not Lust,” “Real Love in Jesus” and “Jesus is Lord,” we would begin a demonstration march in front of the place. We were a small, ragtag group back then, and most of us were out on the streets publicly proclaiming our faith for the very first time.
We chanted slogans and sang Christian songs as a story to those who were frequenting the North Beach bars. Sometimes folk stopped to talk to us, and occasionally some confessed that their consciences had been touched. Sometimes a drunk would fall in line with us and disrupt things. On rare occasions, someone would take a swing at one of us or push us off the sidewalk into the street.
One evening we had a particularly lively time. Patronage was down considerably in the Garden of Eden as a result of the stir we were creating out on the street. The owner of the club came out to do his best to make peace with us demonstrators. He offered to hand over the stage of the club to two demonstrators for a total of 10 minutes if they would promise to leave afterwards. Our leader, Moishe, accepted the offer, and two of our group actually preached the gospel from the stage of the Garden of Eden nightclub that evening. During the brief time they talked about Jesus Christ to the few patrons it was definitely not “business as usual!”
Billy, the young man who was playing the role of Adam, was bored with the whole proceeding. He walked out of the club wearing only the scanty loin cloth “costume” that was part of his “act.” He intended to amuse himself by harassing the girls who were a part of the Jews for Jesus demonstration. Standing there in the cool night air in nothing more than his loin cloth and makeup, Billy asked one of the young girls what the demonstration was all about. She explained that we were concerned about sin and its corrupting hold on all humanity.
Now, 16 years later, I met Billy on the pier at Santa Monica. He introduced himself, and we talked. He told me he had never forgotten his encounter with that young girl in front of the Garden of Eden nightclub in San Francisco. Her words had pierced his heart that night. “Well, I have nothing to worry about,” he had scoffed. She had answered in a way that caused him to question the confidence of his own words. He had never been able to shake that moment. Why had she confronted him with his sin? He was just trying to make a living the only way he knew how.
In the months that followed, Billy’s life began to turn sour. Billy and his wife got heavily into heroin. Within a month of that encounter at North Beach, she almost died of an overdose. Fearing for their lives, Billy put her into a car and drove away from San Francisco, never to return. Within a week, he found himself on the lower desert east of Los Angeles.
On the night his wife had almost died, Billy had cried out to God, saying, “Lord, if she comes through this, I will turn from my sinning ways and turn to you.” She lived, and Billy never forgot his promise. In the months that followed, Billy and his wife both became followers of Jesus Christ. The old North Beach “Adam and Eve” became “a new Adam and a new Eve” through Jesus Christ, the final Adam whom God had sent to restore fallen humanity.
For almost 16 years, Billy had been looking for someone from Jews for Jesus with whom to share what the Lord had done through the demonstration in North Beach that night. He confessed having seen our office on Burbank Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley, but every time he had thought about going in, he had struggled with the embarrassment of confessing what he had done with his life prior to coming to Christ.
Now on the pier at Santa Monica, Billy’s face glowed with joy as he told me how God had delivered him from the pit of hell. Later he brought his wife by as I was continuing to broadside. As we talked, she kept watching people taking the tracts. Turning to speak to her, I noticed tears rolling down her cheeks. They were tears of joy for God’s grace that had touched her life and Billy’s and was reaching out now to those who were taking the tracts.
Little did we know that night in North Beach about the rescue God had begun in those two lives. How gracious it was of God to let us hear from Billy! It was a real reminder that things are not always what they seem, and that God is always at work. You never know!