JUST ESTABLISHED – Our First Overseas Branch!
Since 1976, Jews for Jesus has been sending short-term witnessing expeditions overseas to raise the gospel banner. Our teams and speakers have ministered in those places where a distinctly Jewish story was needed, including Israel , England , Australia , Argentina , India and South Africa .
Now we have officially initiated our first permanent overseas branch. It will be in Johannesburg, South Africa . On July 26, 1989 , we signed legal documents to merge with Hope of Israel, formerly known as the South Africa Jews Society. That 38-year-old organization employs five staff members. Under the merger, which will take two years to complete, the new ministry’s title will be Jews for Jesus of South Africa .
Why South Africa ? It’s ripe. It’s right. It’s a challenge we must meet. There are approximately 120,000 Jewish people in South Africa , most of whom live in Johannesburg . Of all our overseas witnessing sites, Johannesburg has been the toughest, presenting the most resistance to our ministry. On two occasions opposition became so strong that we actually had a public meeting stopped by rioting. That has never happened to us anywhere except in South Africa .
The first incident was in May of 1981. Sponsored by the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (which is like InterVarsity in the United States ), our Liberated Wailing Wall had scheduled a noon concert at Witswaterstrand University in Johannesburg . This school, called Wits by some, has at least a 50 per cent Jewish enrollment, and is a great field for Jewish evangelism.
The team came early to set up its equipment in a small classroom/auditorium provided for them. At about 11 a.m. some students, apparently Jewish, began putting up anti-Jews for Jesus signs with slogans like, "Jews for Jesus is not kosher" and "Jews for Jesus are not Jews."
The team members talked to them but did not rip down their signs.
As the noon hour approached, 100 Jewish students marched in and took the front seats. As our music team began their instrument and sound check, the students began booing, yelling, and throwing pencils, rolled-up pieces of paper and books. Mitch Glaser, who was in charge, called the security guards. When he asked one of them if he was going to do anything, the guard refused. He just stood there, only moving to avoid getting hit by the debris that was being thrown.
Finally, Mitch asked the guard to call a supervisor. When the supervisor arrived Mitch asked again, "Aren’t you going to do anything?" The supervisor replied, "You knew there’d be trouble. You brought it on your own head. Now you have to deal with it" and he left.
As the team continued their sound check, the protesting students began singing in Hebrew, "The People of Israel Must Live." The Liberated Wailing Wall joined in, playing the song on their instruments. That seemed to incite the protesters even more because the song is like a Jewish "fight" song, the kind sung at a football game or a pep rally before a big fight, and those students were ready for a fight.
They got out of their seats and began kicking the sound equipment, pulling out plugs and knocking things over. One of the leaders punched an I.F.E.S. student in the stomach.
Mitch decided that rather than endanger everyone, the team should follow Paul’s example. (He went over a wall in a basket when he knew he had no way out and his ministry could not continue.) The team slipped out through a back door.
Though the concert itself had failed, they stayed on campus, and for the next few hours there were little buzz groups all over the school. They consisted mostly of one or two Christians surrounded by several Jewish students discussing what had happened.
In discussing the incident later, some of the Christian leaders said that never before had they gotten to witness to the Jewish students like that, and that the issue that Jesus was the Messiah for Jews and Gentiles had really become clear on campus. Although the incident may have seemed a defeat, the Lord turned it around for victory, because we were able to witness to many people that day.
The next night, The Liberated Wailing Wall was scheduled to sing at the YMCA near the university. As they began their concert, a few Jewish people and a few student types had come, but they were very polite. Then suddenly someone came in to say there was a march outside. Mitch went out and saw literally hundreds of students and many people wearing skullcaps marching through the YMCA.
There was a metal gate and knowing that such a crowd had a capacity for violence, Mitch closed it before continuing with the presentation. The marchers began hitting the gate, trying to break it down, and the YMCA people called the police. Instead of the regular police, the riot police came. They arrested many marchers and dispersed the crowd with a sneeze machine, which is like tear gas.
During all this, the concert continued and one Jewish person even came to faith. So the Lord preserved the team from harm.
Another incident occurred in 1984. At that time, our emissary David Brickner reported the following: Leaders of the Jewish community had been pressuring a number of the public halls and college campuses that had scheduled our evangelistic teams (particularly Witswaterstrand University ). Some had even cancelled our presentations.
Our people did hand out tracts at Wits. After two hours, when they had finished, some opposing student groups finally mustered enough security guards in the area to get them thrown off campus. As our people were leaving, one of the students shouted, "You think you have problems here? Wait until Market Theater!"
Our Market Theater presentation was scheduled for Sunday evening. Because of our past problems in South Africa , we had hired two security guards to take care of the gate that evening. Still, we were unprepared for the amount of opposition we encountered. About 250 protesters gathered outside the theater and formed a human chain around the entrance. Anyone wanting to get in had to press through this barrier while getting pelted with eggs and tomatoes and the like.
Hearing the protesters chanting and yelling outside, David, who was in charge, instructed the hired security guards to prevent them from entering. Then he rejoined the team to prepare for their concert. Suddenly the chants and the noise stopped and all of the protesters filed into the auditorium. When David asked the security guards why they had not kept them out, one of them responded, "You didn’t explain the situation we’re in. A guy pulled a gun on me and said, ‘You have children, you love your wife, step aside!
The team agreed that they would not allow fear to cancel the program. After prayer, they went out on the platform to minister. Only a few measures into their first song, the protesters’ chanting and yelling grew so loud that the team couldn’t even hear themselves. Their sound man turned up the audio volume full blast, and they still couldn’t hear. Then the protesters started pulling the cords out of the microphones and speakers, and someone turned off all the lights in the auditorium. It seemed that surely they were going to rush the stage, but they didn’t.
When we called the police, they refused to do anything because the protesters had not physically harmed anyone. Several times the team tried to resume the concert, but the audience was becoming agitated.
Shoving began between the protesters and those who had come to listen. Realizing that things would only get worse, David announced to the audience that regretfully some thought we should not be allowed the right to free speech, then he cancelled the rest of the presentation.
At that point, the team felt defeated because they had not seen much Christian enthusiasm. Attendance at some of the church meetings had been rather dismal, and some meetings scheduled in public auditoriums
had even been cancelled. As they packed up their equipment, a woman approached and asked what had been happening. David explained briefly. The woman pulled out a badge and identified herself as a member of the South African Press Association. David gave her his name and phone number. The next morning, the phone rang and rang with many calls from reporters, press organizations, newspapers and television and radio stations.
For the next four days until the team left the country, Jews for Jesus was constantly in the media. There were letters to the editor, editorials and all over the kiosks banner headlines read, "Uproar over Jews for Jesus Group."
Whereas before these events the Christian community had been apathetic, suddenly the team was getting greater attendance at their remaining meetings. We now had police protection. Jewish people were approaching us to say, "We didn’t know you were here. We don’t agree with the kind of action taken against you at the Market Theater. We want to hear what you have to say." As a result of hearing about the uproar, one Jewish girl came to a meeting and prayed to receive the Lord.
All that opposition gained some positive results for the gospel message. David reports, "Since then, I have been back to South Africa several times, and whenever I have had a public meeting just by myself, I have had the same kind of opposition. I think it means that the Jewish community in South Africa is becoming more aware of the gospel message."
Negative response from some is inevitable, but it encourages us that we are doing the right thing − that we should be doing more and that, as we do, God will certainly bless our efforts. Jews for Jesus has never feared opposition. We know that opposition often signifies a reaction to the moving of the Holy Spirit. We are geared to respond to challenging situations. We thrive and often do our best work in the face of challenge. So, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have accepted the challenge that South Africa presents!
PRAY FOR OUR JOHANNESBURG PIONEERS
We are sending a young Jewish couple, Andrew and Laura Barron, to establish our new Jews for Jesus ministry in Johannesburg .
Andrew is 30 years old and a graduate of the Florida Institute of Technology with a degree in Space Science. He accepted the Lord at the age of 23. Though he had thought little about God until college, as he began to study astronomy, he found himself wondering about the vastness and complexity of the universe. Inner questions about the existence and nature of God began to chip away at his agnostic complacency. At the same time, the head of student affairs (who was also Andrew’s supervisor at his part-time office job) was telling him about Jesus.
After graduation, Andrew moved to Denver without resolving his spiritual questions. There he worked on the space shuttle program at Martin Marietta. Then during a return visit to Florida , the Christian who had previously witnessed to him gave him a gospel pamphlet from Jews for Jesus. Andrew wrote to our headquarters for more information, and Mitch Glaser answered his note. Mitch had a speaking engagement in Denver , and he and Andrew met. Andrew was open to the gospel but not ready to make a commitment. Mitch put him in touch with another believer in the area, and soon afterwards Andrew prayed to receive Christ. He came onto our Jews for Jesus staff in 1983. A tenured missionary, Andrew has served in our Los Angeles and Boston branches and missionaries in our Summer Witnessing Campaigns. He received his theological education at the Denver Seminary, the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School program in Israel and Gordon Conwell Seminary.
Laura is 25 years old. She is a graduate of San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature. Before marrying Andrew, Laura worked as an English teacher and as a secretary. She prayed to receive the Lord at the age of 12 and came to full commitment and dedication three years later. As Laura’s faith increased, so did her desire to stay in touch with her Jewish roots. She spent a year in Israel , living in kibbutzim and learning to converse in Hebrew.
Andrew and Laura are practically newlyweds. They were married on June 24, 1989 . Inherent in Andrew’s proposal to Laura was her willingness to share his call to Jewish evangelism in South Africa . They are of one heart and mind in serving the Lord and are looking forward to the adventure and challenge of ministering to the Jewish people of South Africa .
Laura is especially eager to enter this new phase of service for the Lord. It will be her first full-time ministry. She feels that her commitment to South Africa can best be described in terms of availability to serve and eagerness to learn.
Andrew is looking forward to the challenge of working in a new place among new people. He seeks a broader perception of ministry to the Jewish people through ministering outside the United States .
He says, "I’ve always had a desire to work overseas, but I never told anyone. My goal, as I understand it, is to recruit a team of South African evangelists who will be fully equipped to have an effective outreach to the Jewish population of South Africa . I am also eager to alert the churches of South Africa to the potential for ministry among the Jews and to rally their support."
Andrew and Laura are very enthusiastic about this assignment and are eagerly learning what they can about South Africa before their arrival. In preparation, they have done much reading to help them understand and appreciate the unique problems and opportunities that await them in South Africa .
This new overseas branch entails a major step of faith for Jews for Jesus and for Andrew and Laura, and we have some specific prayer requests:
Laura asks prayer for the transition. Understandably, she feels somewhat overwhelmed by the many necessary adjustments and changes and all that she must learn about her new duties, as well as the social and cultural mores of her new country of residence.
She also asks prayer for her father, who is not a believer. He finds it difficult enough that his daughter believes in Jesus, let alone that she would move halfway around the world to try to convince others to believe. Laura hopes to resolve the resultant strain in their relationship before she leaves for South Africa .
Andrew asks prayer for wisdom and sensitivity in all that he does, so that he will not cause offense in the country of his new ministry.
They both ask prayer for their safety, that their South African visas will be granted without any problems and that they will have success in raising funds for this new ministry, since Hope of Israel, with whom we have merged, has been operating in deficit. Please pray also for the actual missionary work in Johannesburg once Laura and Andrew arrive, especially the following:
- the possibility of having a "Jesus for Jews" ad campaign
- a smooth transition for the staff at Hope of Israel
- a successful ministry at the Wits campus, and that Andrew will be able to work with the campus officials (This is the major university with a large Jewish student body where, in our earlier ministry endeavors, The Liberated Wailing Wall was forced off campus. Technically, they have "freedom of expression," but that means little when opposition prevails.)
- a good working relationship between our staff and the Johannesburg police
- wisdom for the Board of Directors in establishing policies that will insure a proper balance of good citizenship and the holy boldness necessary to carry on an effective ministry
- appropriate housing for Laura and Andrew that will be comfortable and convenient for ministry
- a vehicle
- a dedicated staff of South African workers and volunteers whom they can successfully train to run this new branch after the initial three-year period.
(The Barrons will he joined by Lawrence and Louise Hirsch, South African-horn Australian citizens who worked with .Jews for Jesus during the summer of 1988 on the New York City Witnessing Campaign. David Brickner, our Chicago branch leader, will be supervising the South Africa ministry from the United States, and will travel to Johannesburg twice a year as a member of the South Africa Board of Diectors.)