Jewish Evangelism Then and Now part 3
Part three in a series, condensed from a paper presented to the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism
The methodologies used by the previous generation of Jewish mission agencies varied greatly. For example, in Denver, Colorado, there was an organization known as Bible Counselors of America, directed by Rev. J.C. Hoover. Nothing in the title suggested that it was a mission to the Jews, but its address at 1311 Meade Street, did suggest that it had something to do with the Jewish community. The outside of the building had a sign that said, West Side Center.” The mission per-sonnel lived upstairs, and downstairs there were meeting rooms where, I understand, English classes were conducted for immigrants.
The ministry of Rev. Hoover was quite unusual. He had a Chevrolet sedan at a time when most Jews on the poorer side of Denver didn’t have cars. He would begin driving at 7:30 in the mornings, stopping by bus stops, asking if anyone wanted a ride downtown. Well, who wouldn’t? You could save a whole dime of streetcar fare! Rev. Hoover would get a carload of people and drop them off near their work, it seemed never saying much to them about anything. I later found out that he would hurry back to the west side and make his run all over again, thus transporting a half dozen to a dozen people to their work every day. One might think that this approach would be ineffective, but my own uncle, Sam Freedberg, was one of Rev. Hoover’s regular passengers, and I remember my uncle telling me once that there were prophecies in the Jewish Bible about Jesus. He offered to show me some of them when I was about eleven years old. This is something that my Uncle Sam had learned from Rev. Hoover, so evidently Rev. Hoover wasn’t entirely silent as a witness. Emil Elbe of the Midwest Messianic Center (loosely affiliated with Rev. Hoover), conducted a very interesting noon-time discussion group at a downtown restaurant once a week. Mostly Jewish men attended. Christians could come if they brought a Jewish friend. This forum had been in existence at least 20 years when I learned about it in the mid 1960s. Several Jewish businessmen, including an attorney, would come and in a most friendly way, dispute the gospel with Brother Elbe and whomever he happened to have as a speaker.
Another type of work that was carried out by the Bible Counselors of America was what they called their “shop” ministry. For many years, Jewish neighborhoods were characterized by numerous shops owned by Jewish proprietors. I think particularly of one Jewish neighborhood, Blue Hill Avenue in Dorchester, Massachusetts. One could walk for a mile on that street, and find that almost all of the shops, even the gas stations, had Jewish proprietors. And most afternoons, there was a lull in business between 2:00 and 3:30 p.m. It was a wonderful time for a missionary to drop in on those shopkeepers. Sometimes the missionary would sit down and read a bit of Scripture with the proprietor. The missionary earnestly tried to befriend the shopkeepers and often succeeded. It was a great way to network with other Jewish contacts. But as the number of Jewish proprietorships diminished, so the opportunities to do shop ministry faltered. By the mid-sixties, this method had run its course.
The most basic method of missionary work was to visit people in their homes. Sometimes it was on a neighborhood canvass; sometimes the missionary came because Christians had referred them to their Jewish friends. Such was the case with the missionary who visited my wife, Ceil. The missionaries were usually friendly but reserved. In the case of referral, they usually made much of their association with the person who had referred them, and generally referred to themselves as Bible teachers.
more to come…