Many of you have met a Jews for Jesus missionary who spoke with confidence at a local church, or maybe you’ve met one of us handing out our gospel broadsides on a street corner. Did you ever wonder what it takes for a missionary to speak confidently, and (we hope) be a proficient evangelist? It takes a lot of prayer, a lot of practice and a lot of training. And all of us go through less than ideal times in the process.
God uses the “bad times” as much or more than the good times as He shapes our character and clarifies our calling. Robyn Wilk can encourage our missionary trainees to persevere through the tough times because she’s learned that lesson first-hand. And she will tell you, she’s still learning.
Robyn grew up in a Conservative Jewish home in New York, moved with her family to Kansas when she was twelve and attended Wichita State University, where a Christian friend witnessed to her. Robyn came to faith in Jesus, finished her undergraduate degree and went on to complete a master’s degree in music at the University of Michigan. She encountered Jews for Jesus at Urbana, a missions conference sponsored by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and joined us as a member of the Liberated Wailing Wall, Jews for Jesus’ music and drama team. In 1993 she moved to New York as a missionary trainee.
“At the time, I never dreamed that I would one day be training other missionaries. I was just hoping to finish the program myself! Training was difficult, partly because I had a lot of growing up to do, spiritually and emotionally. Plus, I had never worked so hard in my life, doing things I’d never done before: visiting Jewish people for Bible study, learning to minister to people where they are at, taking a lot of course material in a short amount of time. Even living in New York City was scary at first.
“God showed His faithfulness; with every challenge He gave me the grace to do it. My faith increased and to this day, when I have difficult times, I look back and remember His faithfulness during training.”
Robyn did make it through, and moved to California to join our San Francisco branch. “I suddenly had more time to do evangelism but it was more difficult finding Jewish people to whom I could minister. Californians seemed so apathetic compared to New Yorkers. Also, I had not done much campus ministry in New York and was assigned to the Berkeley campus. I did sorties (tract-passing expeditions) there two to three times a week but never felt I made much headway.” A bright spot in her ministry was when Moishe Rosen (then executive director of Jews for Jesus) said, “You’re leading a music team; go find one.” Robyn formed and led a local Jews for Jesus Singers team in 1994 (whose ministry has continued under the leadership of Jeff Millenson since 2006).
While in San Francisco Robyn enrolled in the master’s program at Fuller (see p. 6), a continuing education perk for Jews for Jesus missionaries. “I was glad to enroll in the summer classes— many of my friends were in the program. My previous academic experience was positive. But now I found myself in a seminary program for which I had no background. I was not on top of it and since much of my identity at school had been wrapped up in music performance; I felt lost. Other staff members helped me get through.” This continued for four summers, and then the program went on hiatus.
After four years in the San Francisco branch, Robyn began to wonder if she was cut out to be a missionary. “I felt confused and depressed,” she said, “and took a nine-month leave of absence. After much prayer and soulsearching I could not abandon ministry to Jewish people. I missed studying the Bible and talking to Jewish people about Jesus.” Robyn rejoined staff, and over the next three years her life and ministry changed radically.
In September 2004 she was appointed leader of the San Francisco branch. That summer, she led the Denver Behold Your God campaign. In 2005, she committed herself to finishing the master’s program. (“It really bothered me that I’d started something and not finished,” Robyn said.) That year Robyn began to feel that things were about to change. “My parents owned their own business and my dad asked me to take over. As I turned down that offer, I realized once again that I was where God wanted me, and where I wanted to be.”
When Jews for Jesus began making plans for Karol Joseph to open a Brooklyn branch, the question was: who would fill her post as missionary trainer? David Brickner talked to Robyn and she knew, “this was the change God had prepared me for.”
Robyn moved to New York in June of 2006. She worked on revamping the training program and also finished her master’s degree in missiology in March, 2007. “I really enjoyed the classes and knew that God would see me though. Now that I’m finished, I want to audit more classes so that I can continue to learn, keep my mind sharp, be a better missionary and a better trainer.”
From training, to continuing education, to the ups and downs of missionary life, Robyn’s struggles were not unique. But what a reward for one who persevered and learned to trust God—to now help prepare future missionaries to proclaim the gospel worldwide!
More on our new trainees in next month’s newsletter!
If You Were a Missionary Trainee With Jews for Jesus . . .
Let’s pretend for a moment that you are preparing to be a missionary on our staff. Here is an idea of what your life is like:
You live in a seven-story building in midtown Manhattan, in community with other trainees and possibly college interns. The building includes a library, a classroom, a kitchen, a chapel, offices and several apartments.
Early in the semester, you go on a short staff camping trip to get to know others in the New York branch and enjoy God’s creation together. You spend 15-18 hours per week in class. You schedule yourself to study for 16 hours a week, and you do between 12- 16 hours of ministry, including sorties, accompanying seasoned missionaries on visits, phone calling and deputation (speaking in churches).
On Monday through Friday mornings, you meet (usually at 7:30) with your fellow trainees, your trainer and perhaps a guest teacher for devotions. A couple of times a week you gather with the rest of the staff and trainees to write postcards to friends and supporters of Jews for Jesus. You have weekly quizzes and assignments, and occasional field trips to broaden your understanding of Jewish history and culture. (Field trips include Jewish museums, a walking tour of the Lower East Side and Ellis Island.)
You take interrelated clusters of courses, covering many aspects of a given objective. For example, in order to learn how to prepare Bible studies, you take courses on basic hermeneutics, methods of interpretation, preparing studies for Jews who don’t yet believe, how to use study resources such as maps, concordances, various study aids and specialized Jews for Jesus materials. You have apologetics classes to help you understand common objections to the gospel and how to handle them. Then there are courses on how to build a caseload (group of people to whom you’ll minister), how to make evangelistic phone calls and in-person visits, how to care for newborn believers—the “meat and potatoes” of missionary work. You also study Jews for Jesus principles and policies, including ethics and core values. Of course you are going to learn Jewish history, not to mention systematic theology, Messianic prophecy, computer/internet evangelism and so . . . much . . . more!
Many of your courses are taught by your trainer (currently Robyn Wilk). She helps and encourages you, exhorts you when you need it and prays with and for you as you look to God to help you through this rigorous time. But you also have a number of guest lecturers like North American Director, Jhan Moskowitz, who lives not so far away in Brooklyn. Jews for Jesus Executive Director, David Brickner, will come from San Francisco to instruct you and so will his First Assistant, Susan Perlman, and Rich Robinson, our Scholar-in-Residence.
You are going through one of the most intense times of your life, learning to be a missionary through classroom studies, as well as on the streets and by shadowing seasoned missionaries on their visits. When you complete your training in New York, you will be assigned to a branch or outpost for “seasoning.” Then, God willing, you will graduate with a professional level education and not only the heart, but also the tools needed to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.