While only 30,000 Jews live in Switzerland, Geneva is the hub of a region where some 70,000 Jewish people reside. That region includes the communities of Lyon and Grenoble (the Rhone Alpes region of France). And so the Pacht family moved to the Geneva area to start up our outpost there in August 2010. (Previously Stephen has led our London branch and also pioneered our Paris branch as he and his wife Deborah speak French fluently.)
The Pachts were not unfamiliar with the area; Stephen’s father, born in Vienna, hid in France to escape the Nazis—until he slipped across the border into Geneva in 1942. Stephen sees a certain symmetry in how the Lord has now brought his family to offer salvation in Jesus in the very place where, decades ago, his father was saved from the Nazi death camps.
Here Stephen reports some highlights of the new ministry outpost:
“I now have a few volunteers joining me to hand out gospel tracts in Geneva and Lausanne wearing our ‘Jesus is the Messiah’ sweaters written in both French and Hebrew. Jews for Jesus seem to be the only ones handing out literature on the streets in Geneva, and we have been stopped a number of times. The police have told me that 1) a permit is required to hand out literature and 2) that they did not issue permits!
This seems so incongruous in a city proud of its heritage as a refuge for persecuted Christians. Today Geneva is an international city espousing human rights and freedom, home to the UN, the World Health Organzation (WHO) and a host of other international organizations.
“Nevertheless, the police have sent Jews for Jesus Switzerland registered letters forbidding further tract distribution. One reason the letters cite for forbidding literature distribution is littering—but the Swiss don’t litter! During any two-hour session on the streets we might find 3 or 4 out of 300 leaflets dropped! And, under Geneva cantonal law, permits are not required to distribute free religious literature.
“Our relations with the police are friendly; though they are confused between instructions from their chief and the copy of city regulations we show them when we are out on sorties (tract-passing expeditions).
“Speaking of which, I was encouraged by a recent sortie as Etienne, a 19-year-old volunteer joined us for the first time. He was nervous about wearing our T-shirt and talking to people on the streets. But God honored his courage as Etienne met a fellow student and was able to share his faith with him for the very first time. On that sortie we spoke with all kinds of people—Christians, Muslims and of course Jews. And the Jewish people we met were from many countries: Brazil, Costa Rica, the USA, France, and of course Switzerland—all working in Geneva. Simon, who is French, is drawn to Jesus but has strong reservations. I subsequently phoned him and together we read and commented on Isaiah chapter 53. We had an appointment to meet but he then failed to return my calls. Please pray that he will be open to further contact.
“Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city. A church located in the heart of Zurich’s Orthodox Jewish community invited Avi Snyder, our European Director, to lead a one-week evangelistic street outreach together with local Christians. I joined them, and on my first day I handed out gospel tracts in the center of the old city. I stood near the cathedral where Zwingli, the famous Swiss pastor, preached to the assembled crowds in the early days of the Reformation.
“Suddenly a small group of tourists appeared; they were from Jerusalem, students at the Hebrew University. One lingered as his friends drifted away. Tom was open to the gospel thanks to a priest he had stayed with during a study program in Germany. The priest had given him a Bible and for the first time Tom began to read the New Testament. He willingly gave me his email address so that he could be in touch with our missionaries in Israel.
“The following day our small team descended onto the Bahnhofstrasse, the main street leading from the station to the lake, and handed out our gospel tracts in one of the most exclusive shopping districts in the world. The Swiss are extremely polite and reserved. As I would proffer the broadsides, they would respond to my practiced Swiss German greeting, “Groetzi” (Hello) with a polite “Merci” (thank you) and shake of the head to indicate their lack of interest. Conversations were few and just as I was beginning to think that it was hard going, a middle-aged Jewish man stopped to talk.
“Bernard is a Swiss university professor whose mother, a Belgian Jew, had fought in the resistance in WW2. His father was a Greek Jew who had miraculously survived Auschwitz. Bernard was willing to talk further and left me his calling card, while informing me that his preferred religion is Sufism, a mystical branch of Islam! As we parted, an Israeli living in Zurich stopped to chat. Rimona also left me her contact details and is happy to meet again to talk about the gospel, yet informed me that her spiritual leaning is towards Buddhism. And finally, just as I was about to break for lunch an elderly Jewish lady called Inge stopped to talk. She, like my parents, was born in Vienna and resides in Switzerland. She was keen to meet the following day to talk and was keen for me to meet a friend of hers.
“The following day I met Inge for coffee and she introduced to a wonderful Christian woman whose witness and story had so impressed Inge that she is now open to the gospel. But Inge, like many Jewish people who are drawn to Jesus, is struggling with a sense of betrayal, having always been taught that belief in Jesus is in conflict with her Jewish identity. As she handed me her card, I could see that it won’t be easy to keep in touch with Inge—Zurich is just one of her four homes. She also resides with her husband in South America and her two other homes are in the USA!
“I’ve also been encouraged that a number of Christians are referring me to Jewish people so that I can share my faith and see if they are interested in hearing more.
“One of the most exciting opportunities I’ve had is becoming a member of a Jewish group who know I am a Jew for Jesus. Each month a speaker addresses a topic of interest to the Jewish community. It might be a guest speaker or a member of the group, and it might be about politics or religion or history. In fact, about a year ago I asked prayer regarding my participation in this group (October 2010, Bits from the Branches.) The first night I attended, after the guest speaker had given his talk, the host asked me to introduce myself, my faith and Jews for Jesus. He invited questions and then asked if I would be the guest speaker at a subsequent gathering!
“A year later, I am finally scheduled to address the group on October 31. The topic the leader chose gives me an open door to explain what it means to be Jewish and believe in Jesus. Please pray for God’s blessing on this unique opportunity!”
Please pray for:
- good relations with the authorities in Switzerland, and freedom for evangelism.
- an ongoing witness to Jewish people Stephen mentioned by name, that they will come to faith in Jesus.
- Stephen’s opportunity to speak to a sizeable group of Jewish people at the end of the month; that the gospel will be heard, and that the discussion following his talk will be fruitful.
- God to bless Stephen’s efforts to reach out to Jewish people he has met through Christian friends.
- God’s blessings on the volunteers who are helping to raise a Jewish story for Jesus in Switzerland, and that God will send more workers into this field.