Not long ago, a pastor from an American church spent two weeks with the Moscow-based Jews for Jesus team. One afternoon while he and I rode the Moscow Metro together, I noticed that he was captivated by the expressions of some of our fellow travelers who had caught sight of the words Jews for Jesus written in Russian across my chest and back. I couldn’t help observing the pastor’s face as he observed theirs. Later, he told me his conclusion.
Avi,” he said a bit sheepishly, “I think there are a lot of people who don’t like you.”
I smiled and nodded. “Some people don’t like us because we’re Jews. Some people don’t like us because we’re for Jesus. I guess we’re an equal opportunity provider. Most unbelievers can find something about us to hate.”
It has always been a Jews for Jesus strategy to identify ourselves openly despite the fact that it makes us lightning rods. Why? There are at least four good reasons.
First, by openly identifying ourselves as Jews for Jesus wherever we go, we’re making a visible statement—declaring that we exist. As recently as twenty years ago, a Jewish person’s faith in Yeshua could be easily dismissed with the blanket statement, “Don’t be ridiculous. There are no Jews who believe in Jesus.” We rarely hear that any more, whether in Israel, the United States, Europe or the CIS. We may be viewed as anomalies and apostates, but our existence is no longer ignored or denied out of hand.
More important, those T-shirts actually draw less attention to ourselves and more attention to who we stand for. Our primary purpose is to lift up the name of Jesus. Many people pride themselves on living in a post-Christian society. Faith in Jesus, they argue, is unnecessary for the sophisticated, modern mind. Many people have conditioned themselves to ignore everyday signposts that point to the Lord. But when these same people see the words Jews for Jesus, the seeming dissonance arrests their attention. Suddenly, the heart that has ignored the claims of Yeshua finds itself captured by the Savior’s call. The inquirers that we meet on the streets, over the phone and through the mail are Jewish and non-Jewish seekers who might otherwise ignore the issue and the person of Christ.
Not only do our T-shirts draw seekers, but we also attract believers in Yeshua who are looking for others of like-minded faith. By openly identifying who we are wherever we go, we serve as something of a flag and rallying point for those who share our point of view.
I first encountered Jews for Jesus as a non-believer when I received a broadside tract during the 1975 New York Summer Witnessing Campaign. Two years later, after finally surrendering my life to Yeshua, I encountered a Jew for Jesus once again as he handed out his literature on the streets of Westwood, California. I was young in the faith and eager to find other Jews who knew and believed what I knew and believed. When I saw the words Jews for Jesus on the young man’s shirt, I approached him and started a conversation. That brief exchange of words irrevocably altered the direction of my life.
A final reason for allowing ourselves to be lightning rods is this: publicly identifying ourselves as Jews for Jesus is one way to fulfill God’s command that we be lights set upon a hill rather than buried beneath a bushel. We know that the world is darkened by sin, and many prefer to retreat from the radiance of God’s light and love. But some are searching for the light. It was for the sake of those groping in the darkness that Yeshua declared to His disciples, “You are the light of the world.…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14, 16).
True, not everyone who encounters a Jew for Jesus responds favorably. And in a city like Moscow, where ignorance about Jews and the Jewishness of the Christian faith runs deep, our shirts may sometimes act less like a messianic beacon and more like a matador’s cape. Even so, identifying ourselves openly is worth the risk. Although we may be targets for some people’s outrage, by making ourselves vulnerable, we declare that we exist. We direct people to the One we stand for. We provide a rallying point for those of like-minded faith—and we make a breach in the darkness for the sake of those who are looking for the Light.
May we always make ourselves vulnerable for Yeshua’s sake. After all, He made Himself vulnerable for us.