A Quarter-Century of Jewish Evangelism
This month marks our birthday! Jews for Jesus is celebrating 25 years of making the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.
Organizations are a lot like people. So what would you expect of a person who just turned 25? Those who choose college have usually finished their undergraduate degree, and perhaps a graduate degree as well. There is still much to learn but there is a level of confidence in addition to all the hopefulness and energy of youth. Creativity is in full bloom and, for many, so is the commitment to pursue a chosen path.
Well, at 25 we Jews For Jesus feel like we’ve been schooled” (albeit we are still learning as we go). We feel like God is giving us the energy and creativity to reach further for Him. We are rejoicing and committing ourselves afresh to the path the Lord has set before us.
This quarter of a century in ministry is a landmark for us and maybe even for the history of contemporary Jewish evangelism. We have no cause to celebrate ourselves or to boast that we are still around. We have no accomplishments other than those that God has been pleased to grant us. So then, what’s the big deal about 25 years? The landmark is not the fact of our existence but the purpose of our existence…and how God is working out that purpose.
Our mission statement tells what we have to celebrate as well as what we look forward to, should the Lord tarry for another 25 years. Think with me about these words and see if you don’t agree.
We exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide.
Twenty-five years ago, Jewish believers in Jesus were marginalized to the point where few people in the Jewish community—or even the church—knew we existed. At that time, Moishe Rosen was serving with an organization known as the American Board of Missions to the Jews (now Chosen People Ministries). In 1969 he attended a conference of missionaries to the Jews where someone from the Jewish community had been invited to speak on the image of the missionary in the Jewish community. This man essentially told the audience, “I can sum up your image very easily. You don’t have one. As far as we’re concerned you don’t exist.” And with that, his speech was concluded. Many dismissed his remarks. But Moishe took them very seriously and committed himself to making a difference. God used him to raise up a cadre of young Jewish believers who boldly projected the message of the gospel in a Jewish way that was difficult to ignore. Over time, the Jewish community had to recognize that there are Jews who believe in Jesus. As we look back over the past quarter of a century, if there is one accomplishment we can praise the Lord for, it is the fact that people now know we exist. We don’t expect to gain acceptance from our fellow Jews as long as Jesus is rejected. But our very existence is a story to the world that God is working out His plan for Israel and the nations (Romans 11:5).
THE MESSIAHSHIP OF JESUS
Jews for Jesus is a “one issue” organization and that issue is the Messiahship of Jesus. Whenever we consider a new project for Jews for Jesus, we ask ourselves, “What does this have to do with winning people to Christ?” That singular focus has helped us to avoid the kind of sectarianism that can so easily dilute the simple power of the gospel message. If you have ever used a slide projector you know that when you focus the lens on a screen from close up, the image is bright, the contrasts and colors are sharp. When you pull the projector back, the image gets bigger but the light becomes more diffused. The focus isn’t as sharp, the colors aren’t as bright. We have been able to be effective by projecting a very bright, sharp image of the Messiahship of Jesus—and by God’s grace, we will continue to keep the focus sharp and the image bright. We will continue to hand out our gospel tracts and meet face to face with Jewish people. We will continue to use the secular print media and the worldwide web to get the word out. We will continue seeking new ways to shine that light brightly so that the message of Messiah Jesus is truly unavoidable.
Some have criticized Jews for Jesus for being too “in-your-face.” Others have said we are “militant,” or “confrontational.” But what Moishe understood from the beginning is that the message of the Messiah is confrontational by nature, and any messenger who presents it clearly will be considered controversial. How can urgent matters concerning sin, salvation, heaven and hell be anything but controversial?
Yet people had grown apathetic, had so hardened themselves to Jesus that they could hear His name without realizing they face an all-important decision of whether to accept or reject Him. Our Jewish people in particular found it easy to ignore Him because anything we’d ever known growing up taught us that Jesus is really none of our business. The very name of Jews for Jesus makes people stop in their tracks, requires them to think twice. That double take, that “cognitive dissonance” is central to our methodology and our approach. We strive to be sensitive and loving, but at the same time, we know that the very nature of our work is to tell an already controversial message to people who are committed not to hear. There is no way for us to be effective and non-controversial.
Many churches and denominations question the legitimacy of preaching the gospel to the Jewish people. Some dare to say that Christians ought not evangelize Jewish people. We feel that anyone who is so bold as to say that must be prepared to say why. Once we dig beneath the icing of political correctness it comes down to one of two choices for those committed not to evangelize the Jews. They must own that either the gospel is not good enough for the Jews, or the Jews are not good enough for the gospel. There is no middle ground for these Christians, unless it is to admit that Jewish people do need to be evangelized, but that they are too committed to maintaining reputations and relationships to do it.
Jews for Jesus wants to make the gospel an “unavoidable issue” to our Jewish people. We don’t seek controversy but we anticipate that it will continue to accompany us into the future. I expect that as we near the return of the Lord Jesus, this kind of “controversy” will be a mark of more and more Christians who are willing to stand and be counted for the Lord.
OUR JEWISH PEOPLE
What sets Jews for Jesus apart from many other missions is that we are Jews speaking to other Jews about Jesus. All of our front-line missionaries are Jewish themselves or are married to Jews. Being Jewish is not a prerequisite for someone to effectively witness to Jewish people, but it is what God has called us to be in our ministry. This gives us a certain advantage. We don’t apologize for the outspoken manner with which we proclaim the good news, because it is part of our birthright. Some Christians might feel compelled to be more reserved or deferential in speaking to Jews because of the past persecutions that are so much a part of Jewish history. We have no such constraint. We share the same history and have experienced the same epithets, even in the 90s. We are not speaking to a cross-cultural situation, and even if some choose to treat us as outsiders because we embrace Christ, we are still Jews. We have a platform to speak to our Jewish people and they cannot dismiss our message by saying, “That is nice for you but I am Jewish.” We will continue to press this advantage. We will maintain our Jewish identity despite those who seek to delegitimatize us. After all, if Jesus is the Messiah, the most Jewish thing any Jew can do is to believe in Him! If the rabbis were right and one could not be Jewish and believe in Jesus, we would all choose Jesus over being Jewish. But the rabbis are wrong and we as Jews have an obligation to speak to our Jewish people about the One who is the way, the truth and the life.
This last part of our mission statement was not part of our original vision. In a sense, God had to drag us kicking and screaming into becoming a global ministry. Fewer than ten years ago, in 1989, we opened our Johannesburg branch, our first branch outside North America. Since then, God has seen fit to place us in ten countries in nineteen different cities around the world.
I would never have imagined five years ago that the largest work of Jews for Jesus would be, not in New York City, but rather in the former Soviet Union (see next page). We are opening up two branches of Jews for Jesus this year, one in Sydney Australia, the other in Berlin, Germany which has become the fastest growing Jewish population in Europe. Can you imagine that after the Second World War there would be a need and an opportunity for Jewish evangelism in Germany? Over 100,000 Russian Jews have immigrated there in just a few years. Jews for Jesus is uniquely poised to reach this group beginning in September (see page 4).
We have been discussing goals among our senior staff, and one that seems to resonate is somewhat audacious: to have an evangelistic thrust in every major city in the world where there are 25,000 or more Jewish people. This is an enormous undertaking, one for which we will need greater resources, more personnel and yes, much wisdom from God to accomplish. It will require a greater commitment to ministry in Israel as well as here in the United States. I think of the words of Yeshua, “For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Mt.10:23b). The task seems far greater than time will allow. We are all longing for that blessed Hope, the soon appearing of our Savior. But as long as He tarries, we will press on to complete the task He has called us to, and we know that through your prayers and by His grace it will be accomplished.
As we celebrate our 25th birthday, we are really celebrating the Lord’s faithfulness in bringing us thus far. Thank you for being channels of His faithfulness through your support, your prayers and your encouragement. I hope you will rejoice and celebrate with us!
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter Ilana is a graduate of Biola. His son Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife Shaina have one daughter, Nora, and a son, Levy, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.