We haven’t had any martyrs in Jews for Jesus—not yet, anyway. Truthfully, most of us live in relative comfort. We don’t have to worry about our next meal. None of us is homeless; in fact, many of us have actually bought homes.
As I prepared to tell you about our final Core Value on the list of nine: stepping out in courageous faith and taking risks for God,” I thought about our circumstances compared to some heroes of the faith like Jim Elliot, Pete Fleming and Ed McCully. Who can forget the courage that led to their martyrdom? I think of William Carey, who risked everything to bring the gospel to India, who lost his children to disease, but stayed the course and laid the groundwork for future generations of missionaries. These people epitomized the kind of courageous faith that takes risks for God.
No, I don’t think we Jews for Jesus are the most courageous or heroic people on the mission field. Yet courage and risk-taking are vital to us—so much so that we named them as core values—because our mission would not exist without them.
Back in 1971, our founder, Moishe Rosen, had a comfortable position with the American Board of Missions to the Jews (the ABMJ, now “Chosen People Ministries”). Moishe believed God was calling him to reach out to young Jews in the counter-culture movement and he began stepping out of his comfort zone to do so. His superiors considered his efforts too “unconventional,” but Moishe knew that he had to risk being unconventional in order to effectively reach this group. Consequently, he got himself fired.
Soon, he had offers from several other Jewish missions—but he could not accept any of them. You see, before his termination from the ABMJ, Moishe and some of those young, Jewish, ex-hippies for Jesus had committed themselves to staying together, working side-by-side for 12 months. So with no certain source of income to support his wife and two daughters, Moishe took a risk—and Jews for Jesus was born.
Twenty years later, Avi Snyder was successfully leading a Jews for Jesus branch in Los Angeles. His ministry was thriving—and there was that sunny southern California weather. But Avi felt God calling him to go to the Soviet Union. Gorbachev had just introduced perestroika and Avi felt compelled to seize the sudden opportunity to proclaim the gospel. His wife, Ruth Esther, and their three small children were ready to answer the call with him. The Snyders spoke no Russian, had no promise of safety and no experience to call upon. Yet with the help of a Russian Jewish believer named Elizabeth T., they journeyed to Odessa. Because of their courage and willingness to take risks, today there are 30 Russian Jews for Jesus staff members in the former Soviet Union: in Odessa, Moscow, Kiev and Dnepropetrovsk. Most of those staff members came to faith through Jews for Jesus and we have seen thousands of other Russian Jews come to Christ.
Just this past summer, a newly married Israeli couple made plans to join our Witnessing Campaign in New York City. At the last minute, the wife was unable to secure a visa but they decided that the husband, Boaz, would come alone. Well, Boaz injured his knee during our training program. The doctor said it would heal and that Boaz could stand on it as long as he could endure the pain. Again, Boaz decided to follow through with his plans. Often, we would see him putting ice packs on his knee when he returned from handing out tracts. Then his wife called. It seemed his parents suddenly realized that this commitment to Jesus was not a passing fad. His father had threatened to disown Boaz—cut him off from the family—unless he returned immediately to Israel.
Now Boaz’s physical pain was equaled by the pain he suffered as he thought about his father’s ultimatum. Despite his anguish, Boaz believed that God wanted him to stay. What a courageous young man!
Most of our staff and many of our volunteers have faced situations that called for courage, that called for taking risks. It’s a “crossroads” kind of courage that sometimes determines the direction of one’s entire life.
More common, though, are the everyday little ways our staff is challenged to take risks for God. These continuous opportunities to be courageous never cease, because most of us are not especially brave. It doesn’t take courage to do the things you don’t fear. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to do our duty even when we are afraid. It is the choice to do the right thing in God’s sight regardless of the consequences or personal costs. I know that every time I go onto the streets to hand out gospel tracts, I feel a certain amount of apprehension. I need to pray for courage to stand—and I have been doing this for 22 years! Others on our staff face similar struggles.
On the other hand, have you ever known people who act as though they are courageous when they are actually foolhardy? Their risk-taking is not so much an act of faith as it is recklessness. The difference is sometimes difficult to discern, but usually, time will tell. Risk is reckless if it proceeds from improper motivations such as pride or ambition. Foolhardiness sometimes disguises itself as faithfulness or courage, but unlike those godly qualities, it chases after power and reputation and is quite concerned about “what people think of me.”
What motivates genuine risk-taking in evangelism? In large part, it’s knowing that those whom God called us to reach have far more to lose than we do. We may lose the good opinion of the world and even of loved ones who are part of the world’s way of thinking. We may stand to lose much that makes us comfortable here and now, but our losses are temporary. We have the promise of everlasting life. Therefore, we can afford to take risks to reach out to those whose eternal destiny hangs in the balance. It is the same with courage. God doesn’t promise to preserve us from painful or unpleasant experiences, but if we take a courageous stand for the gospel, He will meet our needs with divine resources beyond our imagination.
Another motivator is the precedent Yeshua set for us as the perfect example of courageous faith and risk-taking for God. He left the glory of Heaven to walk on this earth, to know hunger, to know rejection, to know pain. He risked it all, limiting Himself as He did, and He endured all the suffering and shame of the cross. Why? So that we might be forgiven of sin and made right with God. Now God calls us to follow His example. Doing so does not make us heroes. It just makes us loyal servants. Or could it be that’s what a real hero is? If so, then every Christian is called to be a hero.
You don’t have to be a missionary to have the kind of courageous faith that takes risks for God. Few of us will ever be martyrs, but in one sense we must all be martyrs each and every day of our lives. We must be willing to say with the Apostle Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). Whenever we really live our lives this way, we will find ourselves stepping out in courageous faith and taking risks for God.