Someone once said that life begins at 40. While I don’t believe that, I do agree that age 40 can be a time of great anticipation, as well as being a significant milestone. I hope you won’t mind if I reflect a bit as we celebrate our Jews for Jesus 40th anniversary this month.
In the Bible, 40 was a significant number. God’s revelation and the power of His Spirit have often showed up in special ways that are marked by the number 40.
- Moses was on the mountain for 40 days and nights to receive the Torah
- The children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years
(40 years was considered the length of a generation of Israelites)
- Jesus was tempted in the wilderness for 40 days and nights
- He also appeared on the earth for 40 days between His resurrection and ascension
Forty years ago, a movement of God’s Holy Spirit was also sweeping this nation. In the midst of the counterculture/anti-Vietnam War movement of the late ’60s, TIME Magazine dubbed it “the Jesus Revolution” as thousands of young people were finding new life in Jesus. Many of those young people were Jewish. That extraordinary phenomenon gave birth to Jews for Jesus, which began as a tribe of young Jewish believers in Jesus, ably led by veteran Jewish missionary Moishe Rosen. The organization he founded was officially incorporated in September 1973.
I remember those early days, though I was not a Jew for Jesus at the time. The Brickner and Rosen families were friends and I remember Moishe coming to visit in our home in the ’70s. He told us what God was doing with this group of newly saved, highly motivated, young Jewish hippies that had gathered around him. Their creativity and commitment to a bold new approach to Jewish evangelism had caught the attention of Jewish communities throughout the U.S., as well as various newspapers and magazines.
Some of these Jews for Jesus began stopping by our home in Michigan during their evangelistic travels, particularly a very talented group of musicians called the Liberated Wailing Wall.
They seemed larger than life to me; they had such big personalities, and there was lots of laughter, but they were very serious when it came to their faith in God and their commitment to proclaiming the gospel. Their obviously Jewish culture and manner and their bold, creative witness made them powerful communicators to a community that had been effectively ignoring the gospel message. They not only made it hard for other Jewish people to ignore the gospel, but they also captured the imagination and the appreciation of many in the evangelical church.
It was through the Jews for Jesus ministry that I became a follower of the Lord Jesus while a freshman at Boston University. I began serving with Jews for Jesus as a volunteer, then as a scholarship student. Upon graduating from Moody Bible Institute, I joined full-time missionary staff. My first assignment was traveling with that very music team that had so deeply impressed me, the Liberated Wailing Wall!
Through all the years that followed and all my roles with the ministry, I had no idea that I would ever be the next Executive Director of Jews for Jesus. Nevertheless, I dreamed of what could be, and when Moishe Rosen stepped down in 1996 I was elected (first by my peers and then by our board, in a process Moishe had designed years earlier) to succeed him in this huge task of leading Jews for Jesus. It is hard to believe that was seventeen years ago!
I recently reread the vision statement I presented at the start of my tenure as executive director. I’ve been encouraged and humbled to see all that God has done to help us realize that vision.
In 1996 I wrote, “We must be prepared to cultivate and train Israelis to reach their own. Now is the time for new energy to be applied to our work in Israel.” Back then, we had a couple of our staff living in Israel, but had yet to establish a strong presence in the Land. Today we are a registered nonprofit in Israel and our Tel Aviv branch is the largest Jews for Jesus team in the world. Our Behold Your God Israel campaign is continuing with vigor. The Moishe Rosen Center for Training and Evangelism is fully operational. We have only begun to see what God will do in the Land.
Just as Israel entered into the Promised Land after 40 years, so Jews for Jesus has entered the Land and will become increasingly “Israel-focused.” There are now more Jewish people in Israel than in North America, and some day we will have more Jews for Jesus missionaries there than we have in North America as well.
But many things have changed since 1996, and God has led us in some surprising directions.
For example, back then I wrote, “We will need to raise funds, assemble a staff and learn how to gain access to the major media markets in order to communicate the gospel more effectively.” What I didn’t foresee was how the Internet would give us amazing access to a worldwide audience. God opened a less expensive door that enables us to reach out more effectively than we could with some of the traditional media markets. Our efforts on the World Wide Web now constitute a far greater part of our evangelistic strategy, and that will continue to increase and enhance our opportunities to reach Jewish people for Jesus.
As we enter our 40th year, who knows what God will do or where He will take us? I feel the same sense of optimism and enthusiasm I did in ’96, and can say now as I did then, the best is yet to come! The best songs have yet to be recorded, the best books have yet to be written, the best literature has yet to be developed, and the best methods of outreach have yet to be employed in proclaiming the Gospel.
Can you see it? Will you celebrate God’s goodness and continue to stand with us as so many have done in the past? I just know that with you by our side and with the Lord’s promised blessing, we will fulfill a great destiny, the destiny God has promised to us and to His people through the Holy Scriptures:
‘The Redeemer will come to Zion, and to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,’ says the Lord. ‘As for Me,’ says the Lord, ‘this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,’ says the Lord, ‘from this time and forevermore'” (Isaiah 59:20-21).