Here is an extended view of our missionary trainees. Take some time to get to know and pray for them. You can click on their name or picture below to connect with them or send them notes of encouragement.
Also, we’ve introduced three of our current trainees previously – as associate staff: the above-mentioned Eli, as well as Isaac Brickner and Dan Tasman.
We’ll start by introducing Jesse Danziger. You may have prayed for Jesse’s salvation back in January 2011, after Rob Wertheim (leader of our San Francisco branch) wrote about meeting him at San Francisco State University. In August 2012, we told you that Jesse not only had come to faith but also was serving with us on Massah, our short-term evangelism and discipleship program. Jesse also worked as an intern at our San Francisco headquarters, and now he’s a missionary trainee! While in training for our New York City Summer Witnessing campaign, Jesse was interviewed by Moody radio, and he’s a real natural on the air.
Listen to Jesse’s story: (download here)
Read Jesse’s Story (Click here to expand for more stories and images)
I grew up in Los Angeles going to a Reform synagogue. My mother was raised Conservative in Iowa and my father grew up in a modern Orthodox community in Texas. I mostly grew up with my mother after my parents’ divorce. Some of my most pleasant memories are the times I went to Houston as a child with my father, sister and cousins. We would have Shabbat dinner with my grandparents and say prayers, light candles and eat challah and my grandmother’s matzo ball soup. It was a time of peace and reverence and it gave me a sense of deep roots.
Back in LA I went to Hebrew school, but I was very rebellious and eventually was asked to leave. My mother hired a private Hebrew tutor for me, and I made it through bar mitzvah, but had no interest in continuing my Jewish education or participating in regular school. I became a self-described atheist but didn’t really think too deeply about it; I mostly wanted to be anti-establishment for shock value. My relationships with my parents became strained. Eventually I was expelled from high school. After two years of wasting my life drinking and smoking pot, I was gripped by the fear of my misadventures turning into an inescapable lifestyle with increasingly grave consequences. I moved to San Francisco to go to art school when I was nineteen. I did well at first but reverted to substance abuse and was asked to leave the school.
My life’s logical trajectory was grim. I took a walk to St. Mary’s, which was just across the street from me. I sat on the steps watching people go by as the sun set over San Francisco, and I prayed to God in my heart and under my breath that He would take me in and help me live my life. When I walked back to my apartment I noticed a DVD that a roommate had left. I was glad to watch anything to escape the quiet of my empty apartment. It was Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I was enthralled watching it – hearing for the first time some of the words of Jesus.
It would still be some time before Jesse’s attraction to Jesus would grow into real faith. There would be many bumps along the way, and many Christians to help, including a Jew for Jesus:
One afternoon in front of my philosophy class (at San Francisco State University) I saw a missionary wearing a shirt that said ‘Jews for Jesus.’ It occurred to me that talking to him would be a good idea. His name was Rob, and we had a nice chat before I went to class. We started meeting to talk about the Bible, and he showed me Isaiah 53 and other Messianic prophecies that I had never even heard of. I was excited again about the Bible; it seemed that something supernatural was happening within its pages, and I was eager to find Truth and solid ground after years of being at sea spiritually. Rob invited me to the Jews for Jesus Ingathering where I felt peculiarly at home, saying the Shema and worshiping Jesus.
Even after I was convinced of Jesus’ claims, I struggled with committing my life to Him. I was filled with doubts, questions, and anxiety about what God might expect from me. Eventually I realized that walking with Jesus is an act of faith, and that while I did not have all the answers it was time to make a choice.
From the other side of the country, and with a completely different story, we’re pleased to introduce Lisa Smolowitz. Lisa is a Jewish Brooklynite through and through, cut from the same cultural cloth as many of our original Jews for Jesus missionaries. She is training for the work of a Jewish evangelist as a second career, having taken early retirement from her New York teaching position.
Lisa brings above-average levels of maturity and communication skills to this year’s training class, as well as a sense of adventure on par with that of our younger trainees.
Watch a six-minute video about Lisa’s story
Read Lisa’s Story (Click here to expand for more stories and images)
On the evening of January 22, 1983, I sat staring at family photos. We had just received word from the doctors that my father was expected to pass before long. I found myself bargaining with God, that if He let my father live, I would serve Him all the days of my life. This, I thought, was strange because as a modern, educated, liberated woman I certainly did not believe in God. The dreaded phone call came that night, and I rushed to be with my mother and sister at the hospital as we rallied around my father for his last few hours on earth.
After that night, you couldn’t mention the name of God to me without incurring a ballistic reaction. I threw myself further and further into a life of partying and debauchery, yet something was not quite the same since my conversation with God. Something didn’t feel quite right. My life slowly began to change.
First came what I now call “the Parade of Christians.” Everywhere I went there was one of “those” people. My upstairs neighbor used to come down to my house and tell me Jesus loved me while I sat smoking pot. My manicurist had a strong faith in Jesus and she helped me straighten out my life. At work, every paraprofessional (assistant teacher) assigned to me was born again. The woman whose daughter I tutored in reading was born again and liked nothing better than to ask me Bible questions that, of course, I could not answer. She seemed very excited that I was Jewish and kept telling me I was chosen by God.
I actually began to read the Bible and was starting to come to grips with this Jesus person. But even though I was not religious, I knew that believing in Jesus was just not something Jewish people do. So I started examining Orthodox Judaism instead, but it only made Jesus more and more appealing. I started realizing there were prophecies that announced the coming of the Messiah, and I began reading them. After a while, you just couldn’t deny the evidence…it was there for anyone who chose to see it.
But if this was all true, what was I going to do about it? I went to the phonebook and looked up the word “church.” One name kept staring out at me: New Jerusalem Christian Church (the Jerusalem part looked familiar), so I called. Pastor Vince spoke to me for over an hour and invited me to a Bible study. The rest, shall we say, is history. The people in that congregation loved me, discipled me, supported me and sent me off to live in Israel three years later.
My favorite part of the story is that, according to Pastor Vince, the church had been praying for the Lord to send them someone who would minister to the Jewish people. He says when he heard my voice on the phone, he knew I was their answer to prayer. It’s amazing how God works all things for good, isn’t it?
Next we’d like you to meet Amy Moore, who recently graduated from Moody Bible Institute (with a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies) and will be specializing in children and youth ministry. It’s no wonder, since she found herself facing challenging circumstances at a young age and came to faith at a youth retreat. Amy has helped with our children and youth programs at several Ingatherings as well as at our Camp Gilgal. In 2011 Amy challenged herself to grow in the area of direct evangelism by participating on our Massah program, and she returned to Massah in 2012 as an intern to help others do the same. Amy is great at drawing people out and her organizational skills are off the charts!
Just a couple of months ago, Amy was part of our New York City Summer Witnessing Campaign. Read how God answered prayer .
Read Amy’s Story (Click here to expand for more stories and images)
My mom grew up going to church and my dad to temple, but both stepped away from their faith in their early adult lives. My sister and I celebrated both Jewish and Christian holidays, and my mother occasionally dragged us to church on Easter because “Jesus died for our sins and it was the least we could do.” Meanwhile, we never quite understood what any of it meant and none of it had a lasting impact on our family’s daily life.
When I was thirteen both of my grandmothers died, my older sister had a baby out of wedlock and tested positive for a life-threatening illness, and my parents separated. I began to question the meaning of life, death, love, purpose and genuine relationship. I made poor choices in friends and began experimenting with drugs and alcohol, but found it all unfulfilling
In high school, I was assigned to share a locker with a girl whose father led a Messianic congregation in our town. She’d invited me to youth group events for years and now, at the start of our junior year, decided to invite me to a youth retreat. My sister had begun attending the youth group regularly a year before so I felt comfortable and agreed.
Through that youth group the gospel was clearly laid out and I could hear and believe for the first time. That was 2006, and since then God has given me many opportunities to serve Him and has called me into full-time ministry to Jewish people.
Daniel Tasman, previously an associate student (recently graduated from Grace Bible College with a bachelor’s degree in Ministry and Leadership), has been involved with Jews for Jesus for many years. He says, “I know I have been called to a life of Jewish evangelism, partly from my involvement in Jews for Jesus summer camps (including my three-year commitment to Camp Gilgal Midwest as a co-director) and the 2012 New York City Summer Witnessing Campaign. But I also believe that God led me to make the leap into full-time ministry through my personal parsha studies, specifically those stories about people who took matters into their own hands when God commanded otherwise.” Dan is full of energy and entrepreneurial ideas. He enjoys creating videos to tell people about Jesus.
Watch one of Daniel’s latest videos
Read Daniel’s Story (Click here to expand for more stories and images)
I grew up in an intermarried household, with a Gentile believing mother and an unsaved Jewish father. I received Jesus into my life when I was three years old, and recommitted my life to Him at the age of about twelve at a summer camp.
However, during the first part of my college career I wasn’t in regular fellowship and did not live a godly life. It wasn’t until 2008 that I found out that a casual encounter had led to the birth of my daughter, Olivia, and I was first able to see her in May of 2009. I have been a full-time parent ever since. Back in fellowship and on track with the Lord, I enrolled in Bible college and have had many opportunities to serve with Jews for Jesus as an associate student.
I know I have been called to a life of Jewish evangelism. Part of this was my three-year commitment to Camp Gilgal Midwest as a co-director. I also believe that God led me to make the leap into full-time ministry through my personal parsha studies, specifically those stories about people who took matters into their own hands when God commanded otherwise. So my story is a story of faith, and I am praying for wisdom and discernment in all I do as I wait for my instructions from on high.
Finally we have three couples, the Birnbaums, Brickners and Adelsons, all of whom met through our ministry.
Eli, a graduate of Ramat Gan College with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management, has been involved with Jews for Jesus for several years. Most recently, he led this year’s Massah team and did a great job of communicating the excitement of that outreach through Jews for Jesus RealTime (see articles from our June, July and August editions). He and his wife, Shoshana, are also at the heart of a growing ministry through our Moishe Rosen Center in Tel Aviv. They have a heart for reaching young Israelis. (Prior to coming on staff with us, Eli pioneered an evangelistic outreach to Nigeria as well as a soldiers meeting in both in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.)
You might have read about a divine appointment Shoshana had on our 2009 Summer Witnessing Campaign in New York City. She was able to trust God in a frightening situation, and in the process, led a Jewish man to faith in Jesus. Shoshana is from Mexico, and traveled a long way to attend Camp Gilgal. She says, “Jews for Jesus has always given me a lot since I was little, even before I realized how it was shaping me and giving direction to my life. I want to learn as much as I can, about evangelism, discipleship and interactions. I am excited to give a little back to other people of what God has done for me through this organization.”
Here you can see Shoshanah and Eli on their wedding day, and also a picture of them exploring Petra.
Click on thumbnails for larger picture
Read Eli’s Story (Click here to expand for more stories and images)
Both my parents are Jewish believers in Jesus. My dad was a pastor, so growing up I was exposed to the gospel from a very young age. I remember hearing about Jesus and wanting a personal relationship with Him. My dad asked me if I wanted to receive Jesus into my heart when I was four years old and I said yes. I was baptized shortly after that.
When I was seven, we moved to Israel and I found myself in an environment that didn’t encourage my faith. Growing up I struggled to live my faith out boldly, but often compromised. I had a difficult time living up to my dad’s spiritual expectations. To a point, I decided I didn’t need to listen to my dad. But though I didn’t think much about following God, I always knew the truth and never denied it. When I was fourteen my dad decided to let me be. I never fell into deep sin, but I wasn’t much different from the kids around me at school. No one knew of my faith.
Watch Eli tell about his journey of faith
When I was sixteen I went on a trip to England to participate in a Soul Survivor youth conference. For the first time, I met young and cool people following and being passionate about God. This intrigued me. When I came home I found my best friend had been touched and was now following God. I decided to give it a try, but still I struggled to keep my faith and convictions. When I was invited to be a leader in a “Souled Out” summer camp, I felt unworthy – but at the same time I felt inclined to accept. That camp changed my life and I was newly committed to following God.
Returning to school I started sharing my faith with my friends. The next year on a mission trip in France I preached the gospel in the street, and three people got saved. I got involved in youth group leadership. Later, when I was enlisted in the army, I became very vocal about my faith and was known as “the missionary.”
Jewish evangelism can be very difficult, but I feel that it is our responsibility as Jewish believers to take care of our household. They need Yeshua as much as anyone else, and in Israel they are one of the unreached people of the world. I also want to help equip the younger generation to step out and do what God has called them to do, for the harvest is plenty but the workers are few.
Read Shoshanah’s Story (Click here to expand for more stories and images)
Ever since I can remember, my parents taught me about God and about Jesus, and also taught me about my Jewish background (my father is a Jewish believer in Jesus). I grew up knowing all these things but never really understanding them in my heart until many years later.
I studied at a Jewish high school and felt like I really didn’t belong anywhere in my combination of Jewish and Christian worlds. I soon forgot all the teachings from my parents and started to act like all of my friends. Because of all the sin in my life, I started to feel empty and depressed.
At night I often wondered if God was real, if my parents were right, and how it was that their faith was so strong when I couldn’t really see or feel anything. I would cry myself to sleep and ask God to reveal Himself to me if it was true that He was real.
One Sunday morning my mother dragged me to church and I was surprised by what I found there. The people there seemed so free and joyful. At the end of the service when the pastor saw me he said, “You are precious, and God loves you so much.” Those words spoke to my very soul. After that I wanted to go to church, making my own decision to follow Christ.
God has been showing me and teaching me wonderful things. I learned how faith is not blind and God wants to show us more so that we can know Him better every day. It’s a wonderful thing to share the wonderful news about His sacrifice so that others can live a life in Him and have a personal relationship with the God of the universe.
These two met as kids at Camp Gilgal, and married after dating off and on for five years. They both recently graduated from Biola; Isaac with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Biblical and Theological Studies and Shaina with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. They are the proud parents of daughter Norah. Shaina will be auditing our training classes part time while Isaac is a full-time trainee. Isaac brings a lot of creativity to our ministry, particularly through his music. However, if you think that adult children of our missionary staff such as Isaac are automatically bound to become missionaries, think again!
Below, you can listen to “Flowers of the Son“, one of the songs that Isaac co-wrote and performed during his time in India. And if you like what you hear, you can purchase the cd “You Are Home.” This music was also used as the title song for our eye opening documentary “Flowers of the Son” which tells about Jews for Jesus in Israel, showing the work, the opposition, and what God is doing among Israelis. Click here for more info on the DVD
Listen to “Flowers of the Son” (download here)
Read Isaac’s Story (Click here to expand for more stories and images)
I was raised with the knowledge that Jesus is my Savior from a very young age, before I was even able to understand what it meant. I am becoming increasingly grateful for this, as it demonstrates my parents’ obedience in addition to God’s faithfulness. Another blessing from my family comes from my father being a Jewish believer in Jesus. When I was three years old, my family was living on a moshav in Israel for the summer in conjunction with my father’s graduate program with Fuller Seminary. The children had Bible classes every day taught by an Israeli believer named Sisi. One day Sisi gave an invitation to the class to pray and ask Yeshua into our hearts to be our personal Savior. I believe that I knew what it meant at the time that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the whole world, so I raised my hand and prayed with her. I told my parents later that day and they were ecstatic.
The next landmark in my faith that I can remember came during my first year attending the Jews for Jesus summer camp, Camp Gilgal, when I was eight years old. There was a moment during one of the worship sessions when I knew God was calling me to serve Him in a way that I could not ignore, even though I didn’t quite know what it meant. I proceeded to attend Camp Gilgal every summer, each time growing tremendously in my walk with the Lord due in part to the incredible ministry of the camp director David Garrett, known as “Moose.” David has an amazing heart for instructing children in the Word and letting them know how much God loves them. This knowledge would penetrate my heart over and over again every summer, despite my reluctance to surrender to the Lord throughout the school year.
When I was fifteen, I had the opportunity to return to Camp Gilgal on staff as a counselor, which God used to break me down and teach me the meaning of servanthood. It was that summer that I had the opportunity to lead others in worship for the first time. We had split the male and female campers and had different campfires for them, and Moose asked me if I would lead a time of worship for the guys. I will never forget the amazing ministry that resulted from that night as I watched many of the campers surrender their lives to the Lord. The experience of being used by God to lead others into His Presence was so incredibly wonderful – I prayed that God would grow me in my ability to do just that.
Moose allowed me to lead the camp in times of worship every year after that, including the adventure camps for high schoolers. When I got home from that summer I also was given the opportunity to be a worship leader at my youth group in San Francisco. Worshiping God through music is one of the chief ways He has used me to serve Him, and also to discipline me to grow more like Yeshua.
In the fall of 2008 I moved to West LA into an apartment with three of my best friends whom I grew up with at Camp Gilgal. This was an incredible experience due to the level of accountability we had with each other, all being Jewish believers in Jesus. I did a lot of maturing during that year as a result, and also because of our attendance at “Reality LA,” a church that has challenged me immensely in my faith and has aided me in developing a lifestyle of repentance.
The most defining time in my walk with the Lord of that year came when I was presented with the opportunity to go on the Massah program. I knew this would force me to step out of my comfort zone and serve Him in a way that would challenge the way I think about ministry. At this point, I had no real interest whatsoever in serving in vocational ministry.
The nature of the trip was to equip young Jewish believers through a time of discipleship and training in evangelism in Israel, and then to send them to India. Many young Israeli travelers go to India and are circumstantially more open to the gospel than they are in Israel. This experience changed me more than any than any other I have ever had. I was forced to be completely reliant on the Lord for strength in these circumstances, and to be submitted to His purpose for me, which I came to realize was to reach unsaved Jewish people with the gospel.
The most prevalent way that we carried this out was through music, which crossed cultural barriers and allowed us to minister effectively to the Israelis there using songs that praise His name. I assumed that it was a natural thing to have a heart for the salvation of other Jewish people, being Jewish myself. However, by the end of the trip, I grew to understand that I do not have a burden for the Jewish people as a product of being Jewish, but rather the inverse is true. God has made me who I am in every respect because of His specific purpose for me. Knowing this compels me to press on in making known the truth about Yeshua to the Jewish people.
With this new and all-encompassing calling on my life, I found myself delving into the Word with a new fervor and hunger to be equipped by God for this purpose. Theological study was driven to the forefront of my mind in an effort to better understand my God and know how to serve Him by worshiping Him with my mind. I pursued the study of theology throughout the next year, and took book recommendations from my father and from friends and mentors and discussed them after reading. However, I realized that in order to be properly equipped to spread the gospel, let alone lead a life that transforms me to Christ’s likeness, I must be properly taught. I applied and was accepted to Biola University during my second and more extended trip with Massah in 2009.
I learned a lot on my second trip with Massah to India, Nepal, Thailand and Laos, and have a greater burden to share the gospel than when I first started. I also learned a lot at Biola, and, as a student there, had the extreme blessing of marrying Shaina Rosett (now Brickner), after having dated on and off for five years. Along with all of these blessings there have been some painful trials. I know that such trials provide the backdrop for effective ministry, because when we struggle, it’s clear that it is God who works through us and gets all the glory for anything we do. God’s grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness.
Alex was born in Russia and was still a child when his Jewish grandfather, mother and sister became believers. He was fourteen years old when he and his family moved to Israel. While Alex is very much an Israeli, he is also very much in touch with the culture in which he grew up, and is passionate about reaching Jewish people who have come to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Alex participated on our witnessing campaigns in New York City and Haifa before coming on staff. His wife, Svetlana, has been volunteering with us and is an integral part of our Tel Aviv branch. Alex and Svetlana are currently expecting their first child.
Following are a few pictures of Alex as he reaches out to Israelis through bannering, handing out literature, and engaging people in conversations on the streets.
Click on thumbnails for larger picture
Read Alex’s Story (Click here to expand for more stories and images)
I was born in 1984, and until I was seven years old, I had never heard the word “God,” except for the expression, “Thank God.” But when I was seven, a preacher from Ukraine came to our town and invited adults and children to a holiday party. My mom decided to take my older sister and me to the Christmas party, and that is where we all first heard the gospel. A short time later, my mother and sister came to believe. My grandfather, who was a Jew from a religious family, a communist and a veteran of World War II, soon also accepted Christ as his Savior.
My whole family started to serve God! My grandfather wrote a book called “5 Lessons from the Bible,” and began to teach the subject at school. My mother began to teach Sunday school and later became the Sunday school director. A home group began to meet in our house, and almost every day believers (teachers, ministers, etc.) came to our home.
I really liked to learn Bible stories, to memorize verses, and to have fellowship with the believers. But looking back, I see that I did not understand that Yeshua is my Savior. I know now that knowledge about salvation and the Savior is not a substitute for personal faith. I believed in God, I had a lot of believing friends and family, I knew lot of people in ministry and I called myself a believer – but I wasn’t surrendered to the Lord.
In April 1999 when I was fourteen, my family and I left everything behind and went to Israel, a country of promise, flowing with milk and honey. At age sixteen I was baptized, but even then I did not realize fully what salvation meant and who Yeshua was to me.
I finished school and then went into the army. I had already stopped going to church and was friendly with a group of non-believers, and while in the army, I grew farther from God. I even began drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. At that time, I had no problem fighting someone who provoked me or looked at me the wrong way. I did this to establish myself in the eyes of my friends and in my own eyes. I sensed that I was growing farther from God, but continued to persist in sin. I continued drinking heavily, smoking, and associating with people with bad reputations. I become proud, and even though I felt that I was doing wrong, I did not want to change and lose my “reputation.”
I tried to go with the flow and went with friends to synagogue. They told me that the most important ritual was to fast on Yom Kippur and then I could live as I wished throughout the year. That was very appealing to me with the way I was leading my life. But despite my rebellious attempts to turn away from God, He continued to love me.
I finally reached a spiritual and emotional point where I felt like I was on the brink of the abyss, and I turned to God and asked Him to show me the right way. I went to a Messianic Jewish congregation and met a man named Mikhail, who showed me Yeshua in the Scriptures and explained Messianic faith to me. I realized that Yeshua is the way the truth and the life. I received Him as my Savior and surrendered my life to Him.
Now I understand that I was like the prodigal son who returned home to a loving and longsuffering Father through the sacrifice of Yeshua the Messiah on the cross of Calvary. It is now my dream to serve the Lord, knowing that those years when I lived in sin are forgiven and will also serve as a story to other prodigal sons and daughters.