It was an experiment. A few weeks ago, our Tel Aviv staff came together for four straight days and did nothing but phone Israelis, seeking to engage them in conversations about Yeshua. In those four days, our missionaries called over 8,000 homes and spoke to more than 3,000 people. Four hundred and seventeen individuals accepted our offer of a Hebrew New Testament, so the experiment, it seems, was a success. We are now following up each of those 417 people personally. (click here for more about this phoning campaign)

“Arutz Sheva” (Hebrew for “Channel 7”) is Israel’s official Orthodox Jewish news service (including a TV station, a radio station and a news website). They reported on our phone outreach on their website in an article titled, “Bible Conversations and Free Books in Service of the Mission” on January 2, 2007. The article (for which no author was named) stated:

“The organization ‘Yad La’achim’ [an anti-missionary organization] claims that missionaries began direct calls to haredi [Orthodox] homes, inviting them to Bible lessons and discussing issues of faith in order to undermine their worldview.

“Members of the missionary organization recently began to carry out direct telephone conversations to the homes of haredi families in the guise of an invitation to Bible classes and a promise to receive free books, opening with ‘spiritual’ conversations that were intended to undermine the worldview of the haredi conversationalists.

“Activists in the struggle against missionaries also report that with ease they can prove that all the calls came from one address: ‘Jews for “That Man”‘ [meaning Jews for Jesus] on Yigal Alon Street in Tel Aviv.”

The report, while far from objective (and on some points far from accurate) showed that our phoning for Jesus was taken seriously in Israel.

While the four-day, all-staff phoning effort was something new, the telephone has always been an important aspect of our missionaries’ craft. A full-time Jews for Jesus missionary spends at least two to four hours each week (sometimes much more). We phone people to schedule personal visits and also to stay in touch with those to whom we minister. This past year our missionaries completed phone calls to 19,765 Jewish unbelievers and 13,437 Jewish believers.

These phone calls vary widely. Some are lengthy conversations that include Bible studies and offer prayer for those who live far from our branches. People sometimes pray with us on the phone to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord just as they would face to face. When that happens, we look to meet with them in person for discipleship. In the first few weeks of a new believer’s faith, we also try to schedule daily phone calls for Scripture reading and prayer. That daily connection can help new believers to build these important spiritual disciplines into their lives.

However, most of our phone calls are more brief and less fun than the Bible study/discipleship conversations. That is because most of our telephone calls are first-time calls to ascertain people’s spiritual openness (or lack thereof). We call many people at the request of Christian friends who hope and pray that we can have a witness to their unbelieving Jewish acquaintances. Some of those calls lead to meaningful conversations while others are quite brief: “Hello, my name is David Brickner, and I’m with Jews for Jesus. Someone asked me to give you a call because they thought you might be interested to hear from another Jewish person who believes that Jesus is the Messiah.” CLICK. Now that is a brief phone call.

A longer version might include a response before the CLICK: “Don’t ever call me again.” Or a New York City variation: “Drop dead.” CLICK. These “brief” calls can be discouraging, but it helps to remember that we must reach out to many in order to win a few. Each negative response brings us one call closer to the person who will respond positively. Only God knows who that person might be, so it’s always worthwhile to make the call. It is hard to describe the joy we feel when a call that seems like it is going to be brief takes a turn and becomes a meaningful conversation about the gospel. It takes courage and perseverance to keep calling, but it is well worth it.

Yet we understand that unsolicited calls are viewed with varying degrees of negativity ranging from annoyance to contempt. An episode of a popular television show illustrates this as the lead character receives a phone solicitation. He responds by saying, “I can’t really talk right now, but if you give me your home phone number I’ll call you back later.” When the solicitor demurs, the character admonishes, “Oh, I guess you don’t want people calling you at home. Well now you know how I feel.” CLICK. (Audience applauds loudly.)

While we don’t consider ourselves solicitors, we don’t blame people for hanging up or otherwise abbreviating the conversation if they do not wish to speak to us. It is interesting that Arutz Sheva accused us twice in their article of “undermining the worldview” of Jewish people. That’s putting quite a twist on our motives; nevertheless, we know that Yeshua will revolutionize the life of any Jew or Gentile who trusts and follows Him. We are very upfront about that fact. We are seeking those who want to talk about life-changing realities, not trying to harass those who do not. We don’t knowingly phone someone if they ask not to be contacted.

At the same time, we recognize that most people consider the gospel an intrusion, no matter how it is first introduced. This has been true since the first century, when the apostles often found themselves unwanted and unwelcome by those they wanted to reach. But they didn’t give up and we shouldn’t either, whether we’re handing out broadsides or making phone calls to the lost. After all, last month in Israel we found 417 people who wanted a Hebrew New Testament. Who knows for how many of those individuals the telephone may yet prove to be a “hotline” to heaven?