Shalom from New York City where I am presently taking part in our annual summer witnessing campaign (SWC)! It always energizes me to be here, out on the streets, telling people about Jesus. Since our ministry’s inception in 1973, every single summer but one, we’ve campaigned to reach New York City with the gospel. No one campaign is exactly the same but they all share the following features:
SWC is an “all out” evangelistic effort. Most campaigners will tell you they have never worked harder in their lives. Our campaigners are out on the streets three and four times a day, six days a week, arriving on site as early as 7AM and often out for the late night crowd until 11PM or midnight. We hand out gospel tracts (broadsides) and engage people in conversations wherever we go. We also use music and drama to draw attention to the message of Jesus. Often people are willing to give us their names and addresses for further follow up; we call that a contact. Some are even ready to pray with us to receive the Lord, right on the streets! So far this year our campaigners have handed out 263,990 broadsides, received 918 contacts (341 seekers and 571 believers) and have prayed with six people to receive the Lord.
Another aspect of SWC is the amazing camaraderie that participants share, which allows for fun and fellowship amidst the toil. Jews for Jesus staff and volunteers come together from all over the world. Most volunteers are young, single Jewish believers in Jesus. Campaigners eat together, pray together, worship together through daily chapel times and encourage one another to endure and grow through the tough times. They form life-long friendships and for some, those friendships blossom into much more. After all, what better place to discover someone who loves the Lord and has a passion to reach the lost?
A third indispensable part of the campaign is the role of our stewards. Stewards are extraordinary volunteers who often give up their vacation to come and serve the campaigners behind the scenes. They cook the meals, clean up afterwards, wash the clothes, pack the tract bags, and handle every detail to keep the campaigners going for God.
A fourth crucial aspect is follow up. Some of our staff are full-time campaigners, but the majority are handling the follow up which is necessary to a successful campaign. Every single person who gives us their name and address, each individual who prays to receive the Lord on campaign, requires extensive follow up. Our New York staff mail literature, place phone calls and make every effort to meet with those who are open to further discussion and Bible study.
Nevertheless, some things have changed since our first summer witnessing campaigns. There was a time when a well-trained campaigner could routinely hand out 1000 gospel tracts to commuters during a two-hour sortie (tract passing expedition). Not as many are taking our literature these days. Some are simply wary and many are apathetic. Still, special events occasionally provide venues where we can hand out a full bag’s worth of tracts.
Technology has also had an effect on campaigns. People walk through the city plugged into their iPods or talking on cell phones, making themselves far less available to interact with those around them.
Even so, God continues to arrange many divine appointments, that is, opportunities for our campaigners to meet people in whose hearts He is at work. Whether or not we hand out as many broadside tracts, just being “out there” makes us available. God uses that availability as He sees fit, and as we sow the seed, we trust Him for the fruit. We never know how He will multiply our efforts, but He always does so much more than we could have imagined.
For example, Stephen Pacht, our UK branch leader, led a witnessing campaign in London last month. He faced the same challenges we face here: it’s increasingly difficult to hand out tracts and engage people in conversations. But the team persevered, and one of the tracts ended up going to a reporter for the London Jewish Chronicle, a newspaper received by most in England’s Jewish community. This reporter wrote an amazing article that amplified our message to tens of thousands of Jewish people. (click here for article) We could not have planned it, we could not have paid for it. The article spoke louder and reached farther than any number of tracts. But that reporter never would have written it if the team had not been out there, standing faithfully on the streets, handing out our Jews for Jesus broadsides.
When, on occasion, people inform me that our campaign methodology is outdated or ineffective I ask them for suggestions on how else we might make an all out effort to proclaim the gospel. Tell me something we can do that takes as much dedication, that puts us face to face with as many people, that sows as much gospel seed, and I will try it. I have yet to receive a suggestion that meets those criteria, and until I do, we plan to continue campaigning as we have been since 1973.
That doesn’t mean we don’t work at keeping our campaigns fresh. This year’s campaigners are trying their hands at writing new literature, in fact campaign leader Shaun Buchhalter wrote one of the two new All Star broadsides we’ll be handing out at the game. The team is also posting evangelistic videos from the campaign on YouTube, and they are even experimenting with evangelism on Second Life, a virtual world on the Internet. Some people use technology to insulate themselves (e.g., iPods), but technology can also open all kinds of new channels for communication. We are always looking for more ways to make the Messiah known!
Please pray with us and for us as we press on through the rest of this month. Pray for those who will respond to the gospel during the campaign, and for the follow up after. Pray for Shaun Buchhalter and Sara Friedman, who are leading this effort, and pray for each of the campaigners and stewards–that the Lord will give them strength and wisdom and joy in their service for Him.
Click here for photos and reflections from our campaigners.