Elli met a group of Israelis in Chinatown. They asked him if he spoke Hebrew. Since he did, they proceeded to ask him a very Jewish question: “Where can we find a good Chinese restaurant?” Elli, hoping to satisfy a different kind of hunger, then asked them a question: “Who do you think Jesus is?” So goes a typical day in New York on our summer witnessing campaign!
I’m writing to you from New York City, in the midst of our 35th annual summer witnessing campaign. It’s said that “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” Well, that is certainly true of our evangelistic forays, including the precursor of all our campaigns—the NYC effort!
Our first campaign was in 1974. I was in my early twenties, very nervous and excited to be coming home to New York City after having moved out to the San Francisco area to join the fledgling Jews for Jesus. It was great to be part of a team of people who wanted to get the gospel to the streets of New York City.
Moishe had encouraged me to write some of the gospel broadsides we’d be handing out and I did. Before long I found out that my mother, who worked in Manhattan, had been “receiving” these broadsides with my name on them at her office, as, one by one, her co-workers dropped them off at her desk. Mom was part proud, part peeved to see her daughter’s name in print.
In those days, a lot of people had a visceral reaction to Jews for Jesus. Most had never been confronted with the idea that Jesus was Jewish or that He was for us, so maybe we should think about being for Him. We Jews for Jesus were breaking new ground, and we took a lot of flack. But we were a team, and we enjoyed a tremendous sense of unity and camaraderie. Every night at dinner we shared stories, taking turns telling about our interactions with people during the first three sorties (tract-passing expeditions) of the day. We learned from one another’s experiences, and we got excited and encouraged by one another’s victories. Then we’d go out one more time to “hit the streets” and hand out our gospel broadsides to as many people as we could. I couldn’t wait to go back the next year … and the next.
Somewhere in the ’80s, my role changed from full-time campaigner to mentor and encourager, though I do still get out for as many sorties as I can while I’m here.
It’s fun to see how campaigners still have that same sense of camaraderie as they share their own stories every night at dinner. This year’s staff and volunteers are just as enthusiastic and passionate for the gospel as we were that very first year. I think of Josh, whose eyes lit up as he told how he’d prayed in the morning that God would give him a meaningful conversation with a Jewish person—and by dinner time, he’d had six! Not only that, but Josh, along with the other campaigners, had a level of training that we first-timers did not receive until our third year of campaign.
I’m actually encouraged that the arguments we hear haven’t changed much over the years. Maybe that sounds strange, but for the most part, these “old” protests don’t stem from heartfelt conviction—many people simply mouth what they have been told because they know they “are not supposed to” believe in Jesus. Very few have thought about who He is and what He’s done, so it’s not difficult to offer thought-provoking responses to the ready made objections. But that’s another thing that has stayed the same over the years: objections are always better than apathy.
The Bible tells us to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear …” (1 Peter 3:15). Back in 1974, we were called on to give that defense just by virtue of our Jews for Jesus T-shirts. But since people have been seeing Jews for Jesus for decades, some have learned to ignore us. It sometimes takes more than the phrase “Jews for Jesus” to make an impression. That “something more” can revolutionize a campaign.
By 1987, we had been campaigning for fourteen years. Baruch Goldstein was leading the campaign, and as usual, we were handing out broadsides and getting contacts for follow-up. Occasionally, people prayed with us on the streets. Back in San Francisco, Moishe Rosen awoke in the middle of the night with a fully formed thought. He wrote it down, and then called Baruch and read it to him over the phone, asking him to write it down as well. He said, “Have the campaigners memorize this ‘Proposal Statement’ today and begin using it out on the streets.”
The statement began with two questions: “Can I ask you something? Who do you think Jesus is?” It got people thinking and talking about spiritual things. It also allowed campaigners to offer God’s proposal of salvation to seekers who agreed to answer the question. Moishe never claimed that the Proposal Statement was divinely inspired. But it was one of the few times he said that God had specifically told him to do something.
The campaigners began using the Proposal Statement, and ever since, we’ve had far more conversations with people … and it is no longer a rarity for people to pray to receive Christ during our campaigns.
The statement has remained a valuable tool for seekers who have already done some thinking about Jesus, or about how to have a relationship with God.
But what about those people who aren’t “there” yet, and who haven’t really stopped to think about Jesus before?
This year’s leadership came up with a novel strategy that’s got me excited! It’s a new T-shirt with large letters that ask, “How can you be Jewish and believe Jesus is the Messiah?” Then in a large bubble are two words: “ASK ME.” And people are asking! The question intrigues them—it allows them to be the initiators, and that’s very appealing to many people. Many who may have been curious but didn’t want to appear “too” interested now have the perfect reason to talk to us. Conversations are going so well, that campaign leader Sara Friedman has increased her original contact goals.
David Brickner’s words ring true to me, “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.”
It’s exciting to see innovation, but what really gives me “nachas” (a Jewish mama kind of pride) is the caliber of campaigners and stewards. For example, Dvora and Sorcha, after a full day of witnessing on the streets in muggy heat, mustered the energy to spend their late night writing and illustrating a new broadside. They seized on the vampire fad and used it to explain about the “True Blood” that saves—a great example of speaking truth into pop culture. (see link)
Dave, Isaac and Justin stayed up and worked on a different form of literature—one that would be more appropriate to the late night clubbing crowd the team has been encountering between 11:00 pm and 1:00 am. These late night (or early morning) sorties are another innovation—until a few years ago we used to end our sorties at 11:00 pm. Our younger leaders pointed out that Times Square and the West Village are not the only areas that draw Jewish people at night, and that many younger people are only just getting started by the time the theaters let out. I don’t mind boasting about our next generation. They are passionate people who don’t watch the clock, other than the one that says the time of salvation is now. There is much to be hopeful about! Click here to meet some of our campaigners and hear their stories.
Yes, a lot has changed since that first Jews for Jesus campaign. But even more has stayed the same, especially our Messiah, and His unchanging offer of salvation. Please pray for all the gospel seed that is being sown, that it will bear fruit … and please also pray for the sowers to stay strong, and that the joy of the Lord will continue to be their strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
We won’t be campaigning until the cows come home (I’m from Brooklyn, what do I know from cows?) but God willing, and with friends like you to pray, we will be campaigning until Yeshua returns.