If I can make it there I’ll make it anywhere…
With all due respect to Frank Sinatra and the city of New York, I titled this article with thoughts of Chicago, where our annual summer campaign training is about to begin. Sixteen Jews for Jesus staff and volunteers are gathering at Moody Bible Institute for the most rigorous, comprehensive two-week Jewish evangelism training program that we know how to provide. Moody Bible Institute offers three college credits for those who successfully complete this program. But our purpose is not academic. We have two weeks to prepare students for one of the most difficult and rewarding ministry experiences they will ever have, our New York Summer Witnessing Campaign. The campaign is a month-long, all-out effort to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue.
First-timers cannot go on the campaign in New York without completing the training. The program is tough and almost every year we have to send someone home. Some people aren’t able to learn what they need to know in order to be effective on the streets, while others struggle with their own attitudes and resist the disciplines they need to fit into a team. We believe it is more caring and compassionate to send people home from Chicago than to allow them to come, ill-equipped for the campaign. So if trainees can make it there (Chicago), they can make it in New York City (or just about anywhere else). And if they can’t, it is better to find out in Chicago than in New York. Unity is crucial and that means campaigners need their teammates to arrive with the same high level of training and the same sense of purpose and commitment.
Physical training for campaigners begins even before they arrive in Chicago. We ask them to begin building their endurance (walking or jogging) as soon as we accept their applications. Once in Chicago, they begin each morning with group calisthenics and marching. Jews for Jesus has been called the marines” of Jewish missions. Though the level of physical training we expect doesn’t even begin to approach military standards, the training does provide a bit of a boot camp experience. Chanting silly rhymes adds a sense of fun and camaraderie: “Izzy, Ikey, Jakey, Sam. We are the boys who eat no ham…”
A group of young people in Jews for Jesus T-shirts might look slightly odd marching in straight lines or doing jumping jacks at the crack of dawn. But how many people put out as much or more effort to “get in shape” for summer excursions to the beach? When I train for my backpacking trips in the Sierra Nevada Mountains , doubtless I look a bit foolish traipsing up and down a steep grade near my home in San Francisco with my fully-loaded pack. But if I don’t, I won’t be able to endure the trip. How much more should we be willing to exert ourselves in order to be physically prepared for a rigorous schedule of evangelism, walking all over Manhattan, standing on street corners for eight hours a day telling people about Jesus?
The commitment to train physically is not enough. People must also prepare for a campaign emotionally and spiritually. The physical discomfort is often easier than the emotional and spiritual stress that street evangelists must endure. The average person cannot withstand the winds of rejection and opposition that are a regular part of the Summer Witnessing Campaign—not without training and preparation. Much of that preparation has to do with developing reasonable expectations.
Many Christians expect successful ministry to begin when people like and appreciate us, as though that is a necessary prerequisite to our telling them about Jesus. Many embrace this view uncritically, though it runs counter to the Scriptures. Our Messiah told us, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before [it hated] you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18 -20).
The truth of this passage is the key to enduring rejection, and is thoroughly discussed in a training lecture about how to handle personally directed hostility. We don’t relish rejection, nor do we wish to provoke people to reject us. We do expect rejection, and try not to take it personally. Instead, we ground our emotions at the foot of the cross of Messiah Jesus, and learn to uphold and encourage one another in the task. Unbelievers who are being drawn to Jesus will be drawn to us as His ambassadors. But we don’t know who those people are. We put ourselves “out there” where they can find us, knowing that each rejected attempt to share the gospel brings us one step closer to reaching the person who will seriously consider Jesus.
The team bonds during the difficult campaign training as members gain strength from their mutual commitment to stand firm in the face of opposition. Stop and think of the people who are closest to you. Aren’t they the ones who have shared the tough times with you? It is always nice to rejoice together, but when we suffer together we draw strength from one other. The bonding, the development of proper expectations and the encouragement to identify with Christ in His sufferings enable us to properly prepare for the tougher moments that come as part of Summer Witnessing Campaigns.
Spiritual preparation goes hand-in-hand with the emotional preparation for campaign. We are in a spiritual battle. We wrestle not against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). The spiritual training goes beyond learning to put on the whole armor of God. It involves learning to use that armor each day on the streets, particularly the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.
Campaigners come from many different backgrounds and levels of spiritual development. Some have been following Jesus for many years, others for little more than a year. Either way, they all learn the same lessons, such as, “What is the gospel?” You might be surprised to hear how many people answer basic questions like, “What is our message?” Some do not know much more than their own personal story, that Jesus saved them. That is a good start, but the Bible tells us that the gospel is the good news that Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures. We are saved by believing and trusting in Him (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The training teaches campaigners how to explain the gospel, to answer objections, to lead someone to Christ and to secure a proper contact for follow-up. In addition to lectures, we use role-playing techniques to simulate challenging situations and toughen one another up with difficult questions and objections. Campaigners even practice leading one another to the Lord.
Along with the lectures, the bonding, the calisthenics and marching, we take our campaigners into the streets of Chicago to put their lessons into practice.
Such practical approaches to a spiritual endeavor might seem strange, but remember, campaigners have their own personal network of friends upholding them in prayer, as well as the benefit of friends like you whom they’ve never met to intercede for them. We labor long and hard to prepare them to proclaim the gospel, but we never underestimate the power of prayer to sustain them.
I’m asking you to pray fervently for the 16 young people who are training in Chicago for the rest of this month. No, we aren’t the marines, but we are in the Lord’s army—and not just those of us going on Summer Witnessing Campaign. Everyone who seeks to carry out His work as a witness to the gospel is in a battle. It behooves us all to put on the armor of God, train and prepare with vigor and diligence.
By the way, you don’t have to come on a campaign to take part in the training at Moody Bible Institute. Some want the training even if they can’t come on the campaign, so you might think about it for next year. A word of warning: those who successfully complete the training find out first hand that if they make it there, they can make it anywhere. Once trained, it is hard to resist the challenges and rewards that await campaigners in New York City.