Jews for Jesus, the Church and Israel
Julia Fisher talks to David Brickner, Executive Director of Jews for Jesus
Mention Jews for Jesus and you might react with either a smile or a frown! Their aim is to provoke a reaction! The man currently responsible for shaping what is considered by many Christians to be a controversial whilst highly original mission to the Jewish people is David Brickner who, for the past 10 years has been Executive Director, although he’s worked for Jews for Jesus for 28 years.
David Brickner describes himself as an American Jew with a very important London connection. His grandfather, Fred Kendall, was born here and his great grandparents were involved in the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, founded by John Wilkinson in the East End of London in 1876.
“The London side of my family is important because I come from the oldest lineage of Jewish believers in Jesus that we know of today; five generations on my mother’s side, going all the way back to the Ukraine.”
I met David in London recently where he was attending the annual gathering of directors of Jews for Jesus from around the world. Given his family background and his long association with Jews for Jesus, I asked him whether his faith in Jesus had started from an early age?
“Almost – I was born into a Jews for Jesus T-shirt! I wish that was true! I was a young rebel. It was whilst pursuing a degree in Orchestral Performance ( I was a trumpet player) at Boston University that I began to seek after the Lord but at the same time not really sure about how to go about it. I was walking through the university campus and thinking about these things one day when I looked up and 50 feet away were two people with Jews for Jesus on their blue jean jackets, handing out pamphlets. It was like a divine appointment. They invited me to a Bible study where I met 15 or so young Jewish believers in Jesus, sitting on the floor with their Bibles open on their laps, studying the Scriptures. And I knew I had come home.”
Becoming a believer in Jesus was one thing, but what about joining Jews for Jesus and working as an evangelist? Is he a natural evangelist I asked?
“I’m not sure that I am a natural evangelist. I admire those who are. Some of our staff are quite shy and introverted and it’s only out of a sense of urgency, obedience and love for God that we get beyond our own selves to evangelise. I don’t like to evangelise – I’d rather sit back and read a book! So I’m not a natural evangelist, but I am an evangelist and by the Holy Spirit I have the power to do it.”
Jews for Jesus began in September 1973 in San Francisco amongst the hippy community, many of whom were Jewish. It quickly spread to Los Angeles, then New York and today they have teams in 12 countries. I put it to David that many Christians find Jews for Jesus offensive.
“I realise that some people get put off because we appear such a high profile ministry – in your face! We are visible when on the street, which I believe is appropriate, and we are best known for our street evangelism (giving out pamphlets) even though that’s only a small part of what we do. But if you look at the Apostle Paul, wherever he went there was either a revival or a riot – sometimes both. So you shouldn’t judge our ministry by the reaction to us from the unbelieving (particularly the Jewish leadership), because the gospel has always been an intrusion into the lives of unbelievers and it’s always been controversial in the Jewish community ever since the followers of Jesus were kicked out of the synagogue in John chapter 9. 2,000 years hasn’t changed that. Nothing’s changed. I think sometimes Christians look for organisations that find favour with the world thinking that somehow favour with the world means that something’s happening right. In reality whilst we don’t entirely judge our effectiveness by the opposition we receive, opposition is not necessarily an indication that you’re doing something wrong – it may be just the opposite.”
Study the results from campaigns that Jews for Jesus have run and it’s clear they are successful in reaching not just Jewish people but Gentiles too.
“Our mission statement says it very clearly – we exist to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people world wide. So forthright proclamation is the philosophy of our approach. We’re best known for standing on street corners and college campuses with brightly coloured and bold lettered T-shirts saying Jews for Jesus or Jesus made me Kosher, handing out brightly coloured pamphlets that have interesting titles connected to pop culture. And we hand these tracts out in tens of thousands in major metropolitan areas and on college campuses and this really does raise an image. We are an image orientated organisation. We want to project an image of Jews believing in Jesus and in so doing change the climate of opinion within the Jewish community, and the gentile community, that you can be a Jew and believe in Jesus. And I think we’ve been successful because prior to our ministry’s work there was an attitude that there is no such thing as a Jew for Jesus. Now people know that we’re around and so instead of the Jewish community saying Jews don’t believe in Jesus, they’re saying, well there are Jews who believe in Jesus but they’re wrong and here’s why! So whilst street evangelism is the most obvious thing we do, the most intensive work is our relational ministry. Proclamation is important but relationships are where evangelism really occurs – on a one to one. Street ministry enables us to make contact with people who are open to the gospel. Most of our missionaries actually spend the majority of their time arranging for personal visitation with Jewish people who have expressed interest in the gospel; sharing their testimonies; conducting Bible studies; trying to lead people to faith in Christ. It’s slow work – all hand picked fruit.”
So what are you expecting will happen in the medium to long term amongst the Jewish people – what’s God doing?
“I think the future for Jewish evangelism is in Israel. Right now we’re seeing a generation of young Israeli Jewish believers in Israel who are vibrant in their faith, zealous in their outreach, who aren’t carrying the hang-ups and fears of the older generation, who really are very interested in reconciliation but not at the expense of being forthright for Jesus. So as we see the Jewish population in the world gravitating towards Israel our organisation is watching and planning to focus more of our efforts there.
My own understanding of Scripture tells me that in the last days, and we could be in those times, when the time of the Gentiles is ended and Jacob’s trouble begin, there will be large number of Jews coming to faith in Jesus.”
If David Brickner is right, this raises some very interesting questions for the Church in the West; are there lessons to be learnt from the strategic, passionate way in which Jews for Jesus operates? And should the Church and Jews for Jesus, and other mission organisations that ‘target’ Jewish people, be working together?
“Jewish evangelism is the responsibility of the Church. Unfortunately it’s been the great ‘omission’ of the Church. It seems to me that Christians understand that Muslims need Jesus, that Buddhists need Jesus, that Animists and Atheists need Jesus, but when it comes to the Jews, there’s always a scratching of the head and people ask, well aren’t they God’s chosen people and don’t they have a covenant with God? I would plead with the Church to partner with us as we proclaim the gospel and not be ashamed of us! Give us an opportunity to teach your congregation about the Jewish roots of the Christian faith to prepare a climate of understanding so that you can be effective in reaching the Jewish people in your own communities. We feel that if we can mobilise the Church to do the work of Jewish evangelism then we’ll, in a good sense, become less important as a mission agency. There are many Christian organisations who say they have a ministry to the Jews – but very few of those organisations get involved in direct evangelism. I think it’s important that when Christians start thinking about connecting with a ministry to do with the Jews that they ask difficult questions; do they actually do evangelism to the Jewish people?”
Tell me about your vision for Israel and plans for the future of Jews for Jesus …
“My vision for Israel is what the scriptures say: ‘On that day I will make Jerusalem a heavy stone, a burden for the world. None of the nations who try to lift it will escape unscathed.’ ( Zechariah 12:3. NLB) And we’re seeing that being literally fulfilled today. The centre of the controversy is Jerusalem. People are saying the issue in Iraq is not going to be resolved without dealing with the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict.
The Christian must believe that God’s Word will not be thwarted by human unbelief. God’s sovereignty is at work in the world today and we, as His followers, get to be a part of it at this crucial time in history.
The only peace plan is God’s peace plan which started in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. The best hope for peace was born in the Middle East – Jesus the Messiah – and when Arabs and Jews can say to one another I love you in Jesus’ name the world will truly see the reconciling power of the Gospel. So we need to be high profile and we need to be in your face, because the gospel is the only hope for peace in the world today.
Now that we have completed our ‘Behold your God’ campaign whereby we conducted an outreach in every city of the world with a Jewish population of 25,000 or more, we plan to firstly strengthen the work in branches already established. Secondly to raise up the next generation of Jews for Jesus; it’s time for the younger people in their 20’s to step up and begin to lead.
And thirdly, ‘Behold your God phase 2’ … ‘Say to the cities of Judah Behold your God’ – what we have been doing in the cities around the world for past 5 years we are now bringing to the land of Israel. Starting in 2008 we will be going around Israel city by city doing the same kind of evangelism we’ve done elsewhere mindful of the fact that Jesus said, ‘You will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.’ (Matthew 10:23. NIV)
For more information about the work of Jews for Jesus, visit their web site, www.jewsforjesus.org.uk
And for information about books by Julia Fisher – www.olivetreefund.org/books
“I’m not a natural evangelist but I am an evangelist and by the Holy Spirit I have the power to do it.”
“… if you look at the ministry of the Apostle Paul …. wherever he went there was either a revival or a riot – sometimes both.”
“ …. opposition is not necessarily an indication that you’re doing something wrong – it may be just the opposite.”
“We are an image orientated organisation. We want to project an image of Jews believing in Jesus and in so doing change the climate of opinion.”
“I think the future of Jewish evangelism is in Israel.”
“Jewish evangelism is the responsibility of the Church.”
“There are many Christian organisations who say they have a ministry to the Jews – but very few of those organisations get involved in direct evangelism.”
“…what we have been doing in the cities around the world for past 5 years we are now bringing to the land of Israel…”