Mission leaders face great temptations when it comes to telling the story of the mission to friends and supporters. We want to share success stories because we know that people want and need to see how their support is making a difference. The temptation is to become selective in our reporting or to exaggerate our successes. I once heard that a group of Christian leaders made a joke about this type of exaggeration, labeling it evangelistically speaking." I don't think that is the least bit funny.
Exaggerating victories is not the only temptation in reporting. The other temptation is to exaggerate the difficulties in ministry so that friends and supporters will see how much their help is needed. Some organizations claim that if you do not give now the ministry will go under, people will suffer and souls will be lost for all eternity. I once heard Moishe Rosen promise a group of Christians, "Jews for Jesus will never send out that type of appeal. If you ever get one from us, take a big fat purple crayon, write 'TRUST GOD' on it and send it back to us." I intend to keep that promise as well.
Astute Christians understand that any effective ministry has its share of victories and defeats. When we communicate the story of missions with integrity you are bound to see a mix of joys and sorrows.
The Apostle Paul set a great example by sharing, with great transparency, the reality of this mix in his own ministry. I find myself identifying with his words: "But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses…by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things" (2 Corinthians 6:4, 8-10).
The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on joys and sorrows of the past year. I'd like to use the Apostle Paul as a model of transparency for doing that.
On the discouraging side, public figures have lashed out against Jews for Jesus with seeming impunity. Joan Rivers called us "a cult" on national television. Dr. Laura Schlessinger told her national radio audience that we are liars because we call ourselves Jews when [according to her] we are not. These are two notable examples; many more have attacked our reputation through the media. But we are in good company; after all, Paul and the other early Jews for Jesus were known as "deceivers and yet true."
Thankfully, others have stood by us and have offset the "evil reports" with good reports. Janet Parshall spoke encouraging words about our ministry efforts on her national radio program. Other radio programs from Moody Radio to Focus on the Family News have given positive reports about Jews for Jesus. Historian Ruth A. Tucker has written the book Not Ashamed, an affirming account of our 25-year history, which comes with a hearty amen from J.I. Packer in the foreword.
Another joy has been the great response we have seen to our future HOPE Campaign. Thus far, our billboards, subway ads, newspaper and magazine ads, as well as radio spots and banner ads on the Internet have generated over 17,000 contacts—people who have requested a copy of future HOPE. Some are making decisions for Christ and our staff is busy following up on the many unsaved Jewish people who asked for their own copy. On the down side, a number of newspapers refused to carry our gospel ads. Several radio stations in Chicago and Los Angeles stopped airing our radio spots after receiving complaints. Some of our friends and supporters called the stations to encourage them to keep the ads on the air, to no avail. In addition, four major Internet search engines succumbed to pressure from anti-missionaries and either pulled our banner ads or refused to allow them on their Internet site in the future. This does not bode well.
I rejoice over the many people who have prayed with our staff to receive Y'shua, but time will tell how well-placed that rejoicing is. It is not the mouthing of words that saves souls; it is grace through faith and no one but God can really know for certain about someone else's faith. We grieve over those who professed faith but later turned their back on the Lord. It happens in missions: you rejoice, you invest in people's lives and one day you find that things are not as they seemed. Of course, when people walk away it is not necessarily the end of the story. We sometimes see people return and we rejoice again.
I am greatly encouraged by the new staff members who have joined us. We reported in our October newsletter about the class that is just now completing their training. This month, another half dozen new staff members begin training in New York, including our first-ever full-time missionary from Ethiopia! At the same time, I greatly miss some who have left Jews for Jesus. For example, one of our Israeli staff has left to marry a young man, a Jewish believer. I am happy for her marriage, but we will miss her just the same. Over the years, others have left for less than happy reasons. Some left out of anger. Some fell into sin. A few even denied the faith. I think of Paul's words to Timothy regarding those of his colleagues who "concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck" (1 Timothy 1:19). Once again, our experience is not unique. Joy is tempered by sadness.
As I write to you, I am in Australia visiting our newest branch in Sydney. Bob and Patty Mendelsohn and their three children have been here for one full year and already there has been fruit. Helen, a Holocaust survivor, had read in the newspaper that she might receive reparations from a Swiss bank for moneys confiscated from her family during the Second World War. She contacted an information operator to ask what number she should call and the operator directed her to Jews for Jesus. Bob gladly passed on the information Helen wanted, but also took the occasion to explain the gospel to her. This dear lady was very open and agreed to meet with Bob. Some of you prayed for Helen and will rejoice with us that she came to Christ, has been baptized and is active in a local congregation. I am so glad we opened this new branch in Sydney. At the same time, I remember with grief how we closed our branch in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We tried for many years to keep this branch alive. There was much struggle and little fruit. One by one, our Argentine staff members left and we had no choice but to abandon (for now) this city with more than a quarter of a million Jewish souls.
Finally, I think of a phone call I recently received from Susan Stoller, one of the members of The Liberated Wailing Wall. She has had sorrow upon sorrow, most notably the death of her unbelieving father last year. I remember being so proud to hear accounts from other staff who attended that funeral, telling how she boldly testified of her faith to the large number of unbelieving family and friends gathered. (She was the only believer in her family). Now, only months later, her mother was ill. I feared the phone call was more bad news. Instead, Susan was rejoicing. Her mother had prayed that very night to receive Jesus as her Messiah and we knew that all of the angels in heaven were celebrating with us! Another team member, Lisha Levinson, has joyfully reported that her aunt has also came to faith. Hallelujah!
This mixture of joy and sorrow in ministry may seem ironic, but it is a biblical truth that applies to every believer. Most of us struggle, at times, to remember the joys we have in the midst of sorrows and disappointments. We need to remind ourselves—and one another—that God has saved us and that the joy of His salvation is our strength. That joy does not eradicate sorrows but it gives us the courage to face them and the fortitude to keep from being overwhelmed. No doubt this new millennium, even this new year will have its share of joys and sorrows. But our confidence is not in ourselves or even in the most joyful of circumstances. Our confidence is in our sovereign Lord who holds the future and who beckons us on toward heaven. Because of Him we can sing from our hearts the words of that great hymn: "When peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, 'It is well, it is well with my soul.'"