- Written by Richard Harvey
From time to time the Jews for Jesus staff is asked to train a worker from another mission society. Recently we hosted two missionaries from The Church's Ministry Among the Jews (CMJ), a London-based gospel outreach to Jewish people. One of the missionaries, Richard Harvey, has returned to his ministry overseas after working for four months in our New York City and San Francisco mission stations. The other missionary, Agnita Sternheim, continues to serve her one-year apprenticeship at our Los Angeles branch. The following accounts were written by them.
Living in New York was certainly full of surprises, and in comparison to my home base in London, England, the opportunities for sharing the gospel with Jewish people seemed to come far more frequently and spontaneously. Also, it seemed so much easier to interact with people about serious issues over the phone, even when I had not met them before. Maybe it was because Americans conduct so much of their business over the phone.
I was making routine calls to some people who had attended our meetings in Manhattan and was getting varying responses. Some were regular attenders, some had moved away and some were no longer interested. I little expected one call to be answered by a rabbi, and a female rabbi at that. Instead of talking to the person I was trying to reach, I ended up sharing my faith in Messiah with someone completely different, with only the number I had dialed as the connecting link.
Excuse me," I began. "Is Adam there?"
"No, he moved out a while ago," a female voice replied. Then she added, "This is Rabbi Goldstein."
A short moment to catch my breath, and then I launched in with, "I expect you have heard of us. We are Jewish people who believe in Jesus.…"
"Yes, I have heard of you, but I think that what you are doing is terrible, and I certainly do not agree with you," she said.
As I have a female cousin who is also a rabbi, I understood her position. Nevertheless, it wouldn't hurt to try. "May I take a moment to explain why I believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah?" I asked.
"Sure, but we believe in a messianic age rather than one individual. What you people say about Jesus goes right in the face of Jewish tradition," she said.
"That's strange, when until recent centuries the majority view of Judaism was to look for one individual as the Messiah, who would inaugurate the messianic age," I responded.
"Yes," she said, "but you cannot be Jewish and believe that Jesus is the Messiah."
"What about those Jews who believed in truly false messiahs such as Bar Cochba or Sabbatai Svi?" I asked. "Did they stop being Jewish?"
"They did not go against the ways of their people as you have done."
I realized that she did not have strong religious convictions of her own, certainly not those of an Orthodox Jew. Rather, she was stating a position she had been taught, to see how it measured up in the heat of an argument. The tone of her voice varied from antagonism and skepticism to real interest and curiosity.
She did not believe in the authority of Scripture, nor in the existence of the supernatural. I told her how I myself had come from a position of real skepticism to a sure faith in the God of Israel through Jesus. She was silent.
She admitted that since female rabbis were a fairly recent innovation, her motivation for taking such an unusual step was that it might help her to maintain her heritage while it also enabled her to benefit the community. It was obvious to me that something was missing for her—a personal relationship with God.
Although Rabbi Goldstein was unwilling to go any further in our conversation, she seemed to acknowledge a spiritual need that had not been answered. I can only hope and pray that just as our interaction surprised me, getting a phone call from a Jew for Jesus was one of God's ways of surprising her.