Maybe you've never met anyone named Amer before. You wouldn't be the only one. If you google the name, you'll see that Amer is a variant of Amir (Arabic, Hebrew), meaning prince" or "treetop." But Amer Olson, leader of our Chicago branch did not get his name from the Internet.
Raised in a not-particularly-religious home by a Jewish mother and Gentile father, Amer had no name at all for the first week of his life. His mother wanted to name him Maximus, because he was such a large baby, while his father was partial to the name Amon, ostensibly after the Egyptian sun god. Neither parent was crazy about the other's choice. One day, their six-year-old son, Aron, came in and sweetly announced, "The baby's name is Amer." And so it has been ever since.
Amer grew up in Minneapolis, where he and his family celebrated Hanukkah and Passover as well as Christmas and Easter according to the traditions of both parents. Their neighbors, strong Christians, often invited Amer to their church. In junior high school, Amer was involved in a friend's youth group and began to follow Jesus. However, he didn't spend much time with Christians during high school and college, where well-meaning friends told him that he could not be Jewish and believe in Jesus. He turned most of his energies to studying and producing fine art, an interest and gift he shared with his father.
Amer says, "When I returned home to Minnesota, my father and I tuned into a program on cable access TV. We watched a Jewish man, reading from the Tanach (Old Testament) and the B'rit Hadashah (New Testament). It all came together for me. I started attending Bible studies; my faith in Jesus grew and so did my hunger to know God's Word and to share it with others."
Amer's younger sister, Anna, (the first in the family to come to faith in Jesus, dubbed "the ringleader" by their Jewish grandmother), had toured with the Liberated Wailing Wall, our mobile evangelistic music team. Following in her footsteps, Amer signed on for an 18-month tour—little knowing that he would be asked to lead the group!
Following the tour, Amer wanted to remain on our staff as a missionary. Moishe Rosen, then our executive director, observed that there were not many Jewish Christian artists of Amer's caliber, and he encouraged him to pursue his art, at least for a while. [You can see some of Amer's art here.]
During that "while," Amer met a young woman named Paige, whose parents had been exploring the Jewish roots of their Christian faith. Paige had a vibrant faith in Jesus, as well as an interest in Jewish traditions and people. For their first of many dates, Amer invited Paige to come hear the Liberated Wailing Wall, who happened to be in Minneapolis.
That summer (1998) they both came on our New York City Summer Witnessing Campaign. They saw in one another a desire to serve God that brought them even closer together, and set their wedding date for the following June. Paige noticed how Amer lit up any time he did anything with Jews for Jesus, and felt sure that they would have a future with our ministry. She was right! They moved to New York for missionary training the following January.
Amer served from the beginning of 2000 through most of 2003 in New York. During that time, he and Aaron Abramson continued a great friendship that had begun during the campaign. They developed some new music together and enjoyed a creative dynamic in serving in the same branch. They both wanted to go to Bible college, and both families were deployed to the U.K., where Aaron and Amer attended All Nations Christian College, in Ware, Hertfordshire, U.K. They continued to serve with our London branch, studied the Bible, created more music and, two years later, returned to the U.S. with a deeper understanding of global (and Jewish) missions. They also had a surer grasp of the Word of God and how to more effectively administer it.
The Olsons were deployed to Chicago, where Amer served under Jhan Moskowitz (with whom he prepared to lead the Bronx/Westchester component of our New York Behold Your God campaign in 2006). By the beginning of the new year, 2007, Jhan moved back to New York to serve as the Director of our North American branches and Amer, to his great surprise, was chosen to lead the Chicago team, consisting of veteran missionaries Lyn and Alan Bond, Micha Cohen (who grew up with Jews for Jesus as his parents served with our ministry for many years), Heather Blecher (who coordinates our young adult ministry there) and Melanie Rose—who keeps the office running smoothly.
Amer says, "Jews for Jesus exists in Chicago to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people here. I want that to happen in new and creative ways. God is also using Jews for Jesus here to encourage and build up Jewish believers in Jesus, providing opportunities for people to step out of their comfort zone in witnessing to our Jewish people.
"Chicago has several college campuses with sizeable Jewish enrollments, including the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Last fall, I was standing in the public area of UIC, handing out our gospel broadsides when a student named Max asked me, 'So, why did you decide to leave the Tribe?' ('The Tribe' is a phrase Jewish people sometimes use to refer to ourselves; also M.O.T. equals Member of the Tribe.) Perhaps Max wanted to verify I was Jewish by using that 'code' word. I responded: 'I never stopped being Jewish. Believing in Jesus the Jewish Messiah is the most Jewish thing you could do.'
"He replied, 'Yeah, my mother left the Tribe.' In fact, Max's mother had come to believe in Jesus and he was wrestling with the issue. We began meeting regularly. He loved to read about Jesus in the New Testament, while giving equal time to the regular (non-Messianic) Jewish group on campus. Then he took a trip to Israel and I have not seen or been able to reach him since. I know that God can continue drawing Max to Jesus, and hope to hear someday that he's surrendered his life to the Lion of the Tribe of Judah."
Amer's work keeps him busy, and so does his home life. He has a great partner in Paige, whom he describes as "Prayerful, patient with my missionary schedule and hospitable. She spends most of her time raising our four little ones to be lovers of Y'shua, lovers of the Jewish people and children with a passion to share the Gospel. She and the kids participate in the life of the Jews for Jesus family as well, sharing birthday parties and holiday gatherings."
And their children? Amer says, "They find it perfectly normal to be Jewish and believe in Jesus. One day, Josiah saw another car with a cross on its bumper and called out, 'Look Daddy, they're Jewish too!' I tried to explain that not everyone who believes in Jesus is of Jewish decent, and that many Jewish people do not believe in Jesus as we do. Shortly afterwards in a restaurant with Paige, Josiah saw that the waiter had a cross on his necklace and boldly asked, 'Are you Jewish?' It turned out he was—a Jewish believer in Jesus!"
So the baby who waited a week for his name did turn out to be a prince, since his heavenly father is King of the universe. And maybe one could even say that a branch leader is kind of like a treetop. But despite his interesting name, Amer is most concerned with lifting up the name of Jesus. Please pray for him in that endeavor. Here are some of his requests:
Amer leads a Bible study with a handful of young men who are Jewish believers, most of whom attend Moody Bible Institute. Pray that God will use him to help them see deeper into the Scriptures and into their role as Jewish believers in the body of Christ.
Please pray for God's wisdom in leading the branch and for effectiveness in reaching the Jewish people of Chicago with the good news of Y'shua the Messiah.
Please pray for Amer in his responsibility of being husband to Paige, and father to Abigail (eight years old), Josiah (six years old), Zechariah (three years old) and Samantha (eight months old).