ISRAEL – This past May, associate pastor for young adults Brandon Watson stood at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem listening to Orthodox Jews cry out for God to send the Messiah. He and his team of 8 Arkansans (including 6 college students) partnering with Jews for Jesus prayed that the people at the wall would see the Messiah had already come.
Watson’s connection with Israel and Jews for Jesus began when he led about 60 Immanuel Baptist church members on a tourist trip to Israel in 2014. Their tour guide introduced himself as David Brickner, an ordained Baptist minister and head of Jews for Jesus since 1996.
“God started stirring in our hearts on that trip about the brokenness of the Holy Land, how the Jewish people are an unreached people group who need to know the Lord,” Watson said.
While overlooking different sections of the country from their hotel balcony each night, he and roommate David Winkler prayed that others would come to Israel and tell the Jewish people about Jesus.
God asked Watson, “Why not you?”
On May 16-30 this year, Watson returned to the Holy Land sponsored in part by the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, this time focusing not on tourism but evangelism. Jews for Jesus sent a trainer to their church in Little Rock two months before to teach the college students how to evangelize Jews.
“American college students have a huge impact in Israel because they’re American and they’re young,” Winkler said. “Everyone who works for Jews for Jesus is Jewish; so for Gentiles to tell about Jesus, it either offends them (if they’re Orthodox) or intrigues them (if they’re secular Jews). “
University of Arkansas at Monticello grad student, Jalen Garmon, described their first day at Ariel University.
“There is real spiritual warfare out there,” he said, “I felt like they had hard hearts. They’d turn their nose up at us and not want to talk to us.” Tuesday through Thursday that same week, they made better progress standing at the entrance of two other universities surveying students, offering to send a New Testament, a book Watson said not sold in that country.
One self-described practicing Jew looked modern: in her colorful shirt, skirt, denim jacket and sunglasses she might have passed for a student in the states.
“She was very polite,” Garmon said. “She told me that in Judaism they have a doctrine where they don’t question what the Rabbi is saying.” When he asked if she had ever read the book of Daniel chapter 9, she told him she had never heard of it. Gamon directed her to read Deuteronomy 18:15: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet…from your fellow Israelites.”
A sophomore at the University of Central Arkansas, Thomas Guinee, had a similar experience. “They don’t have God’s Word, just the teachings of the Rabbis,” he said. “The traditions are pounded into them and some are motivated out of fear. If they choose Jesus, they lose their community.”
The trip opened Guinee’s eyes to the Jewish faith and gave him compassion for people of other faiths. There are many ways God gets our attention, he said, “For me, this trip was one of those ways.”
Winkler emailed statistics: “The results from the campaign include: passing out over 28,000 gospel pamphlets, speaking on the phone with 3,600 Jewish people interested in learning about Christ, gaining 405 contacts of those interested in following up, and seeing 43 Jewish people come to faith in Christ.”
Out of the 6.2 million Jews in Israel, only 5,000 know Jesus as Savior, Winkler said.
Watson said he chose Jews for Jesus because they follow up on contacts, and they disciple the converted.