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Jewish couple at Baptist seminary trains for ministry to fellow Jews

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–For Jewish people who trust in Jesus, their decisions come with a cost. Accusations of denying the faith of their fathers, of stomping on the graves of ancestors and of joining a cult often accompany their entry into Christianity.
Nathan and Carol Rosenberg* are no exception. “It would have been a much easier road for me to just be a traditional Jew. It would have always ensured that I was accepted,” said Nathan, a Ph.D. student from Brooklyn, N.Y., at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
But becoming entrenched in the truth amid the hail of criticism, Nathan and Carol have developed an increasing desire to see their own people come to know their Messiah.
The Rosenbergs work with Chosen People Ministries (CPM), established in 1894 to share the gospel with Jewish people. But their journey to CPM and to Southern Seminary had its struggles.
As a child, Nathan maintained an awareness of his Jewish heritage, which amounted to nothing more than an ethnic identity. “I viewed Judaism as my history and Christianity as superstition. I thought of God as a cosmic muffin in outer space,” Nathan said.
While in the Marine Corps, Nathan’s own mortality confronted him when he witnessed several violent deaths: “I was nervous as to what would happen to me [if I died]. I realized my definitions of God were inadequate.”
Spiritual ideas suddenly interested Nathan. His quest for truth left him with two options: “I decided I was either going to become an Orthodox Jew or a Christian.
“I was convinced one couldn’t be both — the ideas were too diametrically opposed.”
After a military chapel service, Nathan opted for the latter. “I was confronted with the evidence that Jesus was the Messiah. Judaism without a Messiah is still an empty Judaism,” Nathan explained.
The decision shocked his family. “My relatives think I’m a little nuts. Put it this way: I never get invited to Passover,” Nathan said. “They think we’re in this big cult.”
Carol’s calling came with even more conflict. Growing up in a traditional Jewish home in Chicago, she was convinced Orthodox Judaism was true. Soon she realized the futility of living by the precepts of the Torah, worrying about how “eating a cheeseburger,” for example, might affect generations to follow her.
While attending Northwestern University, Carol’s life changed. She attended a Bible study on campus to meet new people. Originally concerned solely about her social life, Carol was surprised when the others showed concern for her soul.
The leader asked Carol if she believed Jesus is the Son of God. “I said, ‘No way. Are you kidding?’ But, he twisted my arm into reading the New Testament,” she said.
“I had never touched the New Testament before. It was a forbidden book. So when I saw Jesus in the New Testament, it was a big surprise to me. I saw someone zealous for God’s law, zealous for righteousness and also someone extremely compassionate, especially toward women.”
Carol eventually ran out of reasons why Jesus could not be the Messiah. So she prayed for God to show her if Jesus was the Messiah. “I thought I’d be struck down by lightning right on the spot,” said Carol, who is a serials assistant in Southern’s James P. Boyce Centennial Library.
Both Carol and Nathan felt guilty after their decisions. “I don’t think Gentiles realize this when they witness to Jewish people. From our perspective, starting with Constantine, Christianity was a government religion of persecution to us. When a Gentile asks a Jew to believe in Jesus, they’re asking them to go over into that group,” Carol said.
Nathan said the two weeks following his decision were “the most guilty time of my entire life. I felt like I was spitting on the grave of all my ancestors who had died in the Holocaust and in the anti-Semitic persecutions.”
Both soon realized, however, they were not giving up their Jewish ethnicity. They were believing in the promised Messiah. “I was a Christian for a year before I realized I had not become a Gentile and had not abandoned the faith of my forefathers,” Carol said.
With this realization, they each set out to reach Jews for Christ — and met each other in the process.
Nathan kept running into Carol at a missions conference. She was reading a book recommended by her Greek professor. Nathan thought, “Wow! A Jewish girl who knows Greek. I’ve got to get her phone number.”
Since then, both have ministered to their native people through Jews for Jesus and various Messianic congregations. At Southern, Nathan and Carol hope to become better trained for this ministry.
“One important thing the Jewish Christian community needs is well-trained people. But it’s a matter of opinion whether I’m one of those,” said Nathan. “It’s a huge unreached people group,” Carol added.
Their Jewish identity presents difficulties for Jewish people who refuse to believe. “It would be so much easier if we would insist that we were converted, because we would be one of you now and not one of them. But if we keep insisting that we are one of them, then that implies that they could be one of us too,” Carol said.
Nathan currently serves as a missionary for Chosen People Ministries, engaging in evangelism and discipleship of new believers.
Nathan offered advice to Gentiles who talk to Jews about Jesus. “Jewish people are not legalistic. They’re not a bunch of Pharisees trying to figure out how to stack stones on their side of the scale.
“They will admit, ‘I make mistakes, but I’m not a sinner.’ For them, being a sinner is being a child molester or murderer. If you call a Jewish person a sinner, you speak very ill of him.”
Not all Jews are Old Testament scholars, said Nathan. One should be careful about approaching them with Old Testament prophecies like Isaiah 53. They may say, “We can’t read the Torah and can’t understand it. We need to read what the rabbis explain to us,” Nathan said.
“One thing that will help lead a Jew to the Lord is if they believe someone really cares about them,” he said.
The couple has two goals in their future ministry: “continue to raise the banner that Jesus is our Messiah” and continue to “teach the Bible from a Jewish perspective.”
The Internet site for Chosen People Ministries is www.chosen-people.com.

*Names changed

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  • Bryan Cribb