DALLAS (BP)–Southern Baptists are forging “a network of compassionate witness” by inviting volunteers to participate in outreach to Jewish people throughout the world. During the April 15-18 Jewish Evangelism Summit in Dallas, representatives of ministries in eight Jewish population centers described the work they are doing to share the gospel message.
Although evangelical work has existed for at least 20 years among Jewish people, the Southern Baptist Convention began in 2000 to lay the groundwork for starting a Messianic congregation in the United States. Jim Sibley of Dallas serves as coordinator of Jewish Ministries on the North American Mission Board’s interfaith evangelism team, providing training for Messianic church starts and volunteers.
Within Chicago, Lake County is a microcosm of Jewish life throughout the country. Within the city limits of Chicago are 400,000 Jews with no established Messianic work.
“There are secular and well-to-do Jews who attend synagogue on the High Holy Days, mixed-marrieds with an assortment of spiritual ties, as well as Orthodox Jews,” said Steve Barack of Wheeling, Ill. In 1999, the SBC planted a Messianic congregation to be a witness to this community. After several months of Bible studies, B’nai Ohr Beth Tefilah held its first public service for Yom Kippur. Currently, the congregation has an attendance of more than 60.
Barack, a bivocational pastor, encourages volunteers to consider conducting prayer walks, music festivals and neighborhood surveys. “Our biggest issue is basic education. Grounded folks are what we need more than anything else. We need them to be able to mentor our Messianic Jews with sensitivity to where they come from. All of the folks that we’ve established as our core group are new believers,” he said. “We need all the help we can get — bar none.”
The 3.5 million Jewish residents of New York City are quite diverse, from ultra-Orthodox to radically secular humanist, Buddhist and New Age, said Steve Fenchel, a church planter there. Although Southern Baptist work in New York City began in 1957, work with the Jewish people is just getting started, he said. Prayer walks, canvassing of colleges and universities, as well as street evangelism provide avenues for outreach by volunteers.
Southern Baptists employed in professional occupations are often able to attract the interest of Jews in a city like New York City. “I network with California doctors and Dallas cardiologists — those guys can go into New York City and speak the same language. That kind of thing appeals to me,” he said.
Around the world, the regions populated by Jews are changing as more people are emigrating to escape collapsing economies where they live. Rick Kunz, a Southern Baptist representative serving in Argentina, related that 20 percent of the 300,000 Jews are predicted to return to Israel in the next few years due to economic conditions of his country.
“We work with all groups that are working with the Jewish people in a partnership with God’s chosen people,” Kunz said. “Our overall goal is that every Jewish person hear the gospel message completely and that we begin Messianic congregations throughout those areas.”
By contrast, the majority of the 80,000 Jews in South Africa are middle- to upper-class professionals, living in the urban areas of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. Evangelical work among the Jewish people there has existed for more than a century.
Opportunities exist for prayer walks, evangelistic drama and music performances, tract distribution and other forms of mass evangelism, as well as evangelistic seminars on secular topics conducted by business professionals.
Approximately 700,000 Jewish people live in France, predominantly in Paris. There is strong anti-Semitism in France, a Southern Baptist worker reported. “Jews have suffered many attacks, especially during the last two years, as a result of the escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Although evangelical work has been active in France since 1936, SBC outreach to Jews began last year. Volunteers are encouraged to consider prayer walking as an initial ministry to the area.
The 5.5 million Jewish population of Israel is as diverse as the population of Jews scattered throughout the Diaspora. Israeli Jews have an ability to maintain a sense of normalcy in very difficult circumstances, Southern Baptist representatives report. For many years, Baptists have participated in evangelism and outreach with Messianic Jews and several congregations have been started through such partnerships.
Workers encourage volunteers to consider opportunities through sports camps, guided tours, direct evangelism and prayer support.
Of ministry to Jews in England, a Southern Baptist representative said, “Prayer and the building of relationships are going to be the keys to reaching this people group.” Prayer walks, prayer advocates and people “on the ground” to build relationships are encouraged among the 300,000 Jews living in England.
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