This article was originally a talk given in Japan in November.
Jewish Evangelism in East Asia: Street Evangelism 101
By Bob Mendelsohn
Jews for Jesus, AustralAsia
Given in Wakayama, Japan
15 November 2017
The problem: Jewish Evangelism is different
Whereas all non-Christians have a need for salvation in Yeshua, the Messiah, most non-Jews have no hostility to Jesus, and might even have a sympathy or at least tolerance for Christianity and the message of our Messiah. Muslims say they believe in Isa. Many Filipino Catholics or Indian Hindus, even Shinto here in Japan have warm feelings about Christianity. But Jewish people, whether in the USA or Australia or around the globe, sometimes have a rejection of Yeshua in their conversation. They may not even know why they reject Him, but they have a culture of saying ‘no’ to the Messiah by name. So, Jewish evangelism is different.
I grew up in the middle of the US, in Kansas City, a moderate-sized city of 1 million people, with about 25,000 Jewish people, in the 1950s and 1960s. Being Jewish was everything to me. I played tennis with Jews, had a chemistry club with neighborhood Jews, went to synagogue four days a week, learned with rabbis, but never once heard the name of Jesus, except when I hurt myself or was angry. “Jesus Christ” I would shout. I never once considered who He was, what He claimed about Himself, or why I didn’t believe in Him. Jesus was simply a non-issue for us Jews. And if someone had approached me with the Gospel, my knee-jerk reaction would have been “NO”, categorically “no”, without even thinking about it. Why? Who knows! But Jewish people just don’t believe in Jesus. End of story.
That said, what are you going to do to bring the Gospel to Jewish people where you live, here in Japan, or in Korea, Taiwan, US, or New Zealand?
We have heard the last couple days story after story of guest houses, of welcoming wandering Israelis and sharing Messiah over food on the hummus trail. I will not repeat any of that. I personally welcome Israelis into my home and that will be a continued source of new contacts and good will.
My assigned topic is “Street Evangelism: The Basics” and that speech might better be delivered in New York City or Tel Aviv. Although major cities like Bangkok, Seoul, Osaka or Tokyo would be excellent sites for large-scale distribution of literature, if we want to reach Jewish people, which is the point of LCJE’s considerations, then large-scale campaigns of evangelism, using Gospel tracts, street drama, public singing performances, etc.… well, that’s not where the Jewish people are. I don’t mean to diminish any efforts of street work, obviously. Each week around the world of Jews for Jesus, where we work in Budapest, London, Sydney, Los Angeles, etc., every week we hand out Gospel tracts and make ourselves available to Jewish passers-by using many methods. What I am saying is that to reach Jewish people in East Asia, street evangelism might not be the most significant operation to employ.
I love taking the Gospel to the streets. I got saved because some Jesus people were witnessing of their faith in the US in 1971 on the streets. I read the Bible these young evangelists gave me, and took Jesus on board. I heard the Gospel and immediately joined them in proclaiming Jesus among the hippies of the 1970s. As a result, a church was born in Kansas, which to this day continues in strength. Street evangelism was practical in the 1970s as activism and anti-Vietnam war sentiment abounded. The streets have dried up a bit, that is, activism with flyers and pamphlets don’t mean the same as they did in 1973. Even so, our Jews for Jesus ministry continues to hand out tracts in Ukraine, in Russia, Germany, Hungary and in Australia, and continue to find open Jewish people who are willing to give us their details to meet up and consider Yeshua.
To be fair as brother Shoji reminded us yesterday, the number of Jewish people in Japan is only 1,000, in Singapore -- 900, in China 2,000, South Korea 100, Taiwan 100, Thailand 200. (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jewish-population-of-the-world, Jewish Virtual Library, 2016). We had more than all those numbers when I grew up in my little neighborhood! So where are the opportunities for you now?
The themes of our LCJE Asia conference this week include “Looking for Opportunities” and “Making Connections.” Let me use those two categories to help us all consider this.
Looking for Opportunities
First Looking for Opportunities.
We have to learn which Jewish people are out here in Asia. That would include both the Israeli travelers and the expatriates who are on assignment from their parent companies for 2-3 years, lawyers and government officials. They are out there! Those 900 in Singapore exist… how do we reach them?
What are my resources? Can I start a guest house, and be home all the time during the traveling season or will I be able to recruit enough volunteers to support the house ministry? Do I have products like messianic books, Bibles and CDs, do I know Hebrew or am I prepared enough to know how to answer Jewish objections to the Gospel? In other words, I need to have an honest self-evaluation. I need to be realistic about my own limitations.
Also I have to count the costs which ministry to Jewish people attracts. That means my time, and my money, my staffing issue…all these are resources which are required. Jesus told us to ‘count the cost’ before building a tower (Luke 14.28), and dare I say this tower of personal involvement in Jewish evangelism is very costly.
I believe getting involved in evangelism among Jewish people, on the streets or in your homes, in your office or at their house… requires us to think about what we are doing.
Let me define evangelism first, then let’s go on from there.
I believe ‘evangelism’ is ‘giving someone both an opportunity to consider Yeshua for himself and to receive Him as Saviour and Lord.’ If that be acceptable, then, this definition means we have to extend ourselves to those outside the faith. It demands our availability to unbelievers. It means we have to do more than share lunch. It means we have to teach, make disciples, and persuade people about the Gospel. This is uncomfortable, to be sure.
Many of you live in Japan. Others in the UK. Or Australia. Even New Zealand. Each of these are islands, and an islander thinks differently than a person from a large land-mass like Europe or America. Here’s what I mean.
On an island, you have to get along. You have to moderate your hostility to your neighbour. You cannot fight with others with whom you hope to work or play. The British ‘via media’ of the Reformation era is an example of this. The ‘tall poppy syndrome’ of Australia and the ‘pacifism’ of the Japanese post-WW2 cultures demonstrate this to me. Sharing the Gospel then, in the midst of the required ‘fellowship’ of all people on an island…that’s costly. Telling a Shinto follower, or a Buddhist, or anyone for that matter, that their religion, or their ‘way of life’ is wrong, and that Jesus is the only way to heaven… that’s costly to relationships. But without giving people the chance to hear this message, then we are not evangelizing at all. We have to give people the chance to hear.
As Joseph said yesterday, “Jewish people are not suspicious of East Asians.” While white European Christians have been linked historically with the pains and evils of anti-Semitism like the Crusades, the Holocaust, and the Inquisition, East Asians have no such history. Therefore, Jewish people don’t know what to do with you Asians and your version of Christianity; we don’t mistrust you! You don’t have the serious blockage of those hindrances that prevent many white European Christians from beginning the conversation with Jewish people.
That said, let me give you a 10-step approach to evangelism, whether on the streets, when you first encounter someone, or in the nursing home as you sit with Mrs Goldberg for the 30th time in the course of four years… let’s break this down for the ordinary believer sharing the Gospel with the ordinary Jewish person. This is not necessarily how professional missionaries will do this work, but it’s the usual, the ordinary. Looking at Ethiopian eunuchs or tax-collecting Zaccheus as models are useful to be sure, but most of us don’t have such episodes. We are ordinary people witnessing to ordinary people.
Two major categories for us, then, the atmosphere and the attack. First all the pre-evangelistic enterprise, then the actual evangelism itself. I don’t denigrate either nor exalt either. Each is purposeful and worthwhile.
1.Purpose to witness to Jewish friends
2.Determine that this person is in fact, Jewish
3.Extend a gesture of friendship to him AS a JEW
4.Share a word of personal testimony
5.Ask sympathetic questions
This 10-step program is then as follows:
1) Purpose to witness to Jewish friends. Make a friend. Share good things with your friend.
2) Be interested in them, not only in teaching them or converting them. Find out if he is Jewish. Hebrew speakers like our new friends from China, et.al., are not necessarily Jewish.
3) Passover seders, food in general, anything that says, “You are Jewish and that’s great.” The history of the Church has said quite the opposite. Being Jewish is something Jewish people have had to repent of, in order to turn to Christ. It’s a liability, not an asset. Take gifts to their son’s Bar Mitzvah.
4) Share a word, not 10,000 words. Share your story. Not a long story. Point out, three things: 1) where you were, 2) what God did to get your attention and 3) what you are like now.
5) Asking questions that you do not know the answer to… like “Do you think there will ever be peace in the Middle East?” or “Do you believe in a personal God?”. NOT “Say, what about Isaiah 53…have you read that lately?”
6) STOP is not an acronym. It really means stop talking. Listen. Let them rest, too. Kind gestures of nodding do not necessarily mean anyone is interested in what you are saying, even as some of you are doing to me just now.
Now we move to the Attack. We move from making connections to making disciples.
I call it Persuading People. And if persuasion is not a comfortable word for you, then I don’t know what you will do with these Bible verses and the ministry of Paul, particularly. Persuasion has to do with the good use of the Scriptures and helping people learn what they are teaching.
Note these passages:
•Luke 16.31 But Yeshua said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’
•Acts 17.4 And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.
•Acts 18.4 And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.
•Acts 18.13 saying, “This man persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”
•Acts 19.8 And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.
7.Answer all objections from their Bible
7.Answer all objections from their Bible
8.Get them involved in regular classes
9.Ask for a profession of faith (Decision)
10.Follow up (Immersion, community of faith)
The attack then is the Case in Persuasion to help your Jewish friend to find Yeshua.
You move from answering their questions to asking some of your own. You move from defense to offense.
Number 7 then is answering questions from their Bible. Of course, most traveling Israelis don’t carry a copy of the Tenach with them, so for them you need one of Barry Rubin’s resources he mentioned yesterday or an app on your mobile hand phone to which you can point the enquirer. The version does matter; the Scriptures matter even more. I really loved seeing the photos of the Chinese cases in persuasion yesterday as they studied the Bible together with Jewish people.
Number 8 is getting them involved in a regular Bible study. A group. A weekly meeting with you over a bento lunch box. Something which is ongoing, but not permanent. Don’t invite them to a school from which they cannot graduate, like a Sunday school class that has no ending. Say, “Your questions are great, and warrant continued investigation. Can we meet for 2 weeks or 2 Tuesdays or 3 lunchtimes in a row, to discuss this from the Bible, and see what others might be saying about this?” or such.
Number 9 is the hardest one. Remember our definition of evangelism. Giving people an opportunity, giving them a chance, give them the option to receive Yeshua as Messiah. We must give them this chance. Sometimes twice, three times, dozens of times. The reason many don’t give people this option is they haven’t given the Jewish person enough information to make a considered decision. We don’t know how to answer objections. We don’t know enough, we say. So we don’t offer them salvation in Yeshua.
The other reason we don’t offer people to pray to receive Yeshua is that we don’t want to be rejected. We think when people say ‘no’ to us about the Gospel, that we are somehow the ones being rejected. It is not true, but some of us with a bad self-image, who need to be loved and respected, well this work is not about you. Jesus said, “You will be hated by all because of My name.” Mark 13.13.
You will have to get over this rejection, this personally directed hostility, it’s not personal. It’s about Yeshua, amen?
Step 10 is especially important. After a person prays and receives Yeshua, what’s next? What about community? Church? Messianic congregation? Baptism, immersion? You have to get the Jewish believer ready for the Church, and you have to get the Church ready for the Jews.
Regular discipleship is key, and a major missing component in evangelism among most workers today. It’s the nuts-and-bolts of ministry; it’s where rubber meets the road, it’s the tough, behind-the-scenes, unthankful responsible work of the minister of Christ.
Let me summarize.
We understand that Jewish people are different. And thus Jewish evangelism is different.
We look for opportunities to meet Jewish people.
We make connections with Jewish people.
We evangelize and disciple Jews…and we persuade men and women to follow Yeshua.
Take the Gospel to the streets with Gospel tracts. With songs. With prayer stations. With Boards of curiosity. With street drama.
Take it to your homes with those whom you host.
Take it to their homes and offices by being involved in others’ lives where they are.
For more information, contact
FYI, for the photos of the conference, please go to