Missionaries plan to step up conversion efforts

Canadian Jewish News/May 6, 2004
By Ron Csillag

Jews for Jesus-type groups in Canada are promising to redouble their efforts and adopt new strategies - including outreach to children - to convince 'unsaved' and 'perishing' Jewish communities that Jesus is their Lord and messiah, a conference on evangelizing to Jews heard in Toronto last week.

In fact, Canada is fertile ground - though not as much as the United States - for spreading the Christian gospels and bringing Jews to Jesus, about 50 leading lights of the so-called messianic Jewish movement from North, central and South America heard.

The conference, dubbed 'Training for Jewish Evangelism,' didn't attempt to hide participants' efforts to convert Jews to Christianity. Books, tapes, CDs and other material were plain in their aim to win as many Jewish souls for Jesus as possible.

The two-day gathering at a local hotel was presented by the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, a task force formed in 1980 in Thailand 'so that more Jewish people will hear and consider the Good News of Jesus,' according to a brochure.

Messianic Jews, or Hebrew-Christians, say they are Jewish and engage in Jewish worship. They believe one can be Jewish and believe in Jesus. In fact, some of the men at the conference wore kippot, as do many in the movement.

Some of the ideas aired to make Jesus more palatable to Jews included allowing Jewish communities to retain their cultural values and permitting synagogues to keep their language of worship, all while gently steering them toward Jesus. Messianic Jews, meanwhile, must develop a manner that will lead them to be seen as legitimate members of the Jewish community.

The CJN was alerted to the conference by Jews for Judaism, and a reporter attended the session on messianic activities in Canada, a country described as a 'welcoming yet challenging place to spread the gospel to my people,' said Andrew Barron, director of Toronto-based Jews for Jesus, Canada.

Canada's policy of multiculturalism 'fosters intransigence' toward his work, said Barron. He estimated there are fewer than 1,000 Jewish 'believers' in Canada, 47 of whom have converted in the past eight years.

'That's too few. It's disappointing. I believe we can do better,' he said.

He said last summer's contentious Behold Your God campaign in Toronto, when dozens of missionaries hit the city's streets, only emboldened messianics. Barron said an evangelical leader told him that Jewish outrage at the campaign was 'a sign that we were doing something right.'

Barron said that after encountering one Jewish protest outside a nursing home during last summer's campaign, 'we went door-to-door in the nursing home and got a lot of contacts.'

Jews for Jesus in Canada 'is small, but we're getting the gospel heard more than ever. My mission is to continue to encourage Jewish believers. My commitment is to recruit so that the sowing and reaping will continue.'

Larry Rich, Canadian director of Chosen People Ministries, told the conference his organization operates in Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg, and hopes to branch out to Vancouver soon.

He described his group's 64-year history in this country as 'up and down.' The United States, he said, seems to offer more fertile ground when it comes to attracting Jews.

Chosen People Ministries is now on a fundraising campaign to move out of its offices in a house east of Bathurst Street on Sheppard Avenue and build a new 'Toronto Messianic Jewish Centre.'

It's easy to see how messianic Judaism can be viewed as a cult, said Don Meecha, Toronto branch director of Chosen People Ministries and 'Director of Mission Operations' at Ohr HaMashiach (Light of Messiah), a new outfit located at 5845 Yonge St. in North York.

Despite not being considered the norm in Christianity, 'we must make clear that we are at the foundation of Christian faith,' Meecha said.

The question before messianic Jews is how to be 'a viable option' to the Jewish community, which he described variously as 'unsaved,' 'dying,' and 'perishing,' and which 'promotes expulsion' should any of its members embrace Jesus.

Why would Jews want to leave the comfort and security of their community, Meecha asked, 'for one that offers only eternal life but nothing for them in this life?' And why do messianic Jews demand that normative Jews abandon their their culture? 'We would never demand this of another culture,' he stated.

Instead, 'why can't we plant a messianic synagogue that speaks Hebrew?' he asked. Jews on the path to Jesus should also be allowed to keep their traditional symbols and customs 'as long as they do not violate the new covenant's [New Testament's] values.'

But messianics 'have missed the mark. We have not reached full potential to make them jealous enough to leave their dying community behind for one that offers eternal life.'

Meecha's messianic paradigm 'would be conducive to both Jewish and gentile salvation' but would practise the Protestant sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. 'We must provide a smooth transition& a new model.'

That would include an education centre for children and teens.

Ultimately, the goal is to 'no longer go into the Jewish community, but to be part of it.' If not, a 'spiritual holocaust will continue.'

Meantime, messianic Jews 'have to accept resentment, even if means being ostracized by family and friends. We do not have good relations with local Jewish leaders, to say the least.'

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